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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Kicking John Boehner out of DC was the first step in draining the swamp

We don’t hear the saying “He was ridden out of town on a rail” much anymore, but if we did it would certainly apply to the way former Speaker John Boehner was ingloriously pressed to flee from Washington a little over two years ago.

According to Wikipedia, to ride out on a rail means, “Riding the rail (also called being ‘run out of town on a rail’) was a punishment most prevalent in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries in which an offender was John Boehnermade to straddle a fence rail held on the shoulders of two or more bearers…

“Being ridden on a rail was typically a form of extrajudicial punishment administered by a mob, sometimes in connection with tarring and feathering, intended to show community displeasure with the offender so they either conformed their behavior to the mob's demands or left the community.”

If you still can’t envision what “riding the rail” entails there was a terrific cinematic rendering of the practice in the HBO miniseries John Adams. A word of caution: not to be viewed by the faint of heart.

Thankfully for Boehner’s sake there wasn’t an actual angry mob demanding his removal, just a lot of very unhappy conservatives in Congress and the grassroots who’d had enough of the House Republican head’s years’ worth of feckless failures, selfish deal-making with Democrats and golf games with Barack Obama.

Boehner’s tanned weepy face had become so reviled by the time he left that it’s doubtful many showed up at his going away party. If such a gathering was even held there were probably more pitchforks and ropes than well-wishers and drinking toasts.

Regardless of the manner of Boehner’s hasty and humiliating retreat he was back in the news last week and the son of a tavern keeper and career politician had a lot to say about the people who caused him to “ride out of town on a rail” as well as the current state of politics under President Donald Trump.

Tim Alberta reported in Politico Magazine, “To outsiders, Boehner might just be the happiest man alive, a liberated retiree who spends his days swirling merlot and cackling at Speaker Paul Ryan’s misfortune. The truth is more complicated. At 67, Boehner is liberated—to say what he spent many years trying not to say; to smoke his two packs a day without undue stress; to chuckle at the latest crisis in Washington and whisper to himself those three magic words: ‘Not my problem.’

“And yet he is struggling—with the lingering perception that he was run out of Congress; with his alarm about the country’s future; and with the question of what he’s supposed to do next. After leaving office, Boehner says a longtime family friend approached him. ‘You’ve always had a purpose—your business, your family, politics,’ the friend said. ‘What’s your purpose now?’ Boehner says the question gnaws at him every day.”

As well it should. At first I wondered why Politico would drag John Boehner out of mothballs and run a story no one would care about much less want to read, but it then struck me that the publication’s management probably surmised Boehner was still angry about his “rail ride” around Washington and he’d have plenty of invective left to spill on the conservatives responsible for his ouster.

And the old chain-smoking Merlot-swilling ruling class politician didn’t disappoint either. With the possible exception of the who’s who of the establishment Boehner spared few in describing fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan as a “terrorist” and current Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows as an “idiot.”

Alberta’s profile of Boehner is very long and well worth the read if you have time; it presents perhaps the best and most comprehensive treatment on the current establishment mindset I’ve seen anywhere, featuring the stream-of-consciousness mutterings of a cast of characters who truly believe they were doing great things for the past two decades – and everyone else was completely misguided for criticizing them in any capacity.

There was an overriding drift of “If they only knew how hard that job was they would’ve thought I performed well” in Boehner’s quotes.

My main objection to Alberta’s reporting is it appeared as though the writer took great pains to paint Boehner as a sympathetic character rather than a troubled man who originally came to Washington with the purpose of shaking up the place only to leave as the ultimate corrupted establishmentarian.

It’s almost as if we political observers are supposed to believe reform and change aren’t possible if good guys with swell intentions like John Boehner can’t get it done. If that’s the case, why bother sending representatives to the capital in the first place? Alberta’s piece also portrays conservatives such as Jordan and Ted Cruz as crazed lunatics bent on obstructionism rather than principled people who simply sought to keep their promises.

