Boehner Monologue Called Out

Reporting on political theater? Acknowledge the theatrical

Seems a lot of people are talking about the speech John Boehner gave today in Ohio—the supposedly candidate-defining oration we had all read about before he gave it that now sits pretty at the top of Memeorandum. The possible future Speaker got exactly what he wanted from a controversy-hungry press when he called for the president to extend the Bush tax cuts, and, in a sensational sound bite that will fill cable airwaves and Twitterfeeds today, called for the sacking of Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers. Gasp!

President Obama should ask for – and accept – the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council. 

Now, this is no substitute for a referendum on the president’s job-killing agenda. That question will be put before the American people in due time.

But we do not have the luxury of waiting months for the president to pick scapegoats for his failing ‘stimulus’ policies. We’ve tried 19 months of government-as-community organizer. It hasn’t worked. Our fresh start needs to begin now.

The media is eating this little piece of political theater up—dovetailing Boehner’s comments with a “prebuttal” from the White House (which had published a response on its blog at 6 am this morning) as CNN did on its Political Ticker.

All well and good. When the minority leader stands up and decides to offer the president five ideas for improving the economy and stimulating job growth, you’ve got to give him a bit of air time, write up your post, Tweet the grabbiest bites. And it’s difficult to go beyond the he-said she-said when the “said” bit is all hypotheticals and sensational demands.

What’s important, though, in reporting on this kind of political chess move, is to acknowledge that that is what it is: a move. An actor moving to his mark; his costars following suit and moving to theirs. Line?

Framing it this way gives a sense of just how unimportant speeches like this can be, and easily forgotten. How tailor-made they are for a twenty-four-hour news cycle with a short-term memory (who remembers Obama’s speech in an Ohio back yard last week?) and how little they serve voters and viewers.

Which is why, despite the predictable lede—“House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called Tuesday for the mass firing of the Obama administration’s economic team”—I liked the Post’s story on the speech. Four paragraphs in, reporter Paul Kane gets real:

Boehner’s demand for the ousters of Geithner and Summers is likely to be met with derision in the West Wing, and denounced as mere electioneering less than 75 days before the midterm election. Calls for cabinet officials to be fired is nothing new for the party out of power — during the Bush administration many Democrats called for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a demand that was not met until Democrats swept the 2006 midterms.

House Republicans do not plan to unveil a detailed policy agenda until late September, and Boehner’s speech did not expand the GOP’s existing economic proposals in any significant way. The speech was part of a bus tour of battleground House districts, focusing on manufacturing-centric regions such as Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Thank you, Mr. Kane, for pointing out the obvious, but the often unacknowledged.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.