Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 26, 2010

UNDERSTANDING BOEHNER'S LACK OF UNDERSTANDING.... House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn't have a whole lot to say at the health care summit yesterday, but when the topic at hand was mandates in the system, the GOP leader took his turn at the mic. Boehner brushed past the subject, and instead asked a few rhetorical questions.

"Mr. President, I told you the day after -- maybe it was the day you were sworn in as president -- I would never say anything outside of the room that I wouldn't say inside the room. I've been patient. I've listened to the debate that's gone on here.

"But why can't we agree on those insurance reforms that we've talked about? Why can't we come to an agreement on purchasing across state lines? And why can't we do something about the biggest cost driver, which is medical malpractice and the defensive medicine that doctors practice?"

It's important to keep the larger context in mind. Boehner's comments came fairly late in the day, which means policymakers had already discussed, in considerable detail, exactly why Democrats and Republicans disagree on insurance reform, across state lines, and medical malpractice. In other words, Boehner wasn't posing these questions in an opening statement, hoping to lay the groundwork for additional discussion; he was posing questions that everyone in the room already knew the answers to.

As Jon Chait noted, "It's like he wasn't even there. Does he not understand what the other side is saying? Does he not care at all? It's not that he's provided an answer to Obama's arguments that I disagree with. He's just totally unable to acknowledge or engage at any level with the arguments presented. You're debating a brick wall."

I suppose the extended debate over the nature of Republicans' arguments -- are folks like Boehner actually dumb or are they just pathologically dishonest -- will never really end. But hearing Boehner's bizarre presentation and ridiculous questions was one of the day's more frustrating, head-shaking moments. He emphasized that he'd "listened to the debate that's gone on here," which couldn't really be true -- if he'd listened he wouldn't have asked the questions -- unless Boehner simply lacked the intellectual wherewithal to keep up.

It was also around that time when I remembered that John Boehner may very well be the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in just 11 months -- at which point I broke out in a cold sweat.

For what it's worth, the president patiently waited for Boehner to finish, before explaining to the GOP leader, "[E]very so often, we have a pretty good conversation trying to get on some specifics, and then we go back to, you know, the standard talking points that Democrats and Republicans have had for the last year. And that doesn't drive us to an agreement on issues."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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My jaw dropped when he started speaking. It was probably the dumbest moment of the whole "debate." What a moron.

Posted by: Matt on February 26, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

It's all about what gets on the evening news. There will be a clip with Boehner's comments, without any context or pointing out that his questions have already been answered.

Posted by: RefManTim on February 26, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

"For what it's worth, the president patiently waited for Boehner to finish, before explaining to the GOP leader, "[E]very so often, we have a pretty good conversation trying to get on some specifics, and then we go back to, you know, the standard talking points that Democrats and Republicans have had for the last year. And that doesn't drive us to an agreement on issues.""

And therein lies the problem. The appropriate response would have been: "With all due respect, you are either horribly confused, limited in thougth, or must have been daydreaming during this most important discussion, seeing that just X minutes ago we covered that ground...."

Posted by: bubba on February 26, 2010 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

I am so frustrated and turned off by the Republican Party. I have been trying to find a word that describes their behavior. There are so many possibilities: juvenile, arrogant, delusional, hypocrite, vicious, unprincipled, etc. But something Steve said in this post gave me the answer.

The Republican Party is "PATHOLOGICALLY DISHONEST". That really sums it up for me.

Posted by: Ladyhawke on February 26, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

RefManTim gets it right. The clip will be shown to Boehner's local party to prove that he's a man of steel.

Posted by: davidp on February 26, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps another option? Glug, glug, glug...

Posted by: ComradeAnon on February 26, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

I got the clear sense from Boner, Cantor, etc. that they were making statements for their next campaign vid -- "See how we stood up to the President??" -- even though they made ignorant statements that made no sense.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on February 26, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

. . . are folks like Boehner actually dumb or are they just pathologically dishonest?

I think the correct answer is "yes". They are brick walls with an agenda.

