Political Animal


May 11, 2011 10:40 AM Boehner’s functionally illiterate on economic policy

By Steve Benen

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appears to have made a terrible error in his speech to the Economic Club of New York on Monday. His mistake was sharing with the audience his actual beliefs, which upon even cursory examination, are so conspicuously unintelligent, it’s rather alarming.

Bloomberg News examined Boehner’s assessment of existing U.S. economic policies and found that the House Speaker “built his case on several assertions that are contradicted by market indicators and government reports.” Jonathan Chait took a closer look at Boehner’s remarks on tax policy and discovered they were “gibberish.”

And the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus scrutinized the speech and discovered that Boehner is relying on an “incoherent, impervious-to-facts economic philosophy.”

Reporters naturally tend to ignore this boilerplate. Journalistically, that makes sense. Boehner’s economic comments were nothing particularly new. Indeed, they reflect what has become the mainstream thinking of the Republican Party. But that’s exactly the point. We become so inured to hearing this thinking that we neglect to point out how wrong it is.

My argument with Boehner is not that he believes in a more limited role for government than I do, not that he is more skeptical of government intervention and regulation, and not that he is more worried about the economically stifling implications of tax increases. Those are legitimate ideological differences. American politics is better off for them.

I’m talking about statements that are simply false.

This is very important, because it removes partisan and ideological concerns from the discussion. I’m a lefty and Boehner’s a righty, so naturally I won’t agree with his policies or agenda.

But that’s not what this is about. The House Speaker is presenting an economic vision based on fantasy, confusion, and lies. The man simply has no idea what he’s talking about.

Marcus, Bloomberg, and Chait walk through a striking list of bizarre errors of fact from Boehner. He said the economy will be worse off if the debt ceiling is raised without massive cuts. He thinks the Recovery Act “hurt” the economy. He believes the public sector is “crowding out” private investment. Boehner’s certain the economy “never” grows after a tax increase. He’s convinced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “triggered the whole meltdown” of the U.S. financial system.

These claims aren’t just wrong; they’re ridiculous. It has nothing to do with Democrats vs. Republicans, or left vs. right. This is Boehner vs. reality.

At an almost instinctual level, the political establishment tends to strongly resist this. I more or less understandable why — considering Boehner’s rhetoric at face value, and assuming he means what he says, is almost terrifying to think Boehner is so painfully confused.

But here we are. We’re left with the discomforting fact that it appears the Speaker of the House, Congress’ most powerful official, when dealing with the nation’s most important issue, is functionally illiterate, bringing the sophistication of a slow child to the debate.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • stormskies on May 11, 2011 10:55 AM:

    All true of course but he will be back on the Sunday propaganda shows and repeat all of his delusions over and over and they will go unchallenged .. by design..of the corporate media ....

  • hells littlest angel on May 11, 2011 10:58 AM:

    Boehner should be in a run-down saloon singing "How Dry I Am" for pocket change.

  • c u n d gulag on May 11, 2011 11:03 AM:

    Well, Boehner may be a slow child, but he's a SERIOUS slow child.

    It would be nice if the MSM studied and analyzed things, which what they're supposed to do, and not merely report what "R" says vs. what "D" says.

    But that would require some thought and some work.

    And it's so much easier being a willing and compliant stenographer, treating things that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people in this country, and, because we're still the most powerful nation on the planet, billions of people worldwide, like they were writing at a gossip magazine.

  • kindness on May 11, 2011 11:05 AM:

    While these few have indeed reported the truth of the matter, the MSM as a whole will continue to report the truthiness of the Republican message machine without that annoying element of reality mentioned.

    What has happened to this country?

  • CDW on May 11, 2011 11:07 AM:

    Good for Bloomberg, too. I wondered how Boehner could get away with his blather when speaking to an _economic_ club and concluded the club must be highly partisan. Otherwise, any clout Boehner and the republican party have would be greatly narrowed.

  • SecularAnimist on May 11, 2011 11:10 AM:

    Steve Benen quoted Ruth Marcus: "Those are legitimate ideological differences ... I’m talking about statements that are simply false."

