Boyer takes time to outline the individual rises, and aggressive Tea Party-friendly-and-courting positions, of the three “young guns,” and highlight the difference in style, and to an extent, ideology, between them and the man whose lead they may or may not follow.

Next to the Young Guns, Boehner can sometimes seem a bit languid. One of the criticisms of him, levelled again this summer by Joe Scarborough on the air, is that Boehner cares too much about his leisure to be an effective leader. That perception is shared across the aisle, where Barney Frank, for one, sees potential problems for a relatively weak Speaker. “He has not established himself, it seems to me, as a strong personality—people don’t think of him in that way,” Frank says. That means that the “Midwestern mainstream conservative” will be pulled to the right by a more assertively ideological caucus. “Unlike with most Speakers, now there’s more power in the caucus than in the Speaker,” Frank says.

Boehner’s friend Jim McCrery says, “He enjoys playing golf. He enjoys having a drink of Merlot. He doesn’t work eighteen hours a day. But he gets a lot done during the course of a day, when he does work. And he does delegate to staff, and he gets a lot out of his fellow-members. He’s very effective. But he is not a dynamo. Like, Newt was go-go-go-go-go, banging his fist on the table and raising his voice, and very histrionic—John’s not like that at all. So some people look at the outside John Boehner and say, ‘Golly, he’s not a dynamic leader.’ Well, he’s got a different style. But he’s not lazy. He’s very effective. And he gets results.”

Not surprisingly, a lot of the value of the profile comes from Boehner’s comments, which are more candid at times than you might expect. Though his final word on the Young Guns is fairly diplomatic:

“Hey, I was one myself, I know exactly how this works,” he says. “I told them, ‘My job is to get you guys ready to take my place.’ I’m very open about it. That’s what a good manager does, that’s what a good leader does. You’ve got to give them room to grow. You’ve got to give them room to be rebellious, from time to time. If you try to tighten down the pressure cooker too much, it’s gonna explode.”

Boehner’s comments on the group that the GOP’s young guns has been so aggressively courting—the so-called Tea Partiers and other fresh-eyed congressional newbies—are more eye-grabbing. The new Speaker veers toward condescension when he discusses how the new class will handle an inevitable vote on raising the government’s national debt ceiling, describing it as an “adult moment.”

“This is going to be probably the first really big adult moment” for the new Republican majority, Boehner told me. “You can underline ‘adult.’ And for people who’ve never been in politics it’s going to be one of those growing moments. It’s going to be difficult, I’m certainly well aware of that. But we’ll have to find a way to help educate members and help people understand the serious problem that would exist if we didn’t do it.”

The “adult” motif runs through the piece.

Finally, one of the more valuable sources in the profile is Boehner’s brother Bob. He’s frank on a number of issues, including his brother’s famous skin tone. For Boehner tan-watchers, the mystery is finally solved.

At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last year, President Obama joked that Boehner was “a person of color, although not a color that appears in the natural world.” This fall, Bob Boehner explained to me, “This whole thing about the tan—besides John, there’s three other brothers and a sister who are very dark-complected. Even in March and April, they look like they’ve been out in the sun all day.” Eventually, Boehner told the Wall Street Journal, “I have never been in a tanning bed or used a tanning product.” By the transition period, Boehner had either been staying off the golf courses or applying gobs of sunblock, as his skin tone had softened noticeably to a commonplace Crayola peach.


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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.