Posted by: Bo on February 26, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Are they dumb or just dishonest? Well, both, of course. It's a technique. Boehner's friend and stooge and my congressman, Tom Latham, known fondly to his constituents as "Empty Suit," does the same thing. They're so busy keeping their talking points in mind, they don't listen. Ask either of them a question and you'll get an answer -- to the question they wanted to be asked. Challenge them and you'll get the stock Repub reply, a variation on "It's true because I tell you it is." They have no scruples, no shame and no memory of past positions and how they might conflict with today's stance of convenience. Debating them is like trying to hold onto a fish. Like a fish, the only way to win is to deprive them of water.

Posted by: ericfree on February 26, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

After this stunning display of inattention, did his dear college senator John Asso Barasso offer Bonner his stethoscope to listen with?

Posted by: Chopin on February 26, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

" are folks like Boehner actually dumb or are they just pathologically dishonest". Do you NOT know the answer? Are YOU dumb or pathologically dishonest? Boehner and the Republican are not opposed to the policies , but rather to Obama and the Democrats having power. Do you, Obama and other Democrats really think if Neville [Chamberlain] had just continued to negotiate with Adolf, they would have reached a compromise that would have prevented WWII?

Posted by: gdb on February 26, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, how I wish someone would explain to the public that 'tort reform' is nothing but a way to free doctors from accountability.

I was shocked how plainly Coburn inadvertently put it yesterday when he was he was thorough only because of the threat of litigation.

Posted by: doubtful on February 26, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

As I said yesterday, the R's were NOT there to discuss health care reform. They saw it as an opportunity to get some serious face time in front of the cameras for future use.

Congresscritters have two skills: Raising money, and running for re-election.

Posted by: DAY on February 26, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Hey -- they had no plan, so why use the opportunity to its fullest?

Posted by: pol on February 26, 2010 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Boehner and the Republican's are not opposed to the policies, but rather to PRESIDENT Obama and the DEMOCRATIC party having power.
DemocRATS..they are not RATS....The Republican's are not DUMB, but they do lack intelligence.
This has never been about PRESIDENT Obama...IT IS AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT THE AMERICAN VOTER! Remember NOVEMBER 4th?

Posted by: Sharon on February 26, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Was there any hard evidence, he was in attendance for most of the session. You know, he needs his many "Man-Tan" breaks. Under kleig lights, it starts to run.

Posted by: berttheclock on February 26, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

The Republican Party is "PATHOLOGICALLY DISHONEST". That really sums it up for me.

**************************************************

Me too, but, according to Chuck Todd the 'REPIGLICANS WERE 10 TIMES MORE PREPARED THAN THE DEMOCRATS' ........... yes, he actually spluttered these words last night on Hardball with Chris Matthews ...

Posted by: stormskies on February 26, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

They are not pathological liars, they are professional liars. Pathological liars are not aware of what they are doing, whereas Boehner knows exactly what he is doing. He repeats the lies because he knows that at the least, the lie will get top billing and the truth (if it is mentioned at all) will barely be acknowledged.

BTW -- did you hear Mara Liasson's piece on the summit on NPR this morning. I wanted to throw the radio against the wall. She put in about 5-6 sound clips from Republicans, and only two from Democrats -- one of which was the exchange between the President and McCain, which of course had nothing to do with health care policy and everything to do with process. At least she did put in Durbin's brilliant smackdown of Barasso. She has spent waay too much time in the company of Hume, Kristol, & Co. to be trusted with actual reporting.

Posted by: Dave in DC on February 26, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

The statement looks stupid in context of a six hour 'discussion' on Healthcare.

When it's editted down and played out of context as a 30 second sound bite it will look like Boehner's standing up the President and asking 'tough' questions.

The Republicans understand that very few people actually watched the entire summit. How the event will be perceived will be determined by how the MSN spins it and what sound bites they play. The President and many Democrats missed this point. They actually tried to talk about the issues. Discuss nuanced policy distinctions. Republicans talked in sound bites that can be easily editted down for TV.

