Outgoing U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-OH, waves after he gave his farewell speech in the House Chamber of the Capitol Oct. 29, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
It’s time for a confession.
I have misjudged John Boehner. Oh, I knew he might speak candidly. Or, more precisely, I knew he could be extremely blunt.
But where I was wrong was not recognizing Boehner was quite capable, and comfortable, being even more direct and more blunt than I ever dreamed possible.
The 71-year-old conservative Republican, former U.S. House speaker and member of the House for nearly a quarter century has a new book coming out April 13. He has a companion essay in the latest issue of Politico, a political magazine.
My Republican friends should not dismiss the essay or book because they think it is just another anti-Trump tome. That’s not Boehner’s message.
Instead, Donald Trump is a result of the transformation of the Republican Party, not the cause. Boehner believes too many Republicans are more interested in getting themselves and their candidates elected than they are in legislating and governing. It wasn’t that way during his early years in politics.
My Democratic friends should not get cocky about the spotlight Boehner’s book puts on Republicans.
The views of too many Democrats — while opposite of Republicans who are Boehner’s nemesis — bring our nation no closer to the compromise and consensus we need. Those Republicans he calls “Crazytown” can be obstructionists, but so too can Democrats who are poured from the molds of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Boehner writes about the newly elected Republicans who took office when he became speaker: “Ronald Reagan used to say something to the effect that if I get 80 or 90 percent of what I want, that’s a win. These guys wanted 100 percent every time. In fact, I don’t think that would satisfy them, because they didn’t want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades.”
Going into the 2010 midterm elections, Boehner was the minority leader of House Republicans. Voters gave Democrats what President Barack Obama called “a shellacking.” Republicans gained 63 seats in the House, moving the party into the majority and Boehner into the speaker’s chair.
Boehner did not beat around the bush in describing his party’s 2010 victory: “You could be a total moron and get elected just by having an R next to your name — and that year, by the way, we did pick up a fair number in that category.”
He tried to explain the finer points of governing and lawmaking to the new Republican members. “A lot of that went straight through the ears of most of them, especially the ones who didn’t have brains that got in the way,” he wrote.
“Incrementalism? Compromise? That wasn’t their thing,” Boehner wrote.
Although he now is seen as a wine-drinking, country-club Republican, his upbringing was similar to many people in Iowa who now dismiss him and his views. He was one of 12 children who grew up in a two-bedroom home in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father ran a tavern. Boehner put himself through college, although it took seven years.
When he was first elected to the House in 1990, “the only people who used the internet were some geeks” in Silicon Valley, he said. Fox News went on the air in 1996 and the network slowly became a megaphone for what Boehner calls “kook conspiracy theories.”
“It was making my job trying to accomplish anything conservative that much harder,” Boehner wrote.
After Obama’s victory in 2008, Boehner says he met with Roger Ailes, Fox News’ leader. “I thought I could get him to control the crazies, and instead, I found myself talking to the president of the club,” Boehner wrote.
As he settled in as speaker after the 2010 election, the issue of Obama’s birth certificate and place of birth came to a boil, thanks to Trump’s persistent allegations. Reporters asked Boehner about the controversy.
“My answer was simple: The state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there. That’s good enough for me,” Boehner wrote. “It was a simple statement of fact. But you would have thought I’d called Ronald Reagan a communist.
“I knew I would hear from some of the crazies,” he added, “but I was surprised at just how many there really were.”
Democrats gloating over the attention Boehner is focusing on Republicans should think about the similarities he faced as speaker with the pressures Nancy Pelosi is dealing with now as she tries to keep a rein on those liberal House Democrats.
Democrats and Republicans both could use some Maalox.
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