John Boehner wakes up in his English basement apartment on Capitol Hill, his head still in a merlot fog.
It’s a glorious autumn morning, but Boehner doesn’t want to open his baby blues. He lies there, in his “Man of the House” T-shirt and Augusta National gym shorts.
He wishes he didn’t have to go to work. He reaches for his Camel Ultra Lights in his supposedly smoke-free apartment.
“Oh, Lord,” he growls. “How did I become that idiot Newt?”
He takes a deep drag as he drags himself out of bed.
“My whole career was about not becoming Newt,” he mutters. “You’d think our getting bounced from the leadership in ’98, in the backlash after the last shutdown, and then the Clinton impeachment, would have taught me something.”
He dresses with his usual care. He’s not going to let the press pests, with their cheap haircuts and bad ties, see that he’s down.
“People call me the Dean Martin of D.C., and I’m certainly getting roasted,” he tells his image in the mirror, perfectly knotting his sea-green tie on a crisply ironed shirt.
“Old Dino was from Ohio, too.”
The security detail picks up Boehner in an SUV, and, as usual, he heads to Pete’s Diner for breakfast.
The congressman who grew up in the Rust Belt with 11 siblings, mopping up his dad’s bar, likes his perks and loves being The Speaker. But as he picks at his sausage, eggs and rye toast, his head aches.
“Boy, I really gotta start wondering if it’s worth it,” he muses. “I’m being led around by the nose by goofballs like Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert when all I wanna do is wield my really big gavel — right on the heads of a couple of these ding-dongs. I enjoyed it a heckuva lot more when the Big Ted in the Senate was Kennedy. Me and Teddy, doing No Child Left Behind with No Wine Left Behind. Ha! That Washington has been snuffed out.”
He gulps his coffee.
“I’m so tired of Obama,” he keens to himself. “The president says he wishes he had Kevin Spacey to deal with. Well, so do I. I’ve been here for 22 years and that cat acts like I don’t know what I’m doing.”
He wafted through Congress like a cool breeze, while I spent years sweating out big deals with Democrats. The only thing that guy gets right is shellacking me in the Rose Garden. At least I showed him up at golf.
“Hey, I could go down to Hains Point for 18 holes. I need to relax, get some rays. Aw, never mind. I closed it as part of the government shutdown.”
He scans Politico.
“As if things weren’t bad enough, Harry Reid’s office leaked these emails to show what a hypocrite I was for raising hell about Congress’ special subsidy for health insurance this week after he and I had wheeled and dealed to keep the darn thing,” he rumbles. “I can’t stand Harry, but you gotta admire his methods. That’s how they do it in Vegas, baby. While I was hoping Democrats would slip on a banana peel, Harry labeled us banana Republicans.”
The phone rings. It’s Eric Cantor, in his oleaginous Richmond drawl, assuring Boehner that if the speaker wants to defy the tea party and make a deal with the Democrats, Cantor will be behind him all the way.
Ending the call as he leaves the diner, Boehner cracks to a member of his security detail, “Hey, pal, pull the knife out of my back.”
He calls an aide to ting-a-ling-a-ling his rat pack, Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Richard Burr and Rep. Tom Latham, and maybe a lobbyist or three, for an early dinner at Trattoria Alberto on Barracks Row. The government is closed, after all.
“I’m just a business guy,” he thinks, staring out the tinted window of the SUV, barely noticing government workers streaming out of their agencies to go home. “I came to look out for business, not to shut down the zoo’s Panda Cam. These tea party wacko birds are in la-la land.
“Washington used to be an adult place where you could slug it out during the day and have a few slugs at night, making deals in rooms that I personally filled with smoke. Now Congress is a crap sandwich. We used to pretend to hate each other. Now we really do.
“Paul Ryan sure has headed for the hills. Isn’t he the big budget genius? In 2011, I kept these loony-tunes at bay. But maybe I don’t have any more tricks up my sleeve. Now the kooks have overpowered me, made me look like one of the weakest speakers ever. Not exactly the legacy I was shooting for.
“I knew this shutdown was trouble. I’ve gotta decide if this job is even worth it if I have to be Cruz’s sock puppet.”
As the speaker arrives at the Capitol, he reaches for his hankie.
“It’s enough,” he blubbers, “to make a grown man cry.”
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.
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