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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

Book Review: John Boehner laments his party’s mutation into a cult in new memoir

A wave of Tea Par­ty Repub­li­cans, elect­ed in 2010, made John Boehn­er Speak­er of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, a job he describes as “May­or of Crazy­town” in the new mem­oir On the House (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99).

The tone of Boehner’s book, toward his own cau­cus, evokes Ital­ian dic­ta­tor Ben­i­to Mussolini’s wartime remark: “The human mate­r­i­al I have to work with is useless.”

An exag­ger­a­tion? Nope. Of Repub­li­cans sent to Con­gress in 2010, Boehn­er writes: “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.”

In retire­ment, Boehn­er has a lot to get off his chest. The exple­tives come so fast and furi­ous that, should Boehn­er tire of life as a cor­po­rate direc­tor, he could write for The Stranger. Wit­ness this spot-on descrip­tion of a fel­low Repub­li­can in the Sen­ate: “There is noth­ing more dan­ger­ous than a reck­less (exple­tive) who thinks he is smarter than every­one else. Ladies and gen­tle­men, meet Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz.”

The ex-Speak­er is, how­ev­er, wash­ing his hands of respon­si­bil­i­ty for awful deeds, acts of extrem­ism and fias­cos engi­neered by his caucus.

He had no respon­si­bil­i­ty for the 1998 impeach­ment of Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, which back­fired and cost the Repub­li­cans sev­er­al House seats (includ­ing two in Wash­ing­ton). It was all the doing of then-House Major­i­ty Whip Tom DeLay.

House Repub­li­can bomb throw­ers were also a thorn in the side of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, resist­ing leg­is­la­tion to sta­bi­lize the finan­cial sys­tem in 2008.

“Too many Repub­li­cans in Con­gress cared more about what Sean Han­ni­ty thought than the Sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury or the Speak­er of the House or the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States,” he writes. “They were ready to destroy the econ­o­my for decades rather than come up with any real­is­tic alter­na­tives – just as long as it looked like they were stand­ing up to the ‘estab­lish­ment’.”

What’s glossed over is that Boehn­er was once a bomb throw­er in the Newt Gin­grich mold, help­ing set the stage for the Tea Par­ty crowd to come.

He failed in lead­er­ship, unable to hold his cau­cus to nego­ti­ate any of the sort of bipar­ti­san deals that once raised the min­i­mum wage and gave us the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act.

A dis­charge peti­tion — spear­head by the bipar­ti­san team of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Den­ny Heck and Dave Reichert — was required to go around Boehner’s House lead­er­ship and force a vote on renew­ing the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

One of twelve chil­dren, from a fam­i­ly that ran a bar, Boehn­er is from a mold of those brought into the Repub­li­can Par­ty by Ronald Reagan.

Hav­ing found suc­cess in busi­ness, he got angry that he was pay­ing more than he want­ed in mem­ber­ship dues to his coun­try. The man’s goal in pub­lic office was always to curb rather than expand social and human services.

On the House is strewn with anec­dotes. Boehn­er is a guy’s guy: His wife and daugh­ters are bare­ly men­tioned in the book. He smokes his Camels, so many that suc­ces­sor Paul Ryan spent months try­ing to rid the Speaker’s office of tobac­co stench. The beer of his youth had giv­en way to a taste for red wine. He is an avid golfer, writ­ing of Rus­sia: “The golf cours­es there are all (exple­tive) anyway.”

We learn that George W. Bush is a pok­er play­er unable to bluff.

Ex-Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford is a great guy save for one episode on the golf course. Ford hits three balls, in suc­ces­sion, into a water hazard.

Writes Boehn­er:

“And then the eighty-six-year-old for­mer leader of the Free World began to jump up and down scream­ing [the most famous exple­tive in the Eng­lish lan­guage] as loud as he could scream. Over and over again… It was like some crazy exer­cise rou­tine. I’d nev­er seen any­thing like it on a golf course and haven’t since.”

Ulti­mate­ly, for all his excus­es, Boehn­er is appalled at what has become of the Repub­li­can Par­ty he helped lead on Capi­tol Hill.

He is crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Oba­ma as a nego­tia­tor, con­ve­nient­ly ignor­ing the Mitch McConnell block-every­thing leg­isla­tive strat­e­gy. But there fol­lows this insight:

“He (Oba­ma) could come off as lec­tur­ing and haughty. He still wasn’t mak­ing Repub­li­can out­reach a pri­or­i­ty. But on the oth­er hand, how do you find com­mon cause with peo­ple who think you are a secret Kenyan Mus­lim trai­tor to America?”

Boehn­er has already intro­duced read­ers to Don­ald Trump by describ­ing his boor­ish­ness toward an aide who screws up names of golf­ing part­ners. His dis­gust with Biden’s pre­de­ces­sor, and Trump enablers, boils over at the end:

Trump incit­ed that bloody insur­rec­tion for noth­ing more than self­ish rea­sons, per­pet­u­at­ed by the [non­sense] he’s been shov­el­ing since he lost a fair elec­tion the pre­vi­ous November.

He claimed vot­er fraud with­out any evi­dence and repeat­ed these claims, tak­ing advan­tage of the trust placed in him by his sup­port­ers and ulti­mate­ly betray­ing that trust.

It was espe­cial­ly sad to see some mem­bers of the House and Sen­ate help­ing him along — although some of the peo­ple involved did not trust me in the least. The leg­isla­tive ter­ror­ism that I’d wit­nessed as Speak­er now encour­aged actu­al terrorism.

The Repub­li­can Par­ty of John Boehn­er – “of small­er, fair­er, more account­able gov­ern­ment, and not con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries,” as he describes it – has now grown to include “every­one from gar­den-vari­ety whack jobs to insurrectionists.”

What a dev­as­tat­ing admission.

The extrem­ists’ enablers have includ­ed a mem­ber of Boehner’s lead­er­ship team from this state, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R‑Washington.

Already, mil­i­tant extrem­ist Repub­li­cans (includ­ing a state leg­is­la­tor) are plot­ting revenge against Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Dan New­house and Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, R‑Washington, who vot­ed for Trump’s impeachment.

While enter­tain­ing his read­ers, John Boehn­er has laid out a chill­ing threat to Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. Insur­rec­tion­ists didn’t just invade the U.S. Capi­tol. They are already inside and work­ing to destroy Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy from within.

I would love to share a glass of fine Wal­la Wal­la wine with John Boehn­er and hear his sto­ries of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton tak­ing mul­li­gans on the golf course. But nev­er again can I vote for a House or Sen­ate can­di­date from his party.

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