The Obama White House is badly in need of a villain. It needs someone to rail against.
During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama had President George W. Bush to blame for all the nation’s ills. He still does, but blaming the previous president quickly gets old in American politics. And Bush has been admirably reticent, refusing to comment on his successor’s performance in office, although he must be sorely tempted.
Bush has kept busy on his book and his library, only emerging in public life to co-chair, along with President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. And how can you demonize a guy looking out for impoverished earthquake victims? Especially when you asked him to? No, Bush’s days as a demon are pretty much over.
The likely Republican presidential candidates aren’t in positions where they really do or decide anything. And with the exception of Sarah Palin, most Americans couldn’t pick the GOP presidential hopefuls out of a police lineup.
And now, the White House thinks it has found its villain: House Republican leader John Boehner, a 20-year veteran of Congress. True, the job is a little obscure to the general public. A watchdog group rates it as only the sixth most influential position in the House.
Boehner would have the obscurity problem — a poll this spring found that 55 percent of the American people had never heard of him — except for two things: It’s quite possible he’ll be the next speaker of the House, a very powerful and visible position and third in line to the president; and he has this deep, alarmingly unnatural tan. The man, depending on the TV lighting, is close to being orange.
Obama even made a joke about it at the White House correspondents’ dinner this spring.
“In the next hundred days, our bipartisan outreach will be so successful that even John Boehner will consider becoming a Democrat,” the president said. “After all, we have a lot in common. He is a person of color — although not a color that appears in the natural world.”
Boehner said he comes by his tan from mowing his grass and mountain biking. But he doesn’t look like a man whose leisure activities include cutting grass and riding a bicycle. He looks like a man who smokes, drinks and plays golf, and would make a convincing pit boss in a movie about Las Vegas — all qualities, by the way, that Washington, D.C., appreciates. Remember, the president was — and maybe still is — a secret smoker. The golf and the beer we already know about.
Just recently Boehner gave a speech in Cleveland blasting Obama’s handling of the economy — while being rather terse about precisely what he would do instead — and helpfully suggested that the president fire his entire economic team.
This week, Obama returned to the same venue. Reported Politico, “The fact that the White House has admitted that Wednesday’s trip is a direct response to Boehner’s Cleveland speech of Aug. 24 shows that the president is honing in on Boehner as a political punching bag.”
In his speech, Obama took the unusual step of repeatedly singling out Boehner by name as a friend of the rich and the special interests whose policies would be “bad for America.”
Boehner’s office appeared pleased by the presidential attention. Aides said the “unprecedented” attacks smacked of panic and desperation. Maybe so, but every president needs a villain or two, and it appears Obama has found his.
Dale McFeatters is a political columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.