Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting A Boehner

If there was any doubt about who President Obama is going after in the mid-terms, he cleared that up yesterday in Cleveland. He mentioned the name of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) at least eight times in his stump speech, making him the poster boy for all the problems that the GOP has thrown in his path since he took office.

He is, as Rachel Maddow noted last night, a soft target. Aside from the fact that he comes across on TV as a rather stilted and stentorian speaker prone to pomposity (not to mention the ribbing he gets for his propensity for spending a lot of time on the golf course and the resulting dermatological enhancement), he’s a classic example of a harrumphing Republican — Central Casting couldn’t have done it better — which makes him the perfect foil for both Barack Obama and Jon Stewart. While he’s no Newt Gingrich as far as pseudo-intellectual scholarship wrapped up in petulance and blatant hypocrisy that made him such an easy mark during the Clinton administration, Mr. Boehner does have the advantage for President Obama of being — at least in public — entirely humorless and as spontaneous as a Wagnerian opera.

Some folks on the professional left have been saying that it’s about damn time that President Obama finally took the gloves off and went after the GOP leadership by name; “why didn’t he do this a year ago?” I suppose I feel some of that frustration, too — all the attacks and the lies during the stimulus and healthcare debates went basically unanswered. But there’s also a strategy that says wait until your opponent has worked themselves into such a frenzy that when you come back at them with proposals that under normal circumstances they might agree to — the infrastructure bill or the tax cuts for small businesses, for example — they have to oppose them because they can’t back down. That gives Mr. Obama six weeks of campaigning material on the intransigence and sheer emotional discharge from the Republicans to play with: “I offered help for small business and a plan to rebuild roads and highways to create jobs and they screamed ‘NO!'”

If Mr. Obama had been playing that tune all along, it would be old news by now and the Republicans would have had time to come up with some counterpunch. As it is, they’ve now got to scramble to defend themselves and at the same time turn John Boehner into a rock star. Good luck with that.