Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boehner (pronounced bay-nur)

I enjoyed reading this Vanity Fair piece by Todd Purdum on the man who may well wake up next Wednesday as Speaker of the House, and arguably the most important political figure in the country. If Ohio Congressman John Boehner ends up taking back the gavel from Nancy Pelosi it will be the culmination of an improbable journey.

John Boehner wasn’t born a Republican. He became one the same way that thousands of other working-class Catholic men of his generation did: through hard work and the absorption of the shifting cultural and political values that culminated in Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. He is the second-oldest of 12 children (his brother Bob is 362 days older), nine boys and three girls born over a 20-year period to Earl and Mary Ann Boehner. He grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Reading, in a house that initially had only two bedrooms. His parents slept on a foldout couch in the living room. Jerry Vanden Eynden, a childhood friend, recalls that his most vivid memory of the Boehner household is of cloth diapers drying everywhere—on a clothesline outside in summer, and in the basement in winter. Earl Boehner ran Andy’s Café, a shot-and-a-beer bar in nearby Carthage. It specialized in sandwiches and plate lunches for truck drivers and hourly workers from a nearby Procter & Gamble plant. John worked there from the time he was old enough to push a broom, eventually holding every job in the place: bottle sorter, busboy, waiter, and finally bartender, learning, as he put it a couple of years ago, “to deal with every jackass that walks in the door.”

And one more paragraph that hints at the challenges a Speaker Boehner might face. . .

. . . Boehner is by nature a salesman, a deal-maker, not an ideologue. He has been respectful of the anger of Tea Party voters and has attended some of their events, but he has not embraced their tone. He has given a wide berth to the controversial proposal by Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, to dramatically cut back and effectively privatize Social Security and Medicare. On more than one occasion, at roundtable discussions with reporters this summer and fall, I watched him decline to mix it up on hot-button topics on which the loudest voices in his party had taken strong stands. These included the Obama administration’s hasty (and mistaken) firing of a black Department of Agriculture official who was accused of making racist remarks, when in fact she’d been calling for tolerance; the controversy over the proposed Muslim prayer room and cultural center near Ground Zero, in Manhattan; and the nature of Barack Obama’s religious beliefs. After a speech in Cleveland, when Boehner was asked, “Would you care to offer an opinion about whether Barack Obama’s a Christian or not?,” he replied crisply, “No. The American people are worried about the economy.” Boehner’s brain trust includes people whose experience dates to the Gingrich era. They remember what happened when the Republicans overreached by twice shutting down the government in disputes with Bill Clinton, and they also remember the way Gingrich and Clinton managed to work together on issues such as overhauling the welfare system. In Washington, people with this kind of perspective are antiques, like something out of Herodotus.

I wish him well.

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