Politics aside, I confess that I have developed a certain fondness for John Boehner over the years. His sour sense of humor, his odd penchant for crying, his permanent tan, his outbursts of frustration with some of his colleagues, from backbenchers in his own party to the president of the United States -- through all that, he generally came across as authentic and true to himself in a business where such a trait is increasingly rare.
"I leave as I started — just a regular guy humbled by the chance to do a big job," as he put it in his farewell speech today from the House floor. "That's what I'm most proud of, that I'm still just me."
Boehner could get angry, sure, and he often wasn't afraid to show it. But his anger was the passing sort, not the seething sort that is so destructive in modern politics. And though I disagreed with him almost without exception, I always believed that his heart was in the right place.
In another era, he might have proved a highly effective speaker, and even under the conditions in which he was forced to operate he probably acquitted himself better than most could have. Riding the conservative tiger is not for the faint of heart, and a lesser man would have been unsaddled and swallowed long ago.
Yes, the Congress that he leaves behind has just a 13 percent job-approval rating. Yes, the dysfunction has grown to historic proportions, and Americans are angry. But it's no small thing to note that despite the headstrong demands of his caucus, he usually managed to ensure that the nation's essential business got done. His approach has been to steer away from immediate disaster and hope for saner times ahead, and there's something to be said for that.
Those saner times are not yet here, of course. Boehner's successor, Paul Ryan, noted in his own speech today that "the House is broken. We are not solving problems..... What a relief to (Americans) it would be if we finally got our act together.” All of that is true, but again, I don't think Boehner can be blamed for what he leaves behind. The institution that he led is called the House of Representatives, and that is who and what they are. They may not be any smarter than the rest of us, but as a group they're not any dumber either.
They are representative of the American people, their dysfunction is our dysfunction, and no single person is going to correct it.