Out and About (Sort Of): The Pope and Mr. Boehner By Howard Freedlander


Only one person seemed to have listened to Pope Francis when he spoke last week before Congress. He was Speaker of the House John Boehner.

As we all know, Mr. Boehner resigned the past Friday morning as Speaker and from his 8th District Ohio seat in Congress. He could no longer cope with the disarray and dysfunction in the Republican Conference in the House of Representatives. He could no longer deal effectively with the far right in his Republican Party. Constant confrontation, not compromise, had become the ideal sought by roughly three dozen legislators intent on opposing, not governing.

In fairness, far left devotees reside in the Democratic Party. They are determined to block any changes in social programs, unyielding in their positions despite the crying need for fiscal responsibility.
The search for the general good evades both parties.

Back to the Pope and Mr. Boehner, a Catholic who for so long, apparently, wanted to bring the Holy Father to a powerful and visible perch in the people’s house in Congress. Mr. Boehner seemingly decided after spending time with the world’s leading spiritual figure to vacate his position and the institution he loved. The thought of resigning was not new to Speaker Boehner; he just needed a little inspiration, and that came his way after spending a precious few minutes with Pope Francis.

The Pope talked publicly about the crippling polarization that grips and paralyzes the U.S. Congress. He pointed to important matters left dormant, such as immigration. His soft voice bespoke civility, gentility and humility. The undercurrent to his remarks was a call to compromise. Only Mr. Boehner took it to heart, so it seemed.

Compromise not only is a dirty word in our Nation’s capital, but it represents a concept inimical to the extremes in both parties. It represents finding a middle ground, a quest to attain a result for the general good of American citizens. It represents reconciliation and negotiation. It represents civil discourse.
Our federal legislature eschews moderation. What an unproductive shame.

I am passionate about moderation—because it brings results normally helpful to our citizenry, our body public. It requires hard, frustrating work—yes, even compromise—to produce legislation for which citizens pay taxes to gain hopefully reasonable, albeit imperfect outcomes.

I have a sense that the far right condemns and avoids moderation at all costs, considering it outside their mode of political behavior, as they feel satisfied to shut down a government that produces little of value in their minds. Since government doesn’t work for them and presumably their constituents in their like-minded districts, why not shut it down?

Consequences from the chaos created by a government shutdown seem irrelevant. Boehner’s opponents so distrust the mainstream Republicans, not to speak of the Obama Administration and their Democratic colleagues in Congress.

Mr. Boehner rightly decided to step down, almost sacrificially, to enable him in the short time before he steps down at the end of October to enlist Democrats in preventing a government shutdown. He understands the consequences for the Republican Party as well as the nation when Congress shuts off funding for vital services.

When I speak of consequences, I think mainly about the economic impact thrust upon federal workers and contractors, not to speak of the volatile stock market and public concern about our fiscal structure. As we still are recovering from the Great Recession, a shutdown only exacerbates the fear and insecurity felt by our citizens.

I also fear the international reaction in our interdependent world. Our position as a stable economy is torn in shreds. Why trust us? Why invest in us? Why respect us?

At the same time I fret about economic security, I worry about our national security. A shutdown affects our military readiness; while we might exclude our military members from loss of pay and funding, we don’t necessarily afford the same protection to the civilian workforce that supports our uniformed services.
Pope Francis talked about civility, about concern for others, about caring about the poor and homeless and about immigrants seeking safety.

Mr. Boehner listened. Did others?

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Letters to Editor

  1. Donald Berlin says:

    Thank you, Howard Freelander, for your thoughtful reflection about the disarray in Washington! I believe that most members of the Democratic caucus realize how critical are the issues our nation faces as are most responsible Democratic voters like me. I believe most Democrats salute those moderate and mainstream Republicans seeking consensus and compromise in aspiring to attain the COMMON GOOD which Pope Francis articulated in his address to Congress and by his kind and respectful demeanor cutting across all religious differences among Roman Catholics and other faiths as well. May we who reside in the Eastern Shore begin to identify and build a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who care so deeply about the greatness of the United States that we will pledge ourselves to seek the COMMON GOOD as our fundamental obligation and priority as caring citizens. May we raise the voice of enthusiastic hope for all our citizens and signal the sound of shared governance over ideological rule! May we become principled when we articulate principle! May we emphasize humility over arrogance! May we join together in advocating a better life in America for the COMMON GOOD! If you will begin, I will join you to be followed by a majority of us who are passionate about America.

  2. Douglas Firth says:

    Very well said Howard. It’s a sad time when our elected leaders can’t sit down and to try work to out their differences because they can’t or won’t accept compromise.

  3. David Lloyd says:

    Could not agree more with Mr. Freedlander’s comments. Regrettably, he is right on target re the selfish refusal of the far right to understand that there is a need for government. If they want to improve government, come up with some ideas. Thus far: not a thing. They are, to quote another set of authors, the “Know Nothings” of the 21st Century!

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