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Dear John

By Kathy Y. Wilson · September 25th, 2013 · Kathy Y. Wilson
It is telling the way all roads lead back to the Midwest.

The world acts like it doesn’t know where we stay until something untoward happens here or until one of us makes it and takes it to the world stage.

The world converged here in 1990 when then-Contemporary Arts Center Director Dennis Barrie defended himself and the center against pornography charges for exhibiting Robert Mapplethorpe’s black-and-white photos of black penises. 

Then in 2001 the national media found us on a map when former Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach chased, shot and then killed Timothy Thomas between two old buildings on Republic Street.

More recently we made headlines after it was revealed that agents working in the Cincinnati field offices of the Internal Revenue Service were responsible for the targeting of Tea Party groups and other “patriots” seeking tax-exempt status. 

Then again when Norwood native Sgt. Robert Bales massacred 16 Afghani citizens last year.

Now it looks like the Speaker of the House — a boy from Reading, Ohio — is the only flimsy sandbag standing between we the people and the possible monsoon of a shutdown of the federal government that will happen if Washington cannot again raise the debt ceiling, a temporary fix, for sure. 

The speaker, believed by some high-ranking Republicans to be ineffective, terrible at standing down GOP bullies and one of the worst speakers in modern memory, also has the power to deter blowhard Republicans from an end run around President Obama’s health care package, a “fix” to a shutdown Republicans keep trying that can never actually happen.

I don’t know about you, but I am not assured by any of this, namely that we have thrust John Boehner onto the nation.

I have seen Boehner’s political rise — from courtside seats in the early days — and I am amazed but not surprised by it because it’s easy to be “impressive” and to be passed up the ranks and into many branches of American politics; it’s a trait politicians share with student/athletes in higher education. 

A little shine within the right network goes a long way.

Back in the day (the mid-1990s) when journalists had barely more than an AP Style Manual and spell check as resource tools, John Boehner’s name would always come up, “Do you mean Boner?” during the final edit and run of spell check on the copy desk of the Hamilton Journal-News where I was learning to write deadline news and first became a columnist.

It was hilarious the first time copy editors announced this to the newsroom.

The umpteenth time it was sophomoric.

And when a young, slick-haired, wise-ass copy editor who couldn’t write his way to the break room thought it’d be funny to let “Boner” stand as Boehner’s last name on second reference in a news story, it was just flat-out embarrassing and a black eye to our ever-fragile small town integrity.

Boehner had just finished his quick stints as a Union Township trustee (1982-1984) and an Ohio state representative (1985-1990). 

By 1990, Boehner flattened incumbent Congressman Buz Lukens in the primary race for the U.S.

House of Representatives mainly because Lukens had been caught having sex with a minor and because the district in question was and is cement-hard Republican. 

Boehner was re-elected so many times in the 8th District, he even twice ran unopposed. In 1994, his first unopposed victory, I’d just been hired as a general assignment reporter at the Journal-News, my hometown newspaper I’d paid zero attention to growing up.

There wasn’t much need even then to pile on to Boehner’s growing status as a man with something short of charm but long on bluster and the ability to align himself with the right people and conservative movements at just the right times.

Boehner has alignment and needs re-alignment, like a set of unevenly worn tires.

Boehner could and can be unintentionally funny without much embellishment, what with his self-seriousness turning in a heartbeat to seemingly unprovoked water works.

He is not the leathery conservative with a heart of gold he wants us to believe he is.

That crying thing, though, is new.

He wasn’t crying when he was still around Butler County, the local boy with that “aww, shucks” faux-folksiness tinting his aura.

I was so traumatized by my trial-by-fire training as a virgin reporter making stupid mistakes at every turn, all I could absorb about Boehner back then was that he was supernaturally tan, he chain-smoked like a fiend, he lived on a golf course in West Chester when West Chester was what Mason is now and he was a rising Republican star.

The few times Boehner came into our newsroom, he didn’t appear to glide along on an airport moving sidewalk like most powerful white men; no, Boehner clumped in, like a foal learning the power of his own legs. And he always looked intently around the room, squinting to see who was seeing him.

He needed that.

Joe, a loud-talking and gregarious part-time reporter, had the idea then to write a profile of Boehner with one resounding question at its core: Who is this guy on his way to Washington who’d beaten Lukens, sure, but wasn’t that like clubbing a baby seal to beat an opponent in the public arena with a penchant for sexual deviance?

I recall Joe spent substantial time with Boehner with one long, rollicking afternoon at Boehner’s golf course mini-mansion. 

Joe returned to the newsroom the way all writers do when they’ve spent hours being bombarded and potentially hoodwinked. 

He was blustery and there was a lot of eye rolling.

Joe brimmed with stories about how Boehner tickled him and his afternoon takeaway was little more than Boehner had done well for himself, but that he was harmless and on his way into a long stint as a reliably Republican placeholder.

He’s been just that.

If the government shuts down, let’s look at Boehner.

And look to the Midwest.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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