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Posted at 9:55 AM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Will symbolism be enough for the tea parties?

By Ezra Klein

Kevin Drum is puzzled by the way Speaker John Boehner is handling the effort to repeal health-care reform. "He's scheduling a quick vote with no hearings and no CBO scoring just so he can say he's done it, after which he can move on to other business he actually cares about." Why, Drum asks, does Boehner think that'll satisfy people who've been convinced that the health-care law will bankrupt their children and snuff out their grandparents? Jon Bernstein tries to answer:

I think it's an indication that Boehner believes that the Tea Partiers are going to be a fairly easy bunch to manage. Toss them some symbolic stuff, and then blame everything after that on Harry Reid and Barack Obama, and you've pretty much done what you need to do. Is he right? I'm not sure, but it's not a bad bet. That's partially because Boehner knows going in that he doesn't have the votes (in the Senate and the White House, that is) to actually fulfill the Tea Party agenda. If that ultimately is going to sink him -- if activists won't, at the end of the day, accept a quarter of a loaf and cheer -- then it doesn't really matter what Boehner does. If, however, Tea Party concerns are really just symbolic anyway, then it makes sense to address them with symbolism.

It'll be really interesting to see how the tea party does -- or doesn't -- adapt to having allies in power. It's certainly not been an easy process for Obama for America, which was the last major grass-roots movement that was going to reshape American politics.

By Ezra Klein  | January 6, 2011; 9:55 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms, House  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Democrats' power give
Next: The mystery of Bill Daley


Symbolism was enough for Pelosi, right? Remember how she killed the careers of her little pigs with the Cap and Tax Bill?

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 6, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Boehner should fight dirty. He should say: "The President wants us to raise the debt ceiling. The price is HCR repeal. Which is why we've passed a bill that does both. We will not act on this issue again. His call."

Posted by: NoVAHockey | January 6, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Boehner should make a point of wiping his teary eyes with a tea bag instead of a white hankie. Now that's symbolism.

Posted by: bdballard | January 6, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm less cynical than Kevin. This isn't about "symbolic gestures" to placate the base. It's about at least fighting for what you believe in. The Republicans aren't going to repeal health care reform. They're not going to privatize social security. They're not going to ban abortion. But they're going to go down swinging, with their base backing them, promising that even if this doesn't make it, there will always be a next time.

I really hate to take the "side" of the Congressional Republicans here, but it's a given that they're never going to get everything they want, but they at least have to try: Boehner isn't stepping in claiming to be "the most reasonable guy in the room" by making some concessions to Obama in the hopes of "working out a deal" on health care reform. He's putting up a fight, which is what his caucus was elected to do.

Posted by: constans | January 6, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I think the big secret is that the Republicans don't really want to repeal or substantially alter the HCR bill. Maybe the Tea Party does, but they only have, what 30 representatives and maybe 2 senators. The rest of them understand that it was necessary, wasn't a bad bill, and it's popularity will grow once people understand it better. The just want the symbolism of running against it.

Posted by: willows1 | January 6, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Bernstein is right. Boehner bet is correct.

Those of us who give more weight to 'racial tones' of Tea Party resistance will be more inclined to accept Bernstein logic. For these folks Tea Party is nothing but a strong urge to 'smack' down that the first Black President who dared to try something good....

Anyways Obama has to 'grow' here. He has to take this shellacking and move on. And that is what GOP Leader & our Speaker Boehner knows. As Ezra you rightly recognized yesterday, political compass of Boehner is in full glory and power. He is smart and America is slowing realizing that (including myself). Now what we wait for is, he delivers something good to us. Otherwise it is all going to be simply a theater.

Posted by: umesh409 | January 6, 2011 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Beware of the Pelosi rapids or else Speaker Boehner shall float right down behind her. Get too close to the Tea Party is like getting close to a changeling who has yet to figure out who they are. Stay away and it appears devisive. I believe he is a realist. He won a chance to make a difference and get a seat at the power table. And if he is a historian not bending in the wind can be disasterous.

Posted by: mjfanghella | January 6, 2011 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Once more, with feeling: Republicans like HCR. Rank and file tea baggers don't, but they sure as heck don't care about them.

Posted by: falsedichotomy | January 6, 2011 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, this time is never different. Everyone knows exactly how the Tea Party will react to power, those that say otherwise are merely pretending otherwise so that, in a few months, they can write 37 useless columns and blog posts about how "unexpected" it is that the grassroots became disenchanted.

Posted by: AFoolsGame | January 6, 2011 9:38 PM | Report abuse

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