    That's because you are not dealing with ideologues.

    You are dealing with CROOKS who play ideologues on TV.

  • ghostryder on May 11, 2011 11:15 AM:

    its' a result of the cloister effect of having them live and work in DC for years at a time....they never are confronted with the FACTS, just their own ideas about things (journalism anyone?)

    it also could be the "Emperor has new clothes" phenomenom, (again-journalists?) since no one seems to want to point out the facts, the GOP politicians just creat their own!

  • SecularAnimist on May 11, 2011 11:16 AM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "Boehner is so painfully confused ... functionally illiterate ..."

    Boehner is neither "confused" nor "illiterate". He is reciting carefully scripted, focus-group tested, deliberate lies, in the full knowledge that the corporate-owned mass media will unquestioningly and uncritically broadcast them as "news".

    Steve Benen wrote: "... bringing the sophistication of a slow child to the debate."

    With all due respect, the "slow child" is not the con man, but the person being conned by the con man's bamboozlement, who believes that the con man is merely "confused".

  • jon on May 11, 2011 11:17 AM:

    I think you are mistaken in thinking that he believes his own lies.

    It's encouraging to see at least a few in the msm point out that his statements are in fact false. They almost never do that, preferring to merely assert that Democrats disagree, as though only subjective opinion exists in a universe devoid of fact or truth.

  • Roddy McCorley on May 11, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Boehner - indeed the entire GOP - is misdirection. Misdirection does not need to be accurate. It only needs to misdirect.

    Boehner is just doing his job. Misdirection.

  • kevo on May 11, 2011 11:31 AM:

    Boehner and his Republican cohorts make for a new reading of those traffic signs that note,

    "Slow Children Playing"! -Kevo

  • Vince on May 11, 2011 11:33 AM:

    SecularAnimist pretty much sums up what I was going to say. Boehner and pols like him aren't confused. They are lying sacks of steaming horse manure and they tell the lies that further the interests of their corporate pay masters. Period.

  • N.Wells on May 11, 2011 11:39 AM:

    I more or less understandable why
    **understand** (that makes a more lead-in to a charge of illiteracy in an opponent!)

    Whether Boehner is lying or stupid or more probably both, the best countercharge is that he's stupid. The record of the last 30 years is that voters are surprisingly tolerant of stupidity, but are apparently even more tolerant of lying. "Everyone knows" that the economy is tricky and complicated, so complaints that he's too stupid to understand even how wrong he is should resonate more deeply with voters.

    Yay, preview!!! Thanks.

  • N.Wells on May 11, 2011 12:04 PM:

    Please read "better", not "more" in my comment. I was so excited over preview. I guess I overlooked what I wrote and got hoist on my on petard.

  • jdb on May 11, 2011 12:07 PM:

    This has become the party line. Here for example is Cong. Roskam (Il- 6), repeating some of the same comments, completely, and shamelessly, divorced from the truth. http://www.publiusforum.com/2011/05/10/wanted-a-commonsense-us-energy-policy/
    For example: "Americans have weathered one economic storm after another over the last few years. Yet, time and again, Washington policies have only made our families� woes worse. From a failed trillion dollar stimulus to a healthcare overhaul that costs jobs and makes healthcare more expensive, Washington policies keep making it harder when Americans need the help most." (Note also that this is published in a far right-wing website).

  • Taylor on May 11, 2011 12:47 PM:

    I find it funny that the MSM picked this point in time to call out the lies in the Republican view of the economic issues. It is the same stuff they have been saying for the last two years (except for the debt ceiling rhetoric because that issue just recently came up). I think they expected Boehner to give a coherent analysis because he was speaking with "Very Serious People" and not the voters. Now the MSM sees that the Republicans must really believe in fantasy if they give a speech to Wall Street based upon said fantasy. I think they might be frightened. Hopefully this will start a new trend of telling people the truth instead of being "objective and presenting both sides." I know, I know, (sigh) wishful thinking.

  • Area Man on May 11, 2011 1:13 PM:

    "The man simply has no idea what he’s talking about."

