John Boehner

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Trump hit the iceberg today and Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the band that played on.

Whether American democracy itself winds up collateral damage to the hulking political scandal that’s just begun taking on water—the biggest breach of ethics in the history of American governance—is still TBD. A constitutional crisis is as likely than anything else. But it’s important to remember that while Trump was the absolute worse roll of the dice (and loaded dice, at that), it was the house that was crooked. Nearly 63 million citizens cast a ballot for a bigoted, incompetent, money-laundering game-show host, and that’s a deep indictment on many of our systems—political, educational, media, etc. Even if we remain standing during Trump’s ignominious fall, we’ll continue wobbling on the precipice unless some deep fixes are enacted.

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It’s an American tradition to rehabilitate crooks and liars of years gone by who are no longer in possession of power to do grave damage, making them seem harmless in their dotage: Nixon, Kissinger, Goldwater, etc. The latter politico, the architect of society-busting Reagonomics, was sometimes seated next to Jay Leno in the 1990s, apparently humbled as he shared anecdotes. It’s not likely he’d changed; we’d just forgotten. 

The same tendency is at play with more recent goats, including George W. Bush, an interesting outsider artist who broke the world through incompetence and dishonesty, and John Boehner, the former teary-eyed and often destructive Speaker, who is his retirement is willing to say shitty things about shitty Republicans in between Marlboro drags and coughing fits. Some in the media and populace applaud because he was never as bad as Trump, but let’s recall that he was one of the agents who led to our current calamity.

From Tim Alberta’s fascinating Politico profile about Boehner at rest (or as close to it as he can manage): 

A bipartisan group of eight senators had crafted a comprehensive immigration bill that appeared to have support in the House GOP. But in June, when the Senate passed it—68 to 32, with 14 Republicans voting yes—House members found themselves under siege from constituents and conservative groups. The fatal flaw: It provided a path to citizenship, albeit a winding one, for people in the country illegally. Many conservatives could support a path to legal status but not citizenship; Democrats, on the other hand, essentially took a citizenship-or-nothing approach. Boehner was boxed in: He wanted immigration reform, and personally didn’t mind citizenship—especially for minors brought to the U.S. unwittingly. But putting the bill on the floor meant it might pass into law with perhaps as few as 40 or 50 of his members voting yes. Conservatives would never forgive him for overruling the vast majority of his membership. Looking back, Boehner says not solving immigration is his second-biggest regret, and he blames Obama for “setting the field on fire.” But the former speaker doesn’t mention the nativist voices in his own party that came to dominate the debate, foreshadowing the presidential campaign three years later. Ultimately, the speaker’s immigration quandary boiled down to a choice between protecting his right flank and doing what he thought was right for the country—and Boehner chose the former.

It wasn’t the only time. That summer, conservatives were also getting an earful about the Obamacare exchanges opening on October 1. House Republicans had voted repeatedly to repeal the law but the Senate refused to act, and their constituents, justifiably, wanted to know why Obamacare still existed when they had been promised otherwise. “Somehow, out on the campaign trail, the representation was made that you could beat President Obama into submission to sign a repeal of the law with his name on it,” Cantor says. “And that’s where things got, I think, disconnected from reality.” (In Ohio, listening to his pals groan about Obamacare, Boehner explains why his former colleagues haven’t repealed it: “Their gonads shriveled up when they learned this vote was for real.”)

Republicans’ penchant for overpromising and underdelivering would ultimately enable the ascent of Donald Trump, who positioned himself as a results-oriented outsider who would deliver where politicians had failed. In the shorter term, it invited something less dramatic: a government shutdown. Eager to demonstrate that all options were being exhausted to defeat Obamacare, Ted Cruz in the Senate and conservatives in the House concocted a plan: Because the government needed new funding on October 1, the same day the exchanges would open, they would propose funding the rest of the federal government—while defunding Obamacare.

Boehner objected. Not only would Democrats never go for it; Republicans would be blamed for the resulting government shutdown. “I told them, ‘Don’t do this. It’s crazy. The president, the vice president, Reid, Pelosi, they’re all sitting there with the biggest shit-eating grins on their faces that you’ve ever seen, because they can’t believe we’re this fucking stupid.’” (Boehner, at one point, surprises me by saying he’s proud of Cruz—whom he once called “Lucifer in the flesh”—for acting responsibly in 2017. Do you feel badly about calling him Lucifer, I ask? “No!” Boehner snorts. “He’s the most miserable son of a bitch I’ve ever had to work with.”) 

