The Democrats have plenty of creatures like Boehner. But in the new Speaker of the House, the Republicans own the perfect archetype — the quintessential example of the kind of glad-handing, double-talking, K Street toady who has dominated the politics of both parties for decades. In sports, we talk about athletes who are the "total package," and that term comes close to describing Boehner's talent for perpetuating our corrupt and debt-addled status quo: He's a five-tool insider who can lie, cheat, steal, play golf, change his mind on command and do anything else his lobbyist buddies and campaign contributors require of him to get the job done.
Others in Washington see Boehner not so much as a bloodless partisan but as a clueless yutz, one who rose to power through a combination of accidents and bureaucratic inertia. "He's just sort of like, 'Oh, how did I get here?'" says one Democratic aide. "I think of him sort of as a big Saint Bernard to [new Republican Majority Leader] Eric Cantor's yapping Chihuahua." Boehner is the butt of a lot of jokes around the Hill, with his wino eyes, perennial Crayola-orange tan and phallic surname providing even members of his own party with endless comic material. (George Bush, famous for giving colleagues nicknames, called Boehner "Boner.") His pseudo-acceptance speech on the night in November when Republicans retook the House was brilliant clown theater, a Wayne's World version of a right-wing political rally. At the very moment when millions of GOP voters were celebrating their ouster of the great socialist enemy Obama in the name of patriotism and liberty, Boehner was tearing up over what an awesome job he had finally scored for himself.
Boehner, in short, has for most of his career been a Bush Republican, i.e., a corporate schmoozer and a remorseless spender of taxpayer money for whom the notion of small government is just something to say when the cameras are on, or when the public money in question might go to poor people or immigrants or other such unlikely golfers. This was a fine way to be during the 2000s, back when America was still unfucked enough to enjoy a phony real estate boom and launch recreational wars of conquest in the Middle East — but in this new decade, post-Bush and post-crash, there is serious doubt on the Hill that a reflexive favor-churner like Boehner will be able to keep delivering Republican votes to lavish taxpayer money on his industry pals. Money is simply too tight now, and people are too pissed off.
Things are different now. America is so broke, there's no longer really any money in the Treasury to give away — the job of overseeing corporate handouts that used to belong to the leaders of Congress has now moved to the Federal Reserve, which itself is so broke that it has to invent dollars out of thin air before it can give them away to influential billionaires. This leaves congressional leaders with nothing to do but their ostensible jobs — i.e., fixing the country's actual problems — and few of the current leaders have any experience with that, Boehner being a prime example. The new speaker represents an increasingly endangered class of Beltway jobholders who know how to raise money and get elected, but not much beyond that. He now finds himself the party's last line of defense against millions of angry voters who, for the first time in recent memory, are at least attempting to watch what Congress is up to. The tee times are over.