That’s an old fashioned and abandoned notion in politics – keeping your word, campaigning on issues and intending to fight for your constituents when the need arises. If Boehner’s way had prevailed Washington would just be a place where elites gather to play legislative chess, complete with winners, losers and legacy-named federal buildings as prizes. But after the game everyone leaves as good chums.

In the interest of space I’ll answer the “What’s your purpose now?” question for the former speaker.

Your purpose is to keep your mouth shut if you want to preserve what’s left of your precious GOP establishment because the damage caused to the Republican brand since you (Boehner) came into power was so complete and so severe that the party may not have ever recovered if it weren’t for Donald Trump and his victory a year ago.

While reading Alberta’s intricately pieced-together account of Boehner’s congressional career it was apparent that many of the governing roadblocks the former speaker encountered – with conservatives in his own caucus and with the Obama-led Democrats – should be significantly reduced with party majorities now in both chambers of Congress and Donald Trump at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Without saying so explicitly Boehner implies Speaker Paul Ryan’s sledding should be much smoother these days. If anything, the types of dilemmas Boehner combatted are now in the hands of Mitch McConnell, Boehner’s leadership-style soulmate on the other side of the Capitol building.

Boehner’s sad tale of woe also suggests the institution of Congress is so convoluted and broken that nothing will ever get done – at least not without a wholesale change in leadership with new people installed who aren’t yet completely jaded by the system.

And there’s one overriding necessity (Boehner didn’t say it): the legislative filibuster must go. Simply put, there’s no way senate Republicans will ever get 60 votes on the Trump agenda, even if the party should significantly increase its majority size after the 2018 elections.

The establishment “club” that is the U.S. Congress would not allow for it. As a demonstration of the deep connections between the various “club” members, Boehner relayed a story about how he received a text from George W. Bush earlier this year asking whether the former speaker ever gives advice to Paul Ryan. Boehner replied that he does so when asked (by Ryan). Bush supposedly replied that Ryan should call Boehner more often.

This recounting of a text exchange between two of the most powerful men in the world (at one time, at least) just goes to show the good ‘ol boy network in Washington isn’t a myth and that the ruling class really does consider themselves above everyone else. If one elite is supposed to guide another elite on what to do in a pinch, then the real “threat” to the power structure in Washington is from anyone outside the swamp who wouldn’t dream of soliciting Boehner’s advice in the first place.

Alberta further reported, “The anecdote underscores how Boehner and Bush are ‘two peas in the same pod,’ as the former speaker says, a pair of even-keeled gents who tried to ignore the stresses of their respective jobs and who enjoy commiserating now that they are both retired. (Boehner tells me that when Bush, while in office, refused to join Burning Tree—due to the optics of a president golfing someplace women aren’t allowed—he told the commander in chief, ‘You’re a pussy.’ Years later, when Bush became a member after leaving the White House, Boehner says he told Bush: ‘You’re still a pussy.’)”

They all seem to get a good laugh at each other’s stupidities, knowing full well for them it’s all about the affiliations with each other in the “club” known as elected American government. There’s a certain disconnect from the situations of the average people here – after all, the commoners aren’t exchanging texts with a former president about how to influence policy that affects everyone.

Boehner even has a portrait of himself painted by Bush 43 in his house. In a lot of ways Boehner’s post-Congress life would fit in well on the old show “Lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

As for the future Boehner sees nothing but doom as long as conservatives won’t allow the establishment to just run wild.

“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.”

It almost felt like it took an “intervening event” to finally get Boehner out of Congress. It did transpire, however, and many more such happenstances will need to occur in order to complete the work. The elites think average people are unsophisticated because they only want to hear their own point-of-view.

They’re wrong. If that were the case I wouldn’t be caught dead reading Politico on a regular basis.

John Boehner is now home in Ohio wondering what his next step might be. If conservative organizations and grassroots groups hadn’t put pressure on him to leave, he might still be in Washington. The only expectations Americans hold for politicians is that they keep their promises – too much to ask from members of the ruling class, apparently.

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