After railing against the defund strategy, however, Boehner surveyed his conference and realized it was a fight many members wanted—and some needed. Yielding, he joined them in the trenches, abandoning his obligations of governance in hopes of strengthening his standing in the party. But the 17-day shutdown proved costly. Watching as Republicans got butchered in nationwide polling, the speaker finally called a meeting to inform members that they would vote to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. “I get a standing ovation,” Boehner says. “I’m thinking, ‘This place is irrational.’”•

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Something significant happened between the mind-boggling grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, and that was President Obama determining that police-officer body cameras needed to be dispersed across the country. After the brutal Garner homicide, which was captured fully on tape, brought back no indictment, there were pundits who said this was proof that Obama’s initiative wouldn’t help in any meaningful way.

Perhaps. But Eric Garner’s contorted face and cries for mercy are not going to go away thanks to that footage, and those images and sounds have convinced a large number of conservative politicians and editorialists to take an unusual stand, calling on Eric Holder and Congress to further investigate the murder of a victim who will remind us of injustice on an infinite loop. From Ed O’Keefe at the Washington Post:

“House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that he still has ‘unanswered questions’ about the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two African Americans killed during confrontations with police officers.

‘Clearly both of these are serious tragedies that we’ve seen in our society,’ he said in response to a question at his weekly press conference. ‘I think the American people want to understand more of what the facts were. There are a lot of unanswered questions that Americans have, and frankly I have.’

Boehner said he wouldn’t rule out having House committees hold hearings into the matter. ‘I do think that the American people deserve more answers about what really happened here and was our system of justice handled properly,’ he said.

Boehner’s comments a few hours after Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth-ranking House Republican, said she ‘absolutely’ thinks the House should hold hearings into the matter.”

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If members of Congress weren’t paid for days the government is closed and they had no way to recoup the money, there would be no shutdown. And if you’re not making a sacrifice, you’re not making a stand. Of course, the GOP is sacrificing something huge–its last claim to being more than a fringe party–but that sacrifice isn’t intentional. There are three possible reasons for the shutdown:

  • They Think They’ll Win. While this clearly makes no sense to you or I or anyone with any level of sanity, it’s possible that a party, cloistered from the majority or just good sense, thinks somehow Obamacare is going away because of this gambit. Not likely that too many of them believe it, but possible at least for some of the more flat-earth Republican reps. 
  • They’re Putting Personal Gain Ahead Of the Party. Oval office in 2016 be damned, the Republicans in Congress are more concerned with fundraising in their own districts so that they can remain in power. For a party that says it hates the government, these are people who will sell out any potential national ticket in the next national election to out-wingnut future contenders who might challenge them in primaries. This is almost certainly true to some extent.
  • They’re a Poorly Organized and Suicidal Party. I wrote several times during the 2012 Presidential campaign that I disagreed with the prevailing wisdom that Republicans would have no alternative but to return to normalcy if President Obama was reelected. (Obama himself used this reasoning during a debate.) That never was going to happen because it’s no longer a party based on strategy or reason. John Boehner has no authority because there is no authority in anarchy. The GOP is a protest party now and nothing more. And when tens of millions of Americans newly have health insurance with no death panels, no sky falling, this shutdown will be ever more damning. Until all power is lost, the GOP will not remake itself, will not be viable again. It’s not just common sense that works against them–it’s demographics as well.

The opening of Ezra Klein’s new Wonkblog interview with National Review journalist Robert Costa:

“Ezra Klein:

Walk me through the math of the House GOP a bit. Most people seem to think Boehner has around 100 members who largely back him and don’t want a shutdown, and it’s a much smaller group, a few dozen or so, who want to take this to the brink. So why doesn’t Boehner, after trying to do it the conservative’s way as he has been in recent weeks, just say, we’re voting on a clean CR now, as that’s what the majority of the House Republican majority wants?

Robert Costa:

Ever since Plan B failed on the fiscal cliff in January and you saw Boehner in near tears in front of his conference, he’s been crippled. He’s been facing the consequences of that throughout the year. Everything from [the Violence Against Women Act] to the farm bill to the shutdown. The Boehner coup was unsuccessful but there were two dozen members talking about getting rid of him. That’s enough to cause problems. Boehner’s got the veterans and the committee chairs behind him, but the class of 2010 and 2012 doesn’t have much allegiance to him.

The thing that makes Boehner interesting is he’s very aware of his limited hand. Boehner doesn’t live in an imaginary world where he thinks he’s Tip O’Neill and he can bring people into his office and corral them into a certain vote. So he treads carefully, maybe too carefully. But he knows a clean CR has never been an option for him.

Ezra Klein:

But why isn’t it an option? A few dozen unhappy members is an annoyance, but how is it a threat? Wouldn’t Boehner be better off just facing them down and then moving on with his speakership?

