The Man Who Would Be Speaker

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

John Boehner's improbable cool.

Is Rep. John Boehner an empty suit--a sharp suit, to be sure, one Don Draper might wear--or is there more there? Sitting with him in the book-lined conference room of the City Club in Cleveland last week, it was kind of hard to tell. He's so laid-back you can hear the crickets chirp. A former colleague, Dick Armey, calls him the "Dean Martin of politics--he makes it all look easier than it is." In the era of the Tea Party, Boehner appears to be all cocktail party. He's vintage country-club Republican: lime-green ties; deep tan; a love of golf, red wine, and fat checks from fat cats. And if President Obama represents the politics of hope, Boehner is proud to stand for the politics of nope.

Two years ago in Denver, the charismatic Obama caught the political wave, addressing a blissed-out crowd of 80,000 on a stage set as a Greek temple with him as the high priest of new government activism. But voters remain dismayed by the economy, fearful of their future, and skeptical of the sweeping, expensive legislation Obama and his fellow Democrats have enacted. An anti-Democratic tide is building, and if the Republicans can win 39 House seats in November, Boehner could be speaker.

But who, exactly, is he? Boehner comes from a world unlike the one he now inhabits so effortlessly. Growing up, his family owned a bar, Andy's Cafe, on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The second of 12 children, he mopped floors and bused tables. He traces his demeanor to watching his dad's blunt, but soothing, way of dealing with patrons. "I guess that had a lot to do with who I am," he says with a shrug. (John Boehner shrugs a lot.) After playing at a renowned football school, Moeller, he joined the Navy and was honorably discharged with a bad back. Working part time, it took him seven years to graduate from college--he was a janitor in the building where he met a secretary who would become his wife. He built a plastic--packaging business, led a home-owners' association, won a seat in the Ohio Legislature during the Reagan landslide of 1984, and got elected to Congress in 1990.

Ironically, Boehner was a Tea Partier well before the Tea Party. Once in Washington, he joined Newt Gingrich's anti-establishment mujahedin, terrorizing insiders by attacking the House bank and other cushy congressional perks. …