October 29, 2017

IDIOTS ONLY NEED APPLY (profanity alert)

John Boehner Unchained : The former House speaker feels liberated--but he's also seething about what happened to his party. (TIM ALBERTA, November/December 2017, Politico)

Boehner worries about the deepening fissures in American society. But he sees Trump as more of a symptom than the cause of what is a longer arc of social and ideological alienation, fueled by talk radio and Fox News on the right and MSNBC and social media on the left. "People thought in '09, '10, '11, that the country couldn't be divided more. And you go back to Obama's campaign in 2008, you know, he was talking about the divide and healing the country and all of that. And some would argue on the right that he did more to divide the country than to unite it. I kind of reject that notion." Why is that? "Because it wasn't him!" Boehner replies. "It was modern-day media, and social media, that kept pushing people further right and further left. People started to figure out ... they could choose where to get their news. And so what do people do? They choose places they agree with, reinforcing the divide."

He continues: "I always liked Rush [Limbaugh]. When I went to Palm Beach I would always meet with Rush and we'd go play golf. But you know, who was that right-wing guy, [Mark] Levin? He went really crazy right and got a big audience, and he dragged [Sean] Hannity to the dark side. He dragged Rush to the dark side. And these guys--I used to talk to them all the time. And suddenly they're beating the living [***]t out of me." Boehner, seated in his favorite recliner, lights another cigarette. "I had a conversation with Hannity, probably about the beginning of 2015. I called him and said, 'Listen, you're nuts.' We had this really blunt conversation. Things were better for a few months, and then it got back to being the same-old, same-old. Because I wasn't going to be a right-wing idiot."

Boehner believes Americans are ill-informed because of their retreat into media echo chambers, one of two incurable causes of the country's polarization. Another is inextricably related: the unwillingness of lawmakers to collaborate across the aisle, for fear of recriminations from the base. Boehner says the fact he and Obama golfed together only once--and agreed that it was usually better for him to sneak into the White House--speaks to how the two parties punish compromise. He doesn't foresee this toxic political climate improving, ticking off potential fixes--term limits, redistricting reform--that he says won't make a bit of difference. "It's going to take an intervening event for Americans to realize that first, we are Americans," he says. An intervening event? "Something cataclysmic," he responds, gazing upward.

Boehner often felt more welcome among Democrats than he did within his own party. When he made his retirement announcement, he told me, Obama called him and said, "Boehner, you can't do this, man. I'm gonna miss you." Biden feels the same way. "The only way we're going to get this back together again," he says, "is with some more John Boehners."

The starkest divide in recent Washington has been between longtime pols like Boehner and Biden who yearn for a more amicable time, and newcomers who view the bitter acrimony of the Bush and Obama years as normal. The fever might have broken in 2016, Boehner says. But the parties chose the two most polarizing nominees in modern history. "The only Republican who Hillary Clinton possibly could have beaten was Donald Trump, and the only Democrat that Trump possibly could have beaten was Clinton," Boehner smirks. "Three hundred and thirty million Americans, and we got those two." [...]

As a young House member, Boehner was instrumental in cleaning up Congress. As a committee chairman, he wrote and ushered through one of the premier policies of the Bush administration--even if the results were not what he envisioned. And as speaker, Boehner accomplished more than conservatives will ever give him credit for: winning significant spending cuts under a Democratic president; protecting the overwhelming majority of Americans from a tax hike; keeping earmarks banned despite having every reason to bring them back; and his proudest accomplishment, finding a permanent "Doc Fix," which solved a nagging problem with the Medicare payment formula and could produce nearly $3 trillion in savings over the next three decades.

"He came to Congress wanting to burn it to the ground," says Sommers, his former chief of staff. "And by the time he left, he was the ultimate institutionalist."

Posted by at October 29, 2017 7:32 PM