    Steve, please stop saying this. Boehner's false view of reality is not born of ignorance. It's not as if conservatives simply don't know better and are capable of being shown that they're wrong. They've adopted a false narrative to sell policies that are contrary to the interests of the vast majority of Americans. Maybe they really don't know or don't care what reality has to say, but this isn't a case of an ignoramus wading into unfamiliar territory. Boehner is reading off of a carefully managed script; he knows what he's talking about with extreme precision.

  • mommadona on May 11, 2011 4:27 PM:

    "....and people wonder how Hitler got as far as he did..."

  • yellowdog on May 11, 2011 5:02 PM:

    Nobody said boo in 2008 when Sarah Palin thought Fannie Mae was a government-funded bureaucracy. No matter that the housing market was tanking at the time and anyone who managed to read just one newspaper a day could tell you that Fannie Mae was not some ordinary government agency funded by taxpayers. Anybody brief the running mate on economic policy? Looks like Boehner's got the same problem - either not knowing or not caring, or some deadly combination of the two.

  • jsjiowa on May 11, 2011 6:07 PM:

    Political Correction did a nice de-bunking as well.

    But glad to see mainstream sources picking up on the theme.

  • Doug on May 11, 2011 8:54 PM:

    I vote for "functionally illiterate", mainly because I don't think Speaker Boehner is stupid. One doesn't become Speaker of the House of Representatives by being stupid.
    He, and many of his fellow Republican/Teabagger cohorts, are very good at campaigning and winning elections. And, more importantly, re-elections. A person who actually WAS "stupid" might win an election (see Teabaggers, 2010), but rarely are they re-elected.
    The skills needed for campaigning, however, aren't necessarily the one's needed for governing, so when the GOP decided that winning elections was more important than governing it went after candidates that COULD win. "Governing? Eh, you'll learn".
    Running a "negative" election campaign isn't limited to just attack ads, etc; it can also mean simply running against what your opponent has done or stands for. Or what you can get voters to believe your opponent has done or stands for.
    However, GOP policy isn't very demanding in regards to "learning"; ie, "Cut taxes", "Deregulate (fill in the blank)", "No new taxes". That's basically EVERY Republican platform for the past thirty years. Every "policy" is either negative (cut taxes) or passive (no new taxes), there's no need to think about anything, to make plans based on what will happen when "X" is done, because "X" is NEVER done.
    Even when the Republican/Teabaggers did try to do something "active", as in Iraq, they had absolutely no idea how to go about it and, as a result, screwed it up.
    No, Republican/Teabaggers aren't "stupid", but they certainly appear to be "slow learners"...

    "heityari minimum"? Is there a maximum, too?

  • thezendiaper on May 11, 2011 9:14 PM:

    "Steve, please stop saying this..." says area man.

    It's really simple. Republicans think "oppose anything the dems think or do. Now say everything they have already done is destroying the nation" They then set about figuring the best way to do that. I mean these goobers "announced" at the beginning of Obama's term they would simply filibuster every item coming to the senate no matter if it was good for the country or not. This included nominations...just so very little of Obama's agenda would get through.

    Anyone thinking the dems had control of all three branches of gov. is simply full of it. They controlled the house which under Pelosi was the most functional session in modern times with over 250 pieces of legislation getting passed that got stopped by filibuster in the senate. It was all about the power grab and never what was right for the nation. Ideology was simply a cover for control and greed...and it continues with Boehner. Nothing he says will ever or has ever had any value for the nation...same with all of today's GOP.

    There is absolutely no reason to even bother to listen to them anymore...seriously. Can anyone name one thing they are doing or plan to do that is good for the nation. Is there anyone of them not telling lies and spewing forth known misinformation. Yes some of them are quite stupid and uninformed but the party as a whole is extremely detrimental to our nation's well being. If there were no republicans the nation would already be prospering and the middle class solvent with poverty in decline. It's the MSM which allows them to flourish by broadcasting their propaganda through a huge megaphone unchallenged. But I'm singing to the choir huh.

  • Walter Lipman on May 12, 2011 10:11 PM:

    Let's stop beating around the bush, and just say it: Boehner and his friends are just plain stupid. STUPID!!!