HOW BOEHNER SPENT HIS EVENING…. At first blush, the circumstances don’t cast House Speaker John Boehner in an especially flattering light. The Ohio Republican chose not to attend the memorial service in Tucson last night, instead attending a cocktail party with members of the Republican National Committee. Also, President Obama offered Boehner a chance to travel to Tucson aboard Air Force One, but the Speaker declined.

Taken together, it doesn’t look great. But Brian Beutler dug a little deeper and finds that Boehner probably doesn’t deserve much in the way of heat on this.

Yesterday, House members attended a vigil for victims of the Arizona shooting spree in an auditorium underneath the Capitol Visitor’s Center. As they trickled in, a House aide provided reporters, including me, a glimpse of the program of events and list of speakers. There was one small revision to the schedule, though: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer would be reading Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s portion of scripture, because she was on her way to Tucson with the President.

If Boehner had accepted the invitation, then the leaders of both parties would have missed the Wednesday vigil. […]

Boehner’s also getting knocked around a bit for what he decided to do while in DC: he attended an organizing event for Maria Cino, whom he’s supporting to chair the RNC. But though that may have entailed chatting up donors over cocktails, Steel says he spoke for three minutes and left the event in time to watch Obama’s speech on television. And while he plausibly could have made it out to Tucson separately in time for the service, Boehner would most likely have had to charter a military plane, to which he has access as Speaker. Republicans criticized former Speaker Pelosi for traveling via military air during her tenure, and Boehner has committed to commuting to his Ohio district on commercial flights.

In other words, it’s probably fair to consider Boehner’s decision not to attend the memorial service an excused absence.

But as long as we’re on the subject, reader A.D. emails a thought experiment today: “Let’s suppose, hypothetically, it’s early 2007. A well liked, photogenic, centrist Republican congressman has been seriously wounded in a shooting incident in which several attendees have been killed, including a 9 year old. President Bush invites the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to accompany him on Air Force One to a memorial service for the victims. She declines, and attends a partisan fund raising event instead. How much buzz would this create in the political ether?”

It’s a fair question. I’m guessing the answer would be “a whole lot.” The story would be the only thing Fox News covered for days, and newspapers would soon be filled with op-eds about the Speaker’s callousness. There’d be whispers about whether Pelosi’s position was secure. Democrats would emphasize the context, and Republicans would conveniently ignore it.

The parties choose to play by different rules. Dems aren’t pushing this story at all today — nor should they, given the circumstances. Instead, we see left-leaning outlets — including the one you’re reading now — offering an implicit defense of Boehner, explaining why this isn’t really a controversy worth pursuing.

I think any intellectually honest observer, regardless of ideology, should agree that the Republican Attack Machine has no real interest in such niceties or concern for details.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.