Former Speaker of the House John Boehner quit the job with a tear in his eye, and for weeks House Republicans have been thrashing around, trying to find a replacement. Political reporters have had a field day. They’re speculating about the kinds of things pundits always speculate about — namely, what the impact of the inability to choose a replacement Speaker will be at the ballot box — without arriving at a clear answer.
Here’s the clear answer: voters don’t care. Seriously — we just don’t. We’re so used to a dysfunctional Congress that an intraparty dispute about who should be the Speaker of the House really has no impact. As a voter, you can’t help but think about how you might be affected by what Congress is doing, and leadership squabbles and political infighting have no plausible impact, period. It may be full of nuances and backroom maneuvering that is fascinating to the punditry, but for the average Joe it’s just more background noise emanating from Washington, D.C., the capital of background noise-making.
It’s being reported today that Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Congressman who was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, has answered appeals that he stand for Speaker by setting certain conditions in a meeting with fellow House Republicans. According to the New York Times article linked above, Ryan said he would serve if House Republicans could unite behind him as a common force, if the “bomb throwers and hand wringers” would shut their yaps for a while, and if he could serve as a communicator and legislator rather than a peripatetic fundraiser.
Ryan says that he changed his mind about potentially serving as Speaker because he concluded that this is a dire moment for the country, with all kinds of budget issues lurking, including a fight about extending the federal debt limit — again — and an impending dispute about funding needed to avoid a governmental shutdown — again. I’m not sure how “dire” all of this is, really, because we have seen these same issues, over and over, under Congresses and Administrations controlled by both parties. It’s hard to conclude that the current state of affairs is any more dire than what we have seen before, where the inevitable result is a last-minute compromise that just delays the issue for a while longer.
Ryan says he thinks Congress has become the problem, and he wants it to become the solution. Sounds good — but words are just wind. If Ryan can really get Republicans to unite behind him, and can actually get Congress to act in a responsible way by making meaningful budget cuts, voters might actually sit up and take notice. Until then, we’ll just ignore the stupid shenanigans and silly infighting and go on about our lives.