Lazy MSN people will play a hell of lot more of the Republican sound-bites and make it look like they were engaged and being tough.

Posted by: thorin-1 on February 26, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with RefManTim and Davidp - there'll be a whole swath of bible-belters and unconscious droolers out there who will (if they're even watching) have their elitist filters set on "stun", and likely what Obama says will register only as a sort of quacking noise, like Charlie Brown's teacher. Their minds are made up, and they're only interested in what their side has to say.

Their takeaway will be, "Obama ducked the question, and Brother Boehner called him on it". If he'd already answered, Boehner wouldn't have asked.

Politics is simple if you (a) don't understand what's at stake (and if you don't, political discussion is numbingly boring anyway), or (b) trust your political party of choice to look after your best interests.

Posted by: Mark on February 26, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Did no one call BS on this repeated mantra that medical malpractice is the driving force for all the excessive cost of medical care? Did Republiscum get to repeat that lie all day with no push back from Dems at all?

Posted by: digitusmedius on February 26, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

That's what happens when the shills think they're running the con.

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on February 26, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, those RepuG soundbites are needed for those who watched the Canadian women beat our US team.

Posted by: berttheclock on February 26, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Perrspectives blog has a detailed, but not too lengthy, refutation of GOP talking points about medical malpractice.

Posted by: karen marie on February 26, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of a saying I once heard about trial tactics (I'm not a lawyer).

"If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table."

Posted by: David Hunt on February 26, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

He's not dumb, he just doesn't care. The bill's too long, it's too short, it's socialist, it cuts Medicare, it doesn't cut enough Medicare, free market, no public competition, whatever.

George Bush proved that dishonesty pays off bigtime when you can hit on the right combination of words to push voters fear buttons.

Republican Motto:
"Make them afraid of it then tell them who's to blame for it."

Posted by: bcinaz on February 26, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

"did you hear Mara Liasson's piece on the summit on NPR this morning"

First, Liasson works for Fox News now, along with Juan Williams. That should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the disparity in which views got air time.

Second, it illustrates perfectly that the GOP knows how to play to the media. Only a bunch of policy wonks with understanding of the issues really watched the "debate" and understood what was going on. Opinion will be shaped by what the major news outlets say about the debate, and NPR just showed us how that works.

Democrats need to understand that the media won't do their work for them. That is, if they actually want to reform the health insurance system.

I have serious doubts that the Democratic leadership is interested in achieving that goal. I don't see anything they've done in the last 6 months that makes me believe otherwise.

Posted by: zak822 on February 26, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

My jaw dropped when he started speaking. It was probably the dumbest moment of the whole "debate." What a moron.
Posted by: Matt on February 26, 2010

No, that honor goes to Barasso. Thankfully that fool got smacked down hard.


And I, too, got the distinct feeling that the Republicans were just playing for soundbites during the summit. They just kept repeating bullet points from their hand prompters regardless of the discussion. How many times during the debate did one of them pop off about the necessity of doing healthcare incrementally? Sometimes right after a democrat just explained at length why that strategy can't work. It was like arguing with an alzheimer's patient.... or a room full of Sarah Palins, take your pick.

Posted by: oh well on February 26, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

To all the commenters that mentioned above that this will be a news clip: you are absolutely right. I just heard the exchange played on NPR, as a pretty good summary of the whole meeting.

Of course, no context was given, no explanation of all the discussions on the exactly those topics that preceded Bohner's comment, etc.

I think Boehner knows exactly what he's doing, and he's good at it.

Posted by: CarloP on February 26, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Rescued from a dying thread, (then I recess for awhile):

Some type of public option (ie, not necessarily whatever plan/s were already floated - important distinction often lost) is IMHO the key to selling health care reform in a way that ironically satisfies some of the legit complaints and worries of both ends of the political spectrum. (That means "legit" v. the political game and hypocrisy.) The PO already has precedent per programs like Medicare and Social Security.

