The Death of Decency

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, listens to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Wa
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, listens to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. Boehner announced he will resign from Congress at the end of October, a surprise end to his congressional career that followed repeated clashes with conservative members of his Republican conference. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images *** Local caption *** John Boehner

In 2001, Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative John Boehner joined hands and authored the most consequential piece of federal education legislation in decades, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Can we even imagine such a bipartisan legislative undertaking today?

Frustrated and embattled, Speaker Boehner will join the likes of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, another moderate Republican who resigned her seat in 2013 after growing "sick and tired" of the toxic political climate.

Ultimately, Speaker Boehner was the wrong man at the wrong time. Believing that he could wield the levers of power that his predecessors found to be so effective, he was instead trapped by an increasingly nativist and irrational Republican base that pilloried him from the start. He played by the rules while others were busy burning up the rulebook. Boehner remarked on Thursday that after the papal visit that there was nothing left for him to accomplish. How disheartening from a man third-in-line for the Presidency, to comment that there was nothing left worth fighting for.

The Republican Party is digesting itself from within, and Democrats should not rejoice in this. Extreme rhetoric brings in more money, which brings in more extreme Republicans, which creates a Republican majority that cannot govern. Every candidate is running for President of the Deep South. We can only hope that this violent rhetoric does not spill over into more violence instigated from the mouths of party leaders - frontrunners - like Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Just this week, Jeb Bush tweeted about the deaths of all the "innocent" Muslims ending their pilgrimages to Mecca. Were there non-innocent Muslims there? Or as the pope said, who am I to judge? It's an odd qualifier to add, but one that kowtows to the basest xenophobic instincts of American politics.

What's perhaps most unusual about all of these major political disruptions is that they are occurring during a time of economic growth. GDP grew at 3.9% last quarter. Yet people no longer seem calmed by low unemployment and low gas prices; the country is either "rigged" to those on the Left or "ruined" to those on the Right.

And the papal frenzy this week - have you stopped to ask yourself what that is really about? Why is it that the atheists and agnostics among us are looking to a religious figure for leadership? Why do we really care what the pope says when most of us don't bother to go to church?

The answer to me is simple: our political leaders do not inspire us anymore.

So the sudden resignation of John Boehner is, to me, something of a tragedy. Please don't mistake me for a Boehner-defender, but name one other Republican who at least projects a modicum of maturity and discipline. Who, feebly and ineptly, at least tries to act like an adult in a room full of rubes. Who has a demonstrated record prior to his Speakership of actually getting stuff done.

How sad it must be to achieve the reigns of power, only to find out that there's no horse at the end of the rope. You work your whole life to put yourself in a position, perhaps even for reasons not completely selfish, as the man clearly has an emotional and moral component to him. But instead we mock him for crying, and no one on either side of the aisle will miss him very much at all.

But when we treat moderates as pariahs and compromise as anathema, we end up with a broken shell of a democracy. We end up with an environment where CEOs and bigots are called leaders for "speaking their minds". We end up looking like an international embarrassment.

In the end, I think John Boehner was a bit too decent for our times, or at least for his party. We probably don't agree on a single policy issue, but I will miss having that orange face around. We won't have Boehner to kick around anymore.