What Boehner considers ‘almost un-American’

Over the weekend, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) described President Obama’s State of the Union address, which he had not heard, as “pathetic.” Today, Boehner pushed the rhetorical envelope a little further.

House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday forcefully denounced the Democrats’ campaign theme that they are for the middle class and Republicans are for the wealthy — saying the policies the president is running on are “almost un-American.”

“This is a president who said I’m not going to be a divider, I’m going to be a uniter, and running on the policies of division and envy is — to me it’s almost un-American,” said Boehner.

Even for Boehner, this kind of rhetoric is cheap and inappropriate.

At a certain level, it’s tempting to think the Speaker doesn’t even believe his own nonsense. What is it, exactly, that Boehner finds so offensive about President Obama’s message? The notion of a Democratic president championing the interests of the middle class isn’t exactly unusual, neither is the prospect of asking the very wealthy to pay a little more to help guarantee opportunities for all.

Indeed, there’s nothing in the White House’s agenda that wouldn’t have generated significant support from Democrats and moderate Republicans for the better part of the 20th century. Obama’s economic vision is, at a fundamental level, about as mainstream as you can get.

It makes sense for Boehner to attack this, to the extent that he sees it as his job to reflexively oppose everything the president is for. But officials, especially those in key positions of authority, really ought to avoid words like “un-American.” Just because the House elected an oft-confused Speaker, who lacks a cursory understanding of public policy and history, is no excuse for American leaders questioning other American leaders’ patriotism.

I’m reminded of a recent piece from Tim Dickinson:

The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation’s balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. “We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary — and that’s crazy.”

Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. “Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver,” he demands, “or less?”

The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: “MORE!”

The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Today’s Republican Party may revere Reagan as the patron saint of low taxation. But the party of Reagan — which understood that higher taxes on the rich are sometimes required to cure ruinous deficits — is dead and gone. Instead, the modern GOP has undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.

I suppose the follow-up question for Boehner is, was Reagan “almost un-American,” too? Were the lawmakers from both parties who approved tax reform in the mid-80s a bunch of socialist sell-outs?