John Boehner is the ultimate Beltway hack, a man whose unmatched and self-serving skill at political survival has made him, after two decades in Washington, the hairy blue mold on the American congressional sandwich. The biographer who somewhere down the line tackles the question of Boehner's legacy will do well to simply throw out any references to party affiliation, because the thing that has made Boehner who he is — the thing that has finally lifted him to the apex of legislative power in America — has almost nothing to do with his being a Republican.
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.
This article appears in the January 20, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available now on newsstands and will appear in the online archive January 7.
As for what that job is, here's the thing: In this age of greed-enabling bailouts and rampaging Tea Parties and coast-to-coast voter rage toward the entire political process, Congress in particular now ranks as one of the single most unpopular political entities on earth. Recent polls show that only 13 percent of Americans approve of the job performance of their national legislature — which makes our elected representatives even less popular here at home than, say, Al Qaeda is in Pakistan. (Bin Laden and Co. scored an 18 percent approval rating not long ago.)
The reasons aren't hard to figure. Voters are fatigued not only by the seemingly endless kinky-sex and corruption scandals emanating from Capitol Hill, but also by the increasingly infuriating fact that no matter which party is in power, the leadership inevitably borrows like dice addicts on the Vegas strip and uses the money to pay for huge Frankensteinian initiatives that bloat the size and power of the federal government, often without semblance of sense or plan. The underlying dynamic is bought-off congressmen ignoring real social problems and using the legislative process to construct massive perpetual handouts for their campaign-contributor sponsors. Both parties have now made the servicing of the giant handout machine their primary raison d'être — and it's this perception, that Washington is occupied by an unbreakable bipartisan conspiracy of favor-churning hacks, that has inspired anti-Washington revolts like the Tea Party.
"Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act — practically any significant piece of legislation that came out of the Bush presidency, it was a joke," says Chris Littleton, who heads a coalition of 58 Tea Party groups in Boehner's home state of Ohio.
The anger of Tea Partiers like Littleton erupted when they suddenly realized that their elected leaders in Congress had developed a primary allegiance not to constituents back home or even to ideology, but to themselves and their own dissolute, pay-for-play, you-scratch-mine, I'll-scratch-yours intramural bureaucratic calculus. Voters got mad when leaders covered up sex scandals, partied on corporate junkets when they should have been working on the public dime, wasted mountains of taxpayer money on political witch hunts instead of working to stave off another financial crisis or terrorist attack — and they got mad, especially, when congressional leaders stopped having the common decency to hide the lavish gifts funneled to them by their lobbyist pals in exchange for political favors, parading around in public with their goodies in hand without even caring how it looked.
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