John Boehner: Could This Mediocrity Become House Speaker?

John Boehner is champing at the bit to take Nancy Pelosi’s job come January. John Batchelor takes a closer look at the orange Republican’s weaknesses—and the goofballs who’d follow him to power.

John Boehner (Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP Photo)

John Boehner is in dress rehearsal to become the Speaker of the House for the putative Republican Congress, and what the feverish partisans among us need to accept is that this chain-smoking, conflict-averse, glad-handing and peculiarly orange-tinged golfer is the pay-off for the last two years of Lilliputian turmoil. No matter how successful the Tea Party and Club for Growth vote on Election Day—60-seat swing! Coup de main!—all the king's horses cannot do more come January and the 112th Congress than to wait on the modest brainpower of a 61-year-old professional Ohio pol who, on his best day, is described by a wag as so out of touch with the American culture that he thinks of himself as cool, just like Dean Martin.

What does John Boehner say of his plans for the No. 3 job in the Republic? Two of his recent policy speeches in Cleveland and Milwaukee are so stunningly facile that there is an open question whether the guileless Mr. Boehner is putting us on. Boehner warned with a mighty trumpet, "Never before has the need for a fresh start in Washington been more pressing." Boehner cried out like a blue-eyed Jeremiah for "a series of immediate actions to end the ongoing economic uncertainty…" Boehner proposed with drum-rolling militancy, "…We must focus on working together to identify our national security priorities …"

What explains this colossal banality? Grant that Boehner is a foreign-policy tenderfoot after two decades of kissing the hem of the domestic Abramoffs. Still, his remarks on the economy suggest, as Mark Twain taught us to repeat, that he is an idiot as well as a member of Congress. It may be possible that Boehner, one of 12 children of a modest tavern keeper in Cincinnati, has worked so hard at being an anonymous footman since entering Congress in 1990 as part of Newt Gingrich’s dynamiters that he's incapable of the cogency associated with historical memory. He might be nothing more than what we see: a maitre de pork, a Buckeye hack on the make, a fall guy who played Newt’s bagman for tobacco companies on the floor of Congress once upon a time in 1995, who inherited the IED ruins of the GOP House from the fleeing Tom DeLay in January 2006, who took a palooka’s dive for Hank Paulson’s TARP folly in 2008, and who has clung to his "Leader Boehner" with the bravery of a parasite these last years of leading the "No" team as if it were destiny.

His remarks on the economy suggest, as Mark Twain taught us to repeat, that he is an idiot as well as a member of Congress.

Then again, it is also possible that Boehner has taken on this rinsed-out golfing partner act just because he is struggling to stay youthful, hip, in step with his backroom boys. Boehner may have an envy problem, and, if so, it is making him sillier and sweatier by the week. The problem has names: Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan. Easily the most self-involved Republican tyros since TR and Cabot Lodge, they call themselves the "Young Guns," and they do this without measurable irony. Not only does the trio offer a new book, Young Guns, of sensationally unoriginal genius—"…less Washington and more hope, opportunity and freedom…"—but also they have produced a YouTube video that sets a new standard for suicidal vanity. Appearing in open-necked white shirts, either like frosh virgins or West Hollywood parking valets, they gaze longingly at each other with a soundtrack of celestial choir-wailing and a script written from Frank Capra outtakes. "America is at a crossroads… a new team is ready to bring America back … together they are ready to make history … innovative, energetic, forging new solutions … a new generation of conservative leaders."

As we watch the manly gunslingers stride purposefully down the horse trail together, it is worth considering that this trio is about to be given the keys to the House of Representatives because John Boehner is spooked by their togetherness. It is an incredible fact that John Boehner thinks calling yourself a "Young Gun" is a vote-getter. The "Young Gun" video is humorless, callow, tyrannically stupid—including the phallic Washington monument under photoshopped storm clouds and a cameo with a frightened, angry citizen shouting down the surly, worn Arlen Specter. If the video were less inane, it would be a burden to the GOP comparable to Michael Steele cracks. As it is, it is a threat only to John Boehner’s fantasy life.

Consider what the rest of us see in the " Young Guns," who are neither young nor noticeably armed. Eric Cantor, VA-7 (R), has limited social skills and no charisma; his position as majority leader-in-waiting is built on the money he can raise as the only Jewish Republican in the Solar System. Kevin McCarthy, CA-22 (R), is a backslapper and small-talker from a safe district, who can work a room full of Gingrich cronies as a stand-in for the slow-tongued Cantor. McCarthy is useless as muscle, as an enforcer, because, says an observer, "That would put him in a position [where] he was unpopular."

Paul Ryan, WI-6 (R), is the baby-face of the lot, no money, but lots of braininess about taxes and spending. Ryan loves to spew numbers in Cantor’s earshot, which makes Cantor feel smart and less bad about the fact that he voted for TARP twice and every other bank bail-out he could find in Nancy Pelosi’s kitchen. Ryan also has the problem of two "yes" votes to TARP. Oddly, McCarthy, thinking of his options, rejected TARP twice, but he is too polite to bring it up to his amigos, the "young conservatives" Eric and Paul.

Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan are most of the faces that Boehner sees in his smoke-rings when he orders his food-taster changed monthly and feels a chill as he starts another cigarette. Another face Boehner sees is Mike Pence, IN-6 (R), an older gun, sort of a pop gun, who is generally uninvolved in the intrigues in the House because he fancies himself presidential timber, another Hoosier without a sense of proportion.

Boehner also knows that Cantor has presidential ambitions. Surprised? There is no sentimental limit to the delusions of these fellows, and why would there be? The pollsters tell us that this wave election will sweep out the Democrats. By default and for no other reason, a great deal of the responsibility in the First Article of the Constitution will then pass to the hands of men who have eyes only for themselves and their self-described guns.

John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.