|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
“Making sure these kids have a shot at the American Dream like I did is very important,” he said, choking up, when asked on “60 Minutes” about his crying.
But a look at Boehner’s record during his two decades in Congress shows a man who has voted against nearly every boost for the working stiff. There’s no empathy for those with the longest shots at the American Dream in his voting pattern. Instead, we see a politician who is hard-hearted in his legislative treatment of the people now coping with the kind of economic conditions in which the Boehner family grew up.
The American Dream that Boehner evokes between tears has never been more threatened. By some measures, social mobility — that is, the ability of people to move up a notch in class — is at an all-time low in this country. Poor Americans now have less than a 5 percent chance of rising to the upper-middle-class within their lifetimes.
At the same time, the gap between the rich and poor, and the concentration of wealth owned by those at the very top, has never been so great. After examining these trends, The Economist wrote that “the United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”
Numerous studies have shown that what knocks people out of the middle class, or keeps them from ever joining it, is a catastrophic bill or two — usually from getting sick and not having health care. Then, those debts go on credit cards, which leads to a misery hole of high interest and limited choices.
Against this backdrop, Boehner has fought against strivers and strugglers at the lower end, while shilling for ever-more concentrated corporate power and banker control. The one thing that stirs his passion is tax cuts. But nearly half of American households don’t pay any income tax at all, so Boehner’s crusade doesn’t affect them. And a decade of aggressive tax-cutting has done nothing to reverse the woes of everyday working people.
Boehner voted for the major trade agreements that make it easier to ship jobs overseas, while voting against assistance to workers who lose jobs to globalization. He voted no on expanding health care for poor children, no on raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, and no on a bill to allow people to purchase F.D.A.-certified prescription drugs at a cheaper price from certain countries.
So: he wants to deny health care to poor children, let millionaires hold onto more of their money while blocking a small raise for the lowest earners and prevent people on fixed incomes from getting a break on the costliest item in their personal budget — their meds.
Boehner got a zero rating from Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonprofit founded in 1979 to give average people a greater voice on tax policy amidst a stadium full of lobbyists for the rich.
More recently, he voted against modifying bankruptcy rules — rebuffing an effort to help people avoid mortgage foreclosures. He said no to the federal rescue of General Motors, which saved the American auto industry, countless jobs in Boehner’s Midwest, and did it all without a long-lasting hit on the Treasury. And he gave a thumbs down to regulation of the subprime mortgage industry.
Like Boehner’s father, my grandmother in Chicago owned a small bar that catered to a working-class clientele. She lived above the bar, a widowed single mother, working seven days a week. What saved her in her old age was a great, expansive government program that allowed so many Americans to live out the last decades of their lives in dignity — Medicare. Yes, that single-payer, socialized medical system that Boehner would surely vote against if it came up today.
Crying is often the sign of excruciatingly mixed emotion. Take the mother who cries at her daughter's wedding: She may be happy about the marriage and flooded with positive emotions — feelings of role fulfillment, of accomplishment, of pride, of happiness for her daughter. At the same time, she feels a sense of loss: A part of her life is over; she is losing not only a daughter but a purpose, a role.
Even our moments of extreme grief are complicated. The stages of grief do not follow each other in a neat therapeutic procession; instead, they are often a jumble. Loss is complicated by rage, by denial, by guilt. We weep and we wail, and we do so not because we know, without a doubt, exactly what we are feeling. We cry, in fact, because we don't.
Boehner's tears aren't hard to read. After analyzing hundreds of psychological experiments and sociological studies of weeping, hundreds of accounts of crying in different cultures and different historical periods, thousands of tearful moments in film and fiction and art, I have come to see that, like the mother of the bride, many of us weep because we are overwhelmed by contradictions.
The America that gave Boehner a shot at his dream had a minimum wage that, adjusted for inflation, topped $10 an hour. In 2006, he voted against letting the minimum rise from $5.15 to its current $7.25. It took Boehner seven years to finish college while working minimum-wage jobs; how long would it have taken if the minimum wage had purchased as little as it does today?
Boehner put himself through school, he said on election night, unsuccessfully trying to stem the flow of tears, "working every rotten job there was." He mopped floors, waited tables and tended bar. One could feel both his horror at once having done that sort of work and his exuberance at having left it behind to become the golfing, jet-setting, deeply tanned man weeping before the cameras.
Would he agree with this assessment? Does he know that, despite his assertions to the contrary, cutting taxes for the rich won't do anything to produce those jobs he keeps promising? Does he feel conflicted knowing that his golf bill (reported at $83,000 last year) is six or seven times the take-home pay of someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage, and several times the median income in many of our communities?
I suspect he does, and that when he thinks about the America of his youth, he knows it will never return if his party gets its way in Washington. It is all too much. He weeps.