The former speaker has plenty of blame to throw around for the current state of the Republican party, but not much interest in accountability.
Former Speaker John Boehner really wants you to buy his new book On the House: A Washington Memoir.
He wants it so bad that he's giving out free samples of some of the spiciest portions, to much fanfare from the internet — with his name and some keywords trending on Twitter almost as soon as the excerpt went live on Politico Friday morning. Of particular note is Boehner's willingness to throw shade at people who are ostensibly on his side of the political divide.
According to Boehner and other conservative political figures who haven't been relevant since the pre-Trump era, the movement has lost its way, and needs to go back to the principled, professional version of conservatism that politley accused the other side of incomparable evils to obstruct progress — without actually beliving any of it. But where is the audience for this line of attack?
While it's nice to be reminded that people who've had the opportunity to work closely with them can confirm that
the Zodiac Killer Senator Ted Cruz of Cancun Texas is "a reckless assh**e who thinks he is smarter than everyone else," and that Sean Hannity is "a nut," no one who doesn't already agree is likely to be convinced.
Senator Ted Cruz?
Boehner previously called Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh," and it made no difference. He and other bygone conservatives no longer have any credibility with Republican voters who have gone happily along with the unhinged, conspiratorial shift that started well before Donald Trump announced his candidacy. And for those who recognize how dangerous this turn really is, Boehner's inability to acknowledge his own complicity in the transformation makes his insights ring hollow.
Sure, he can say that the late, yet-to-be-disgraced Fox News CEO Roger Ailes — whom Boehner calls his "longtime friend" — "believed all this crazy stuff" including conspiracies about President Obama, George Soros, the Clinton's, and Benghazi. But who was it that actually pushed for the creation of the House select committee to pour time and resources into investigating the attack on the embassy in Benghazi? John Boehner.
He wants to present himself as a tough, no-nonsense figure who calls the conspiracy stuff "bulls**t," and refers to Ted Cruz pursuing "a truly dumbass idea," but he went along with everything until he was ousted. When he had some power to stand up and say something, he held his tongue.
Only now that he's been forgotten by a political system that moves on quickly — a system where it didn't matter when every living former president opposed Donald Trump — is he ready to direct his toothless attacks on the new order. And without a willingness to talk about how we actually got here — and how he and his colleagues helped to bring us to the point where an open and violent act of insurrection disrupted our electoral process in Janurary — it all reads as a bland and bitter set of complaints about the "crazies" he empowered.
Because it was Boehner and people like him who paved the way for what followed. For decades they chipped away at the promises of the New Deal, convinced that they could do so without consequence. They thought that voters cared as much about small government and the principles of supply-side, voodoo economics as they pretended to. And when it was obvious that most voters didn't give a damn about defecit spending or how much inheritance millionaires' children had to give back to society, men like Boehner lied and cheated.
Getting necessary funding from the wealthy became "hurting job creators" and "death taxes." They focused on wedge issues like abortion, gun control, and immigration to keep their voters scared, angry, and distracted from the fact that Republican policies of austerity and union-busting were responsible for their declining quality of life.
Look at the brown people instead! Focus on "illegal aliens," "enemy combatants," and "welfare queens." Don't worry about nearly $2 trillion to fight a war in Iraq — of which Boehner was always an enthusiastic supporter. No, "fiscal responsibility" means letting poor people die from lack of healthcare.
They stood in the way of the government doing anything for its own people. And when it was clear that these tactics were declining in popularity — that a majority of Americans had enough sense and experience to see that marginalized groups were not their enemies — did men like John Boehner follow the shift in culture?
No. They rigged the system. They redrew the boundaries of congressional districts so conservative politicians would only have to play to their bases to remain in power.
And when that echo chamber — fed by what Boehner himself recognizes as "right-wing propaganda" — started getting crazier, men like Boehner capitulated in order to remain in power and continue serving their wealthy donors. This was the case with congresswoman Michelle Bachman.
This is the one instance — in the published excerpt — where Boehner's memoir seems to acknowledge his weakness and complicity. When Bachman threatened to bully him on Fox News and conservative talk radio, he caved, citing the personal nuisance: "She'd just rip my head off every night, over and over again. That was a headache I frankly didn't want or need."
He didn't give her the Ways and Means Committee seat she wanted — because he couldn't — but he gave her one on the House Intelligence Committee, for which she was equally unqualified. Yet despite referring to her as a "fringe character," and implying that she was one of a group of "wild-eyed crazies" (can't argue with that), Boehner tries to play this move off as reflective of his wisdom. According to Boehner's logic, she didn't do anything particularly embarrassing on the committee so...the appointment was good, actually? Boehner even goes so far as to quote his own underwhelming aphorism to drive this point home, saying "one of those old Boehnerisms goes, 'Get the right people on the bus, and help them find the right seat.'"
The bottom line is, people — even Republican voters — know that they've been getting a bad deal. They know that quality of life has been declining, and they know that the future looks bleak.
They also don't much care about the "principles" of conservatism pushed by people like Boehner. So the only way to keep them voting for the people who uphold those principles is by tapping into hate and fear and taking advantage of conspiracy theories.
For Boehner, that's a bridge too far. In what might have been Boehner's bravest moment as Speaker, he half-heartedly pushed back against the unfounded idea that Barack Obama wasn't born in America, saying, "the state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there. That's good enough for me." And now he admonishes Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch for letting those "kooky conspiracy theories" flourish on his network, saying he "clearly didn't have a problem with them if they helped ratings."
John Boehner On Obama's Birth Certificatewww.youtube.com
But these conspiracy theories were always the inevitable results of men like John Boehner operating with little regard for how their policies affected real people. Boehner, too, benefited from the early signs of unhinged thinking that has taken over conservative politics.
Unless he and his ilk are willing to grapple with that fact, posturing and swearing won't matter. Their thoughts on what the GOP has become will never hold any value beyond some trending Twitter topics or Lincoln Project ads.
The final line of the excerpt puts as fine a point on the issue as anyone could hope -- capturing Boehner's bitterness, irrelevance, and lack of insight in five simple words: "Not that anybody asked me."