House speakers’ criticism of private groups a bigger issue

Much is being made of House Speaker John Boehner’s blunt criticism last week of conservative groups.

And much should be made of Boehner’s justifiable outburst. But we think the big picture is being overlooked.

The speaker was responding to the attacks waged by right-wing interest groups on a proposed bipartisan budget agreement. These organizations, such as the Club for Growth and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, decried it as a sellout of conservative fiscal principles.

Such groups, along with assorted tea party organizations, have been viewed in recent years as the tail that wags the dog in the Republican Party. And many mainstreamers in the GOP have cited their strident efforts as a main reason moderate and independent voters have shied away from the party.

Boehner strongly defended the budget deal and insisted that it stood for conservative principles. But more than that, he and other Republican leaders have blasted the right-wing organizations, arguing their main intent is to raise money for themselves, not to advance causes or protect the nation.

That’s a key point – and it’s not unique to the political right. Various private political groups of both liberal and conservative persuasions survive by basically scaring and angering their loyal followers into giving money.

Meanwhile, funds raised in this fashion often help to support the campaigns of primary challenges when incumbents are deemed to lack ideological purity.

Much of the attention in this regard has focused on Republicans. But Democrats have their own problems. Left-wing interest groups also flex their muscles, although they appear to be less organized.

Meanwhile, Democrats are gloating over Boehner’s comments, viewing them as the start of a major rift that will weaken the Republican Party in future elections. Perhaps it will, or perhaps it will move the party a bit closer to the center, where it can be more successful in ousting Democrats.

There are a couple of things we think are worth noting about all of this. First, Americans need to look with skepticism upon these private political groups and their fundraising efforts. Citizens shouldn’t be duped by them.

Second, the power of these groups may frustrate mainstream politicians, but they ought to develop a full understanding of what’s happening.

There continues to be a huge disconnect between the American people and their elected representatives. If lawmakers had a meaningful, productive dialogue with their constituents, and the parties had a structure that allowed give and take among politicians and the populace, the threat of insurgent primary candidates would fade.