I have long been bullish on the man who is now Speaker of the House. Perhaps, it’s that John Boehner and I grew up not far from one another, he in the working class Cincinnati suburb of Reading, I in the more affluent enclave Wyoming just west of the Republican leader’s hometown.
Cincinnati folk have always struck me as hard-working, decent Americans, largely respectful of their peers and generally treating people from different backgrounds with dignity. It is no wonder that the city became a refuge for European Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and a center for Reform Judaism. It was also an important way station for the Underground Railroad — and the location of the center honoring that path to freedom for many African Americans fleeing slavery.
Throughout his career, Boehner has embodied many of the qualities of his hometown, chief among them humility. Indeed, in his commentary yesterday on the new Speaker’s “inaugural address” yesterday, Roger L. Simon singled him out for this quality:
In his speech today, John Boehner showed himself to be among the most impressive figures on our political landscape, and he did it by being that rarest of things in politics: a humble human being.
His opening ad-lib quieting thunderous applause – “It’s still just me” – should be an instructional moment in public behavior in our celebrity culture. Can you imagine Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama or even, alas, Sarah Palin saying such a thing with the authenticity Boehner clearly had at such a moment?
He spoke graciously for a brief twelve minutes – as compared with his predecessor Pelosi who spoke for thirteen before passing him the gavel. And unlike Pelosi, he spoke about us, the people, and very little about himself. (She spent the better part of the thirteen minutes listing her own accomplishments. But enough about Pelosi – let’s hope for a long time.) Boehner emphasized comity and civility, virtues the almost feel extinct in our society.
But, this isn’t the first time the Ohioan has shown humility upon achievement of an honor. When elected Speaker in November, he did not show the cockiness of the last Republican to succeed a Democrat in that office:
“I’m honored and humbled by your confidence in me to lead the House as we begin this journey,” Boehner told Republicans after the vote. “From the bottom of my heart — thank you. Let’s get to work.”
People have made much of his tears, as if they were a sign of weakness or excess emotion. They may be an indication of something else altogether. John Boehner is not the only leader to show such emotion when assuming a powerful political office. As I noted on the 136th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s birth, tears came to that great Briton’s eyes when his bodyguard congratulated him on his election as Prime Minister in 1940.
Tears are not necessarily a sign of weakness, but can also be an indication of humility and an awareness of the magnitude of the task ahead of a man.
Time alone will tell if Boehner emerges as a great legislative leader, but signs are emerging that he has the stuff of which such leaders are made.
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