First, the PO ameliorates the issue per se of having to buy from private insurers. This is abhorrent to true progressives (who don't like the private purchase forcing, as they have told us and I sympathize) and to conservatives, who don't like such mandates for some valid reasons. Mandates not directly about public services could face legal challenges, and this shouldn't be brushed off.

Second, the PO provides competition and more alternatives to private insurance. Push the meme: let types of insurance compete (government v. private), not just among private companies.

Third, we can remind voters that they wouldn't be roped into having to buy private insurance if the PO had been supported more, and allowed by Republicans. Say that voters will have *more* choice if they can buy into Medicare early. Come up with early buy-in premiums that are better than what the privates can do, and throw down that gauntlet.

Posted by: Neil B. on February 26, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Home on a snow day, stumbled onto Comedy Central and found this gem
about the not so illustrious John Boehner:

This was posted by Dennis DiClaudio Feb 25th, Comedy Central

Entitled
"John Boehner declares Health Care Summit a glorious opposite of success"

"So, the summit has summitted, and all the congresspeople will now get back to congressing, and we're left to wonder: "Was any of this actually worth spending all day in front of the television watching Republicans recite talking points and Democrats telling sad stories about sick people who had their internal organs stolen by insurance companies or something?"

I think this press release from House Minority Leader John Boehner — issued mid-summit! — says all we need to know…

"No GOP Reforms Included in Democrats' Job-Killing Health Care Proposals" reads the headline of a GOP Leader Alert issued moments ago, as members of his own caucus sparred with President Obama over whether and how to allow health insurance to be sold across state lines.

"Despite the President's rhetoric, Democrats' job-killing health care proposals do not implement a single major GOP reform that would lower costs for families and small businesses," Boehner's statement reads.

It's like a sit-com. It's not particularly funny, and everything returns to status quo by the end of the half-hour.

Except this half-hour was six hours long."


Posted by: greensburg girl on February 26, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Too bad someone didn't ask him if he was feeling refreshed after his nap.

Posted by: CDW on February 26, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a thought. Just like we do in the military, have somebody bring up a PowerPoint presentation on a split screen with each party's "main points" on it, preceded by an agenda slide where it shows what is going to be discussed. You go down them one by one (pros and cons) while the driver of the mouse types in things as you go, debating points, facts, and assumptions, that sort of thing. Put names next to the points that are made or cite the studies from CBO and others...pin the rose on somebody. Then, at the end of the summit you have an executive summary of what was discussed and what the due outs are, if any. SHOW that stupid bastard Boehner what he is apparently missing, because all Fox News is going to report is that nothing was discussed because Boehner said so.

Posted by: Ben on February 26, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

are folks like Boehner actually dumb or are they just pathologically dishonest?

yes and yes

Do you wonder what was really going though Obama's head when he said:

"[E]very so often, we have a pretty good conversation trying to get on some specifics, and then we go back to, you know, the standard talking points that Democrats and Republicans have had for the last year. And that doesn't drive us to an agreement on issues."

I bet it was rather .....salty.

Posted by: ET on February 26, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Does Boehner always sound this way. He sounded drunk to me.

Posted by: Lola on February 26, 2010 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

At least Boehner isn't anything like that Eric Fralik jerk.

Posted by: IAone on February 26, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

at the risk of sounding hyper partisan, i can't help but notice that the two minority leaders of the house [boner and can't-errrrr] are idiots. as much as i despise voting for a bunch of spineless democrats who don't care to govern for much of anybody other than their contributors/lobbyists, seeing the two bozos yesterday is a vivid reminder why i would never vote republican...

Posted by: djs pellchecka on February 26, 2010 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Yes, those RepuG soundbites are needed for those who watched the Canadian women beat our US team."

If you enjoyed that, tune in Sunday and watch us beat your men's team. It won't be like Finland.

Posted by: Mark on February 26, 2010 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Cut Boner some slack. You can't expect a guy to focus and listen to a complex debate when he's preoccupied with managing the burp fighting to erupt from his tummy.

Posted by: Winkandanod on February 26, 2010 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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