The day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, I took part in a lively impromptu dissection of the speech—and all the ensuing political theater—while sitting beneath our own golden dome. Bantering with Vermont Democrats and Republicans alike, the assessment was clear, regardless of party: What was John Boehner thinking?
We all agreed that—shockingly— the Speaker of the House does not seem to fully comprehend that the speech and his reaction to it are beamed instantaneously around the country and the world—to enormous flat screen TVs, handy tablets, ubiquitous smartphones and even clunky old-school desktop computers. I am sure in my own neighborhood that I could find a home in which Boehner’s face was several feet wide as it was projected on the living room wall HDTV. Envision that gigantic Boehner refusing to clap for “expanded job growth” and staying resolutely glued to his chair when others stood to support the idea that women deserve equal pay for equal work. Great job with the “re-branding” of the GOP, Speaker Boehner. You are off to a stellar start to refurbish the party before the 2016 race.
In just a few short weeks Congressional Republicans have managed to alienate American women (again), anger Latinos (again), exasperate anyone who believes in science, and demonstrate continued myopia when it comes to appreciating women’s leadership ability. None of the new House committee chairs are women. Current House Administration Committee Chair Candace Miller is the sole female in a leadership position in the House. The story is the same in the Senate: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is the only woman who chairs a standing committee. Compare this to our split in the Vermont Senate: five committees are chaired by women, six by men, even though less than a third of our senators are women. (Of the 30 senators, only nine are women.)
Comedian Chris Rock did point out, however, that the House Republicans may be staking out a strong multi-racial position by using Boehner to champion Orange-Americans. Likened to an oompa loompa on twitter feeds countrywide, Boehner may have made strong inroads among tanning-bed devotees, but I’m not certain this will translate into solid support for his broader agenda.
I am somewhat sympathetic to our orange-hued Speaker, third in line to the presidency. It is difficult to sit facing a bank of cameras and act naturally. During our governor’s budget address last week, while seated in the row of senate chairs slightly elevated at the front of the House Chamber, I experienced a series of minor calamities. First, my dry cough—which I’d kept at bay all morning returned with a vengeance—and I’d left my lozenges back in a committee room. Then my right eye started to water incessantly and the resulting blinking caused my contact to fold over.
Although the budget news was certainly dire, I did not want to be featured on the homepage of VTDigger appearing to sob over tough budget decisions. So, I tried to keep my face in profile during the entire speech and ended up looking less like an interested senator and more like a highly stylized portrait hanging in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Thankfully all the cameras were, rightly, on the Vermont political luminaries clustered around the rostrum.
As our conversation about Boehner’s unfortunate deportment wound down, a Republican colleague commented: “Contrast that with Gov. Douglas. Did you see him wildly clapping during Gov. Shumlin’s inauguration?” Another legislator cracked, “Yeah, it was probably the only time he ever cheered for him.” We all laughed and then someone said, “And that’s why we love Vermont. We really try to keep things civil.”