On the House: A Washington Memoir, by John Boehner

Eight stars

I do enjoy delving into the world of political memoirs on occasion, if only to get a new and intriguing perspective on the inner workings of government. When I saw that John Boehner has penned this book, I was interested to see what he had to say. A well-spoken politician from Ohio, Boehner rose through the ranks of the Republican Party (GOP) to eventually become the Speaker of the House of Representatives. What’s found within this brief memoir is a collection of views and perspectives (sometimes told without filter) to show how he witnessed the true metamorphosis of the modern GOP from conservative to outright bombastic. Readers who enjoy these sorts of pieces will likely find something within to pique their interest.

While the book never follows a strict chronology of his life, John Boehner grew up as the second oldest of twelve children on the outskirts of Cincinnati. Life was never easy for him, but he learned from a young age that hard work is sure to pay off. Boehner recounts working in the family bar from a young age and modelling himself after his father, a Second World War veteran who never spoke of his time away.

When Boehner made his way into politics, he set his eye on Washington, where he felt that he could make a difference. Boehner pushed the limits in the early 1990s, hoping to make a name for himself and shape America. He was not always welcomed by some of his congressional colleagues, as he never saw the point of sitting back and watching, but rather wanted to be in the middle of things and stirring the pot. Boehner tells of pushing for an amendment to the US Constitution, one that had sat dormant due to a lack of states ratifying. This push did shed some light on his young congressional career and would help pave the way to added successes.

As his politics continued to impress his constituents, Boehner was re-elected multiple times, allowing him to climb the ranks of the Republicans within the House. There, he took on some committee chairs and saw politics through another set of eyes. Still, he yearned for a broader leadership and sought to put himself out there for key positions. While the Democrats controlled the House, Boehner was trying to herd together the GOP members, working loosely as a check on their opponents, but also hoping to turn the tables when the opportunity arose.

In the middle of the book, Boehner takes a step away from his congressional work, per se, and turns to one of the stalwart former members of the House and political scene. Boehner had the chance to meet and play golf with former president Gerald Ford, recounting some lesser known stories about the man. Ford was a master of the House for many years, aspiring to be Speaker before he was uniquely thrust into the vice-presidency and eventually became president. Boehner admired the man and his convictions, though pines what might have been had he been able to win in 1976 over the unknown Jimmy Carter. Ford offered many insights to the up and coming Boehner, but also liked to see the progress he had made in his time as a member of the House.

Boehner eventually became Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third most powerful position in US politics. He ran the House as best he could, working to balance his party views with amicable interactions alongside President Obama and the Senate. Boehner soon realised that there was a movement within the GOP to push things to the extreme, making keeping the party together a lot more difficult. There was no desire to compromise or work with the administration, instead choosing to toss rocks at anything they could. Boehner commented throughout how he struggled with this, first as the Tea Party movement gained traction and the eventual Ted Cruz/Trump circus that rolled into town. It would seem that rational thought played a second role to stymying anything that would see compromise between the Republicans and Democrats. Boehner could see the writing on the wall and knew that Washington was about to change, and not for the better.

The latter portion of the book tackles some of the areas that promote interaction with the electorate: lobbyists and media. Boehner offered some interesting commentary on both, feeling them essential, even if he does not always agree with their antics. Boehner has had numerous encounters with both groups and describes how they always kept him on his toes and left him sometimes pining to still have them in his life. This is quite a sobering admission for a politician, but Boehner rarely follows the rules of a political memoir.

While I had little knowledge of John Boehner before I read this piece, I feel much closer to him and those positions he feels are important. Unlike many others who have penned their thoughts about life in Washington, Boehner tells it like it is and refuses to sugar coat things. This look into life in Washington proves insightful and Boehner uses a great mix of history and anecdotes to tell a story worth reading. Longer chapters provide detailed discussions that are sure to shed light on many issues for the reader. Well-paced and full of just enough salty asides, Boehner makes the book one that is easily read and enjoyed by those who love political narratives without the stuffiness one might expect with those in positions of leadership. While few will deny the Republican Party has taken a strong turn to the right, Boehner offers proof of when and how the shift took place. Let’s hope this is only a short-term detour, or at least a tiny sip of the Kool-Aid!

Kudos, Mr. Boehner, for a wonderful piece that educated and entertained me in equal measure. Thanks for the memories!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons