There was a time in American politics — it seems like eons ago now — when House Speaker John Boehner was the focus of Democrats’ ire in Washington D.C. The gruff, raspy leader of the Republican Party during President Barack Obama’s administration became, for many liberals, a shining example of what was wrong with a dysfunctional Congress.
But that was several generations ago of political upheaval. Now the former Speaker of the House is able to chain smoke at his leisure while golfing and mowing his lawn in suburban Ohio.
A recent revealing profile of Boehner in POLITICO Magazine paints a picture of a man who both shaped, and was chewed up and spit out by Washington politics. He’s at once crass and proper… tough yet weepy… happy to be removed from politics, yet missing something about it.
Tim Alberta of POLITICO spent 18 hours over a few visits with Boehner for a deep look into the life of a man who helped transform Washington D.C. into the town it is today.
But the story of Boehner’s 25 years in Washington is also the story of the Republican Party, the Congress and American politics in the post-Ronald Reagan era: an account of corruption and crusading, enormous promises and underwhelming results, growing ideological polarization and declining faith in government. The same centrifugal forces that made Boehner’s job impossible have bedeviled his successor, Ryan, and kept the GOP majorities in Congress from passing any landmark legislation in 2017. Now, as the revolutionary fervor that swept Boehner into the speakership degenerates into a fratricidal conflict centered around Trump, the former speaker’s frontline view of the Republican civil war is essential to understanding what went wrong.
Alberta also recently published a profile of Michigan native and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. During the interview DeVos essentially pinned the blame for her shaky Senate confirmation hearing on a lack of preparation from the Trump Administration. Since that article was published, Salon reported that some officials think DeVos may leave her post with the federal government early.
“I think that’s misinterpreting [my] piece,” says Alberta, who adds he believes DeVos plans to stay in her role as Secretary of Education. He says what was most surprising about his conversation with DeVos was not an element of malcontent in her job, but frustration with the Trump Administration over her Senate hearing performance.
“Basically she said she was under-coached… I think there is a level of frustration that has set in.”
To hear Tim Alberta discuss John Boehner and the state of the Republican Party on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.