Robert Costa:

So there are 30 to 40 true hardliners. But there’s another group of maybe 50 to 60 members who are very much pressured by the hardliners. So he may have the votes on paper. But he’d create chaos. It’d be like fiscal cliff level chaos. You could make the argument that if he brought a clean CR to the floor he might have 100-plus with him on the idea. But could they stand firm when pressured by the 30 or 40 hardliners and the outside groups?”•

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The Buffalo Beast has put the 2010 version of its annual “50 Most Loathsome Americans” online. As always, it’s an entertaining read. Three excerpts follow.


"Cleveland, with no reason left to exist, has slid into Lake Erie." (Image by Dave Hogg.)

LeBron James
Aside from indirectly employing hundreds of Chinese kids in sweatshops, his sole contribution to society is tossing a ball through a hole. A genetic-lottery-winning monstrosity, he demonstrates the sort of unbridled ego deserving of the NBA’s first all-star midget. (Now that little dude can talk all the smack he wants.) Last year, ‘King’ James actually had Nike goons confiscate video of Jordan Crawford dunking on him during his clinic. This year, he imbued his free agency announcement with the import normally reserved for declarations of war. For a full half hour of his torturous hour-long ESPN special The Decision, he waxed smugly on topics unrelated, as the sad city of Cleveland nervously awaited the ultimately crushing news that he was going to South Beach. Cleveland, left with no reason to exist, has since slid into Lake Erie. Totally true.


"Owes his emotional instability to legendary Merlot consumption and his radioactive Naugahyde complexion to innumerable special interest golf junkets." (Image by Keith Allison.)

John Boehner
Cries so often he embarrasses Glenn Beck’s family. An incorrigibly lazy corporate puppet who owes his emotional instability to legendary Merlot consumption and his radioactive Naugahyde complexion to innumerable special interest golf junkets. His first notable act in Congress was to hand out tobacco lobby checks on the House floor before a vote on anti-smoking legislation; his PAC received $30K from Abramoff-affiliated tribes; he lived in an apartment owned by lobbyist John Milne; he knew about Mark Foley’s page perversion and sat on it. More recently, he compared the financial crisis to an ant and the weak Dodd-Frank bill to a nuke—while concurrently trying to block unemployment benefits. And the most egregious aspect of his drunken weeping on
60 Minutes, about kids having the same education opportunities he did, is that he’s scored hundreds of thousands from for-profit schools and the student loan industry—even sponsoring legislation that would slash public loan funding and redirect it to his golf buddy’s company Sallie Mae. He’s the kind of amoral opportunist who would campaign for Nazi reenactor Rich Iott in secret, not because there is any chance in hell of winning, but because Iott’s stinking rich and bound to repay the favor.


"Lambasted as the Himmler of the Southwest." (Image by Pete Souza.)

Jan Brewer
Gila Monster eugenics gone horrible awry. Killed two people, and another ninety-six languish, unable to afford the life-saving transplants for which she slashed state funding. Cut health care for kids too. Hates health care. Horny for the NRA; signed law nixing concealed carry permits, which had no ill effects in 2010. None. Don’t worry about it. Not a problem. Seriously. It’s totally cool. Attempted to justify the draconian racial profiling law SB 1070 by repeatedly citing fictional desert decapitations. Lambasted as the Himmler of the Southwest, she protested, saying her father died fighting the Nazis. He was never in the military. He died in ‘51. From lung cancer.

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Sarah Palin: Recently outwitted by a salmon. (Image byTherealbs2002.)

Sarah Palin: You don’t take money from the private sector and grow government with it and that’s exactly what Obama has in mind with this expiration of Bush tax cuts proposal of his. His commitment to let previous tax cuts expire will lead to even fewer job opportunities for Americans.

Decoder: If these tax cuts for the wealthy, which have been around for nearly ten years, are so good at creating jobs, why has job creation declined during that time? Before they existed, during the Clinton years, job creation was much better.

Sarah Palin: [Letting the Bush tax cuts expire] is going to result in the largest tax increase in U.S. history and again it’s idiotic and my palm isn’t large enough to write all my notes down on what this tax increase will result in. [I’ve written on my hand that it will raise taxes] 3.8 trillion over the next ten years so I didn’t say 3.7 trillion and get dinged by the liberals saying I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Decoder: Of course, the liberals could say that I’m a lying, resentment-filled jackass who has a cheat sheet written on her hand like a small child.

Sarah Palin: [The more] job creators are taxed, the fewer dollars they have to reinvest in their own businesses and hire more people the worse it is for more Americans.

