John Boehner just goes ahead and lets the kid touch the handle without a potholder

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John Boehner with smoke

John Boehner slowly realizing that Eric Cantor has set his shoes on fire.

This is just a theory about what’s going on with the payroll tax cut extension fiasco — but, if I’m right, it could mean a more cooperative Congress next year, so I’m throwing it out there for your consideration.

I start with the premise that John Boehner may be many things, but an idiot is not among them.

He knows that the Republican caucus is in the middle of making a really, really stupid mistake on the payroll tax extension.  (The Keystone XL “decide in 60 days” rider itself is already generally understood to be a mistake, as it will allow Obama both to turn down the pipeline and blame the Republicans for making him have to do so.)  Oaken John presumed that the 89-10 vote for a compromise in the Senate would be a broad enough clue to his caucus to end the insanity, but it didn’t work.  (His lean-and-hungry looking lieutenant, Eric Cantor, may have goosed the discontent along.)  So he realized that they would have to go ahead and demand more ransom, even as they could hear the sirens nearing, even as they could hear the clamber of sharpshooters ascending to the roof.

What’s a smart and seasoned adult supposed to do in a situation like that?

It’s just a suspicion, but John Boehner strikes me as likely being the sort of parent who thinks that children learn best from experience.

I imagine Boehner as the Dad of the House of Reps, forced by the fact that his wife is at a PTA meeting to make dinner for the kids.  “Hot dogs,” he decides.  “Fried.”  He takes out an iron skillet that his wife keeps in the back of the bottom cupboard and tells the kids that it’s hot dog night.  He mashes some buns flat enough to fit into the slots of the toaster, slices the franks and hinges them open, pours too much oil in the griddle, and after moving the condiments to the table he flicks a little spit he deposited on his fingers into the oil to see if it’s hot enough.  It is.

Boehner places the hot dogs down with unexpected delicateness.  He hears the sound of the toaster popping up the first set of carbonized buns, but doesn’t really attend to it as he moves the hot dogs around in the oil with a long fork, steadying the metal handle of the skillet with a fatly padded potholder.  He does hear the sound, though, of seven-year old Joey moving a chair towards the counter with the toaster.  He looks over casually as he hears the sound of Joey clambering onto the chair, then sees Joey lean towards the toaster where the bun didn’t quite make it out of the slot, aiming a metal fork at the slot….

“GODDAMMIT, JOEY” Boehner thunders as he lunges towards the counter and slaps Joey’s hand away, the fork sailing towards and clanking against the cabinets.  “Don’tcha know you can get killed that way?”  Joey did not seem to know that.  He looks at Boehner, his eyes watering more from surprise than pain.  “You can get a fatal shock,” Boehner starts to explain, but he sees that his son is still some distance away from the capacity for comprehension.  Instead, he points his fork directly at Joey and shouts “Don’t ever put a fork in a toaster!”  Joey remains uncomprehending (or feigns it.)  Four-year-old Mattie, having lurched in from the next room as a result of the noise, starts to cry.  Boehner unplugs the toaster, gets a wooden utensil from the third drawer that he checks, and liberates the toasted buns, muttering about how long it would be before the kids understand electricity.

Joey is no longer near the toaster, though.  He has moved upstream within the kitchen, his eye on the skillet.  Boehner sees him reach up and does some instant unconscious calculations:

How much oil in the skillet? Not much.How much exposed skin? Only a little.  Hands, some forearm, face of course.

How expensive the pajamas? Not very.

How hot the handle of the skillet? Very hot.

Second-degree burn hot or third-degree burn hot?, he asks as the part of his brain not involved in these calculations has already directed him to shout out: “Potholder, Joey!

“Second-degree,” he answers himself, “most likely.”

Joey looks at him for just a moment, his lower lip stuck out, intent on undoing the humiliation of his little slapped-away hand with another big-boy success.  Boehner could reach him, most likely, with a flying leap — but something stops him.  He sees Joey’s determination, even hatred, as his son looks at him over his right shoulder defiantly.  Their eyes lock.

Boehner can’t help it.  His mouth presses into a grim, sadistic, thin-lipped smile.

“Use a potholder, Joey…” Boehner says calmly, understanding full well that Joey will not do so, that Joey may not even really understand what a “potholder” is.  Sure enough, Joey grabs for the skillet handle, the better to bring this bounty to the table.

Boehner was right that Joey would not be harmed by oil spatter, though the front of his pajamas were ruined.  He was right that the burns from a split-second of holding the handle would not exceed blisters.  He had missed the prospect of the iron skillet, wrenched out of place by Joey’s reflexive yank, would land partially on Joey’s left instep, as the hot dog meat butterflies leapt to all corners of the kitchen at the skillet’s first bounce.

Boehner is unexpectedly tender with his crying son as he salves the boy’s blistered hands with butter, because he can’t remember what one would better use.  He has put Mattie to work holding a package of frozen peas wrapped in a washcloth against Joey’s foot; she attends to this nursing task with grave fascination, both at the process and at being given the responsibility.

Joey is drained of energy, listless.  Boehner is aware that his mouth is once again stretched in a lipless smile, but only because no one is watching him.  The pleasing thought wends through his mind for tens of minutes:

“He will never forget to use a potholder again.”

It is a dear lesson, he recognizes, but maybe one worth the price.

And, in our less-fictional reality, Boehner looks at Cantor and the Tea Party Caucus blandly, and even as he prepares to do their bidding, he tells himself, smiling only inwardly: “they will never again ignore my advice about when to settle.  Never again.”

He’s fooling himself, of course.  They’ll make the same mistake again and again.  But for one moment, as the skillet clatters off the range to foot and floor, and the Tea Party Caucus panicks as the tweets and poll numbers come in so much more cutting than ever expected, for that one moment John Boehner can dare to dream of a more rational and more compliant caucus, of one that will follow him when he knows that he knows what he’s doing.

However bad the consequences, however humiliating to his reputation, he has that one moment of peace.  He let his caucus go ahead and touch the handle without a potholder — and they felt the unambiguous, unforeseen, unimaginable pain.

Maybe it might be possible, if necessary, he might think, to govern after all.

(reprinted from Daily Kos)


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)