2 views on Boehner: Bob Herbert's take

It's beyond astonishing to me that John Boehner has a real chance to be speaker of the House of Representatives.

I've always thought of Boehner as one of the especially sleazy figures in a capital seething with sleaze. I remember writing about that day back in the mid-'90s when this slick, chain-smoking, quintessential influence-peddler decided to play Santa Claus by handing out checks from tobacco lobbyists to fellow congressional sleazes right on the floor of the House while it was in session.

It was incredible, even to some Republicans. Other, more serious, representatives were engaged in debates that day on such matters as financing for foreign operations and a proposed amendment to the Constitution to outlaw desecration of the flag. Boehner was busy desecrating the House itself by doing the bidding of big tobacco.

I got a tip and called Boehner's office. His chief of staff, Barry Jackson, was hardly contrite. "They were contributions from tobacco PACs," he said.

When I asked why the congressman would hand the money out on the floor of the House, Jackson's answer seemed an echo of Willie Sutton's observation about banks. "The floor," he said, "is where the members meet with each other."

Boehner is the minority leader in the House and would most likely become speaker if the Republicans win control in next month's elections. He has stopped funneling corporate money to his colleagues on the House floor. (It is now illegal.) But nothing else has changed, except that his already outsized influence-peddling has grown. The amount of democracy-destroying money that manages to make its way into the sleazy environs of what is now known as Boehner Land has increased to a staggering degree.

The New York Times' Eric Lipton, in an article last month, noted that Boehner "maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation's biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Google, Citigroup Inc., R.J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.

"They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed."

The hack who once handed out checks on the House floor is now a gilded flunky of the nation's big-time corporate elite.

When House Democrats were preparing for the first floor vote on financial regulatory reform, Boehner and other Republican leaders summoned more than 100 industry lobbyists and conservative activists to a private strategy session. One could be forgiven for thinking that behind those closed doors they may not have had the public's best interests in mind. According to Lipton, Boehner told the gathering, "We need you to get out there and speak up against this."

Both major parties have, with great enthusiasm, turned more and more of the government over to corporate and banking interests. But the GOP, with Boehner its point person, is fanatical about it, and has barely tried to hide its willingness to offer up the government wholesale, no questions asked.

Just this past July, Boehner called for a moratorium on new federal regulations, saying it would be "a wonderful signal to the private sector that they're going to have some breathing room."

Try imagining how the public would be treated by banks, energy companies, food processors and myriad other powerful entities if the federal government were forced by law to ignore even more of their predations.

That's Boehner, for you — always willing to stick his neck out for the elite. When it comes to policies of particular concern to ordinary individuals and families, however, his generosity of spirit and passionate willingness to help vanishes.

Boehner and his pals opposed the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection created by the Wall Street financial overhaul.

Protect the public? You must be kidding.

The United States is in terrible shape right now because far too much influence has been ceded to the financial and corporate elites who have used that influence to game the system and reap rewards that are almost unimaginable. Ordinary working Americans have been left far behind, gasping and on their knees.

John Boehner has been one of the leaders of the army of enablers responsible for this abominable state of affairs.