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Senior Correspondent

Playing Politics with Congress

Playing Politics with Congress


House Speaker John Boehner, coming off Republican triumphs in the recent election, is carrying on as if he were president. He announced last week that he’d invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.

“Normally the visit of a world leader would be arranged by the White House,” the New York Times said in an editorial. "But in a breach of sense and diplomacy, Boehner and the Israeli ambassador to Washington have taken it as their own mission to challenge President Obama’s approach to achieving a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Netanyahu, facing an election in March, apparently thinks he’ll bolster his standing at home and win the loyalty of a Republican Congress by rebuking the president. As for the Speaker of the House, “he seems determined to use whatever means  available to undermine and attack Mr. Obama,” says the editorial.

Boehner is playing high-stakes politics of a kind that backfired in the early 1950's. Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880 -1964) was invited to address a joint session of Congress after he was fired by President Truman, an unpopular president, for insubordination during the Korean War — Truman relieved the general for fear MacArthur would set off World War 3 with China in 1951. For a short time, MacArthur was perhaps the most popular American alive.

Truman’s approval rating had fallen to 22 percent  it has remained the lowest Gallup Poll approval recorded by any president. These days, historians rank Truman among our better presidents.

During his 34-minute speech, the general was interrupted by 50 ovations. It concluded famously proclaiming, “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” The speech aroused expectations he would run for president. It never quite happened, although, he was the keynote speaker at the 1952 Republican convention. Senator Robert A. Taft and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower were the chief contenders for the presidential nomination. Eisenhower was nominated and went on to win the ’52 election by a landslide.

Truman and his advisers were gathered around a television set in the White House on the day MacArthur spoke before Congress, wondering whether they were already history. All, that is, except Dean Acheson, the secretary of state. He thought the speech was more than pathetic. In his first-rate biography, ”American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur,” the late William Manchester quoted Acheson of saying the festivities “reminded him of the father who had zealously guarded his daughter’s chastity and who, when she announced she was pregnant, threw up his hands and cried, ‘Thank heaven, it’s over!’” Truman, less elegant, felt that his opinion of the speech had been confirmed, for all “the carrying on and the damn fool Congressmen crying like a bunch of women, it was a hundred percent B.S.”

This article originally appeared in the San Leandro Times.

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