Republicans Sans Agenda

Incoming Speaker John Boehner:

"While our new majority will serve as your voice in the people's House, we must remember it's the president who sets the agenda for our government."

Saletan pounces:

Gingrich set the agenda. He put forward a platform, treated the election as a referendum on it, and tried to implement it. He governed. He played quarterback, or at least head coach. For this, Gingrich paid a steep price. Against his offense, President Clinton played middle linebacker. In 1995 and 1996, Clinton ran against Gingrich's agenda and beat it.

From this episode, Boehner seems to have learned a political lesson: Don't play offense. Stay in the role of middle linebacker. Let the president set the agenda. For two years, with an eye on the midterms, Boehner has followed this strategy, refusing to put forward a clear program that President Obama could attack. What's surprising is that Boehner is sticking with this defensive posture even after winning power. He has been thrust into leadership but doesn't want it.