By redefining “surrender,” Boehner keeps moving the goalposts. But he does it in a clever way. He doesn’t lengthen the field, in the tradition version of the metaphor, so that the other team can’t score. He shortens the field behind him as he advances. The end zone he’s defending—the line he can’t retreat behind, since that would be “surrender”—moves steadily forward so that his back is always against it. Correspondingly, the middle of the field, where compromise seems reasonable, is always halfway in front of him. Eventually, he’s on your 10-yard line, and the logical place for compromise is on your 5-yard line.
The speaker the other day said that it would be unconditional surrender to reopen the government. That doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. I mean, if we just go back to the point where the budget is exactly where it was before the shutdown occurred, and both parties sit down and negotiate, but people are put back on the job … I don’t think anybody would consider that a concession to me or the Democrats.
That was a direct response to Boehner’s goalpost trick. Obama called for putting the goalpost right back where it was: at the original Boehner-Reid compromise. And in an interview with WPVI-TV, the ABC station in Philadelphia, Obama went further:
John Boehner described it as unconditional surrender just to reopen the government. Now, it’s hard for me to understand why that would be. He said he didn’t want a shutdown in the first place. I don’t want a shutdown. Well, on that we should at least be able to agree.
That was more than a rebuttal. It was an attack. Throughout the shutdown, Boehner has played a double game. On the one hand, he claims that House Republicans don’t want the shutdown. On the other hand, he insists that ending the shutdown would be surrender to Obama. The second claim contradicts the first. If Republicans don’t like the shutdown, then ending it, per se, would be good for them, regardless of other issues. The only way they could honestly perceive the restoration of government funding as a concession is if they want it less than Obama does.
In a press conference Thursday morning, Boehner and his lieutenants, having taken several steps forward, took one step back. They accepted Obama’s most recent offer to begin larger policy discussions in exchange for a short-term increase in the debt limit. But they offered no concessions on the shutdown, and Boehner refused to answer questions about it.
Why not, Mr. Speaker? Would ending the shutdown be “surrender”? If you don’t like it, why are you so reluctant to give it up?