Decoder: Most of the people who will lose these tax cuts for the wealthy aren’t job creators, they’re bankers and brokers. If you give bankers and brokers extra spending money, most of the jobs they will create are in the cocaine and prostitution sectors.

Bush tax cuts: Creating jobs. (Image by Tomas Castelazo.)

John McCain: I think the worst thing we can do to the American people during these tough economic times is raise taxes which is what the effect of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts would be.

Decoder: But this is what I said about these same Bush tax cuts in 2001: “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief.”

Senator Mitch MocConnell: The only way you narrow the deficit is to get the private sector moving again.

Decoder: Or you could let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. That would reduce the deficit by roughly 30%. That would work, too.

Rep. John Boehner: The only way we’re going to get our economy going again and solve our budget problems is to get the economy moving.

Decoder: I was supposed to say the same thing as Mitch McConnell, but I’m such a moron I can’t even deliver rehearsed lines.

Rep. John Boehner: What we have to do is we have to get our arms around the spending spree that’s going on in Washington, D.C.

Decoder: Like, for instance, tax cuts for wealthy people.

More Decoders:

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John Boehner: Strange orange hue.

John Boehner: The American people have written off the Democrats. They’re willing to look at us again.

Decoder: They’ve forgotten what complete creeps members of the GOP are. Of course, we’ll remind them almost immediately. And they might eventually recall that I’m the sack of shit who handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to Representatives on the House floor who were in the process of deciding whether they should cut a tobacco subsidy.

John Boehner: They’re snuffing out the America that I grew up in.

Decoder: An America where untalented boobs like myself could use connections to profit inordinately from my position.

John Boehner: Right now, we’ve got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history.

Decoder: The Tea Party protests were tiny compared to Civil Rights protests and anti-Vietnam protests, but it sounds good when I say that, and it’s unlikely that journalists will call me on my bullshit.

John Boehner: There’s a political rebellion brewing, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.

Decoder: Again: idiotic hyperbole from someone who’s full of crap.

Boehner from the neck down. (Image by QuinnHK.)

John Boehner: We are going to do everything we can to make sure that this [Health Care Reform] law never really takes effect.

Decoder: I will do everything in my power to ensure that there is never affordable health care for poor and working-class people. Only a lying bag of horsecrap like me who puts lobbyists before citizens deserves health care.

John Boehner: This [Wall Street reform] is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.

Decoder: An ant that nearly led us into another Great Depression–and still might.

John Boehner: We need to look at the American people and explain to them that we’re broke. If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you’re retired, why are we paying you at a time when we’re broke? We just need to be honest with people.

Decoder: Dismantling Social Security would be almost as great as denying health care coverage. And we need the money for wars I want to support that we don’t necessarily need to wage.


John Boehner: So angry that he is orange in the face.

John Boehner: Have you read the bill? Hell no, you haven’t!

Decoder: But you really probably should have. It was kind of a big deal, and it is sort of our job and all.

John Boehner: Can you go home and tell your constituents that this bill respects the sanctity of all human life?

Decoder: I know I couldn’t tell them that when I voted to authorize military action in Iraq, even though there were no terrorists or WMDs there. I knew that through no fault of our soldiers, thousands and thousands of civilians would die from unavoidable collateral damage, many of them children and infants.

John Boehner: I rise tonight with a sad and heavy heart.

Decoder: That’s just a metaphor. I’m not getting all Dick Cheney on you.

John Boehner: We have failed to reflect the will of our constituents

Decoder: You know, our constituents who lobby for the health-care and the pharmaceutical industries.

John Boehner: Millions of Americans lifted their voices [about the health-care issue].

Decoder: Oddly, I only heard the ones who agreed with me. The other ones were kind of nasal and whiny,

John Boehner: What [Americans] are seeing today frightens them.

Decoder: But there’s not much I can do about my big orange head. I went to a dermatologist. It is what it is.

John Boehner: Americans are struggling to build a better life for their kids.

Decoder: And now they’ll have to somehow accomplish that without a lack of health care.

John Boehner: Shame on each and every one of you who substitutes your will and your desires above those of your fellow countrymen.

Decoder: Well, either way you voted you would have been putting your will above some of your fellow countrymen, since people don’t agree on the issue.

John Boehner: I ask each of you to vow to never let this happen again.

Decoder: Again: I’m talking about my big orange head. Get me help. Do not let this continue to occur. I’m like a pumpkin.

John Boehner: It’s not too late to begin to restore the bonds of trust with our nation.

Decoder: Just follow my example. Like that time I handed out money from tobacco industry lobbyists on the floor of the House during a vote on tobacco subsidies. The strengthened the Congress’s bonds of trust with the people.

Read other Decoders.