In his tenure as speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio) became notorious for weeping. He seemed to weep constantly, at a moment’s notice, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief. He wept while the pope spoke. He wept when he was named speaker.
Then again, maybe it was not that Boehner was especially prone to weeping. Maybe that’s what would happen to anyone with his job.
Why wouldn’t you weep constantly? Have you seen the House lately? Trying to keep it from shutting down the government resembles trying to take your toddler to the grocery store without his throwing a tantrum. Everyone blames you if something goes wrong, as though you were not suffering along with the rest of us. “This isn’t my idea,” you try to tell people, as they roll angrily past you in the artisanal cheeses aisle. “Sometimes Teddy just goes off for no reason.”
But no matter. You are technically in charge. Everyone else in the grocery stares at you accusingly as your charge flings himself down in the middle of the produce aisle and begins pounding the linoleum with his fists. All you can ever do is push him around in a cart and try to keep him entertained. But it’s always touch-and-go. It is the kind of thing that makes a grown man start silently weeping in the middle of the pasta aisle.
What baffles me is why there has been such struggle for the leadership position. Who wants this job? Congress is about as popular as the plague, give or take a percentage point. And the leadership is even less popular.
Being named speaker of the House is like being appointed National Cat Herder, but worse. At least there is no expectation that a cat herder will actually succeed. And the cats don’t keep making dismissive statements about you in the media.
At a rally earlier this month against the Iran deal, the crowd burst into wild boos the second the House leadership was mentioned. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had to calm them by quoting Julius Caesar (always a dubious strategy for calming crowds; the quote he used didn’t even work for crowd control in “Julius Caesar.”) A sign read “BOEHNER MCCONNELL REPUGNICANT TRAITORS.” (If you ever want to know what you would look like as a caricature of a hideous death-monger, become a member of party leadership and someone will make you a nice sign!)
“I have long called on the Republican leadership to do something unusual, which is lead,” Ted “Shutdown” Cruz told a crowd at the Values Voters Summit on Friday.
Donald Trump called Boehner’s resignation “a good thing.” Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that “With all due respect to the people who serve in government … the time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country.”
But I do not think even these remarks could have dented John Boehner’s mood Friday, the day he at last announced that he would resign — both as speaker and from his seat in the House. He entered his news conference with a spring in his step, singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
Where were the tears? Where was the storm cloud that has lingered over his head for all these months?
No sign of it. He was a changed man.
“Serving two terms would have been plenty,” Boehner said. “I planned, actually, on my birthday, November 17, to announce that I was leaving at the end of the year.” (As a gift to himself, perhaps?) “I said my prayers and I decided today, I’m going to do this. As simple as that.”
Boehner sounded as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Yes, he dabbed at his eyes briefly, but they were clearly tears of joy. He spoke about Pope Francis. He dismissed notions of his legacy.
“Mr. Speaker,” one reporter asked, “you seem very relieved.”
“Zippity doo dah, zippity ay!” Boehner replied. No tears in sight.