“Art of the Possible” — A Class Discussion with John Boehner

Art of the Possible -- A Class Discussion with John Boehner

Anela Mangum

While Mr. Boehner came to Vanderbilt to participate in IMPACT and discuss the American Dream, he agreed to meet with a small group of students for questions. Professor Oppenheimer’s Legislative Process class and Professor Greer and Professor Meacham’s Politicians seminar met yesterday, March 23rd, to have a short discussion with Mr. Boehner about his time in Congressional leadership and his thoughts on the United States’ current political climate.

Some of the questions reflected class assignments and discussion, but prompted insightful comments from Mr. Boehner. For him, politics is the art of the possible. While people may disagree on certain policy points or simply dislike each other, they have do what is possible, prompting compromise and bipartisanship. Following the theme of Ms. Fournier and Ms. Mellgard’s recap of his IMPACT speech, Boehner focused on the role of the media in politics. While there is as much bipartisanship as ever, only the conflict is covered by the media. Because of our conservative system of government, action takes a long time. Without bipartisanship and trust between the representative leaders, there would be no action.

Constant media coverage allows people to access more information, more quickly. Sometimes this information isn’t completely factual. Here, he reminisced about Ted Cruz’s campaign to convince people that shutting down the government would stop the Affordable Care Act in 2013. With this constant stream of information, politicians are more liable for the statements, their actions, and their voting records, which leads to higher polarization between the parties. While some Republicans would vote against certain measures during his time as Speaker of the House, they would be thrilled that the bills passed.

Mr. Boehner also described his time in Congressional leadership. As Speaker of the House, he decided the number of amendments considered for a bill. Recognizing the need for elected officials to represent their districts, Boehner allowed more amendments than the typical speaker. This allowed more people to participate in the process and more opportunity to engage with other members.

Leadership struggles are especially apparent when Congress tries to pass a budget. He discussed his desire to change the budget system as a way to engage members and allow them to have a larger role. This breakdown in the appropriations process is due largely to the fundamental differences between the party, furthered by extensive media coverage. He discussed working with President Obama and the productive work they accomplished together. However, he had to put bills on the floor on which people would vote. A man without followers is simply a man taking walk. While not explicitly stated, Boehner’s comments show a desperate need for leadership in Congress, to unite the two parties, to hold them accountable to the American people.

Lastly, he talked about the future. During these trouble times (read: campaign season), it is easy to see people’s frustration with politicians and the inaction in DC. While both parties will get through this election, it is difficult to say which direction the GOP is headed. During his time in office, Boehner wanted to promote a more accountable and less costly government, with support from others who felt the same. Today, there are people who serve in the House who do not have the same clear ideas for policy and the direction of the country. With Senate leaders refusing to consider Merrick’s Supreme Court nomination, Boehner blames politics and the media, yet again. However, he recognizes the importance of the power of the president to nominate people to the Supreme Court. Boehner believes that the next administration could appoint as many as four people to the Supreme Court and drastically change the politics of the country. While the country’s forecast looks dim, elections are not based on polls, they’re based on who shows up to vote. After the hour-long session, these Vanderbilt students left for meetings, work, and undoubtedly his speech in Langford later that evening. They were reminded that despite all of the disagreement and uncertainty in our future, to focus on doing what is possible.

Thanks to Vanderbilt Speakers’ Committee for bringing such a great guest to our campus.