I don’t know much about what kind of research or thought goes into determining the words politicians are told to use at various points for various purposes. During a typical interview, let’s say on the Sunday morning political talk shows, you don’t need to listen real hard to know that certain words are in the script. But I’ve seldom seen a more blatant display, nor one more insulting to the intelligence of the audience, than House Speaker John Boehner’s performance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
What does Boehner want from President Obama? Conversation. What does he need to open the government back up and prevent the debt limit from being breached? Conversation.
You can watch the whole interview and also get a transcipt, here. But trust me, these are all things Boehner said, in just 14 minutes, and I swear I am not using any of them twice:
1. BOEHNER: George, the House has passed four bills to keep the government open and to provide fairness to the American people under Obamacare. And even after the Senate has rejected — they’ve rejected all four of them. And even after the four rejections, we asked to sit down with the Senate and have a conversation. They said, no.
2. BOEHNER: The American people expect in Washington, when we have a crisis like this, that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation. I told my members the other day, there may be a back room somewhere, but there’s nobody in it.
3. and 4.: We’re interested in having a conversation about how we open the government and how we begin to pay our bills. But it begins with a simple conversation.
5. It’s about having a conversation.
6. Clearly there was a conversation about doing this.
7., 8. and 9.: It’s time for us to sit down and have a conversation. That’s what the American people expect. That’s what I’ve offered for the last 10 days. Let’s sit down and have a conversation. You know, we’ve had conversations before. Why can’t we have one here?
10. It’s not their [federal employees’] fault that the leaders in Washington won’t sit down and have a conversation.
11., 12., 13.: BOEHNER: Listen, the debt limit is right around the corner. The president is saying, I won’t negotiate. I won’t have a conversation. Even though, President Reagan negotiated with Democrats who controlled the Congress back then. Even though President George Herbert Walker Bush had a conversation about raising the debt limit. During the Clinton administration, there were three fights over the debt limit. You and I participated in several of those. And even President Obama himself in 2011 went through a negotiation. Now, he’s saying no. I’m not going to do this. I’m going to tell you what, George. The nation’s credit is at risk because of the administration’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation.
14. BOEHNER: I told the president [Me (in a stage whisper): but apparently not during a conversation], there’s no way we’re going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit. And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.
15: STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to press you on this issue of the risks of not passing a clean debt limit. The Treasury Department put out a report just the other day, where they said it would be unprecedented and catastrophic, that would be the impact of failing to pass a debt limit. They’re going to say, credit markets could freeze. The value of the dollar could plummet. U.S. interest rates could skyrocket. The negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.Do you agree with that assessment?
BOEHNER: I do. And the president is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to sit down and have a conversation.
16., 17.: My goal here is not to have the United States default on their debt. My goal here is to have a serious conversation about those things that are driving the deficit and driving the debt up. And the president’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation about this is putting our nation at risk of default.
18.: The president canceled his trip to Asia. I assumed — well, maybe he wants to have a conversation. I decided to stay here in Washington this weekend. He knows what my phone number is. All he has to do is call.
19.: I’m willing to sit down and have a conversation with the president.
20.: I don’t want the United States to default on its debt. But I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation about dealing with problems that are driving the debt up.
21.: I’ve been willing to sit down with the president and have this conversation. His refusal to negotiate is what’s putting the government at risk of default.
22.: George, I’m ready for the phone call. I’m ready for a conversation.
OK, all done with that. Just 22 Boehnerian references his desire to have a conversation (and apparently he wants to have it sitting down) and a couple of vague hints about whom he blames for the lack of a conversation. And maybe we shouldn’t count No. 6, which was a reference to a previous conversation that actually did occur.
I don’t know about others in the watching/listening audience, I could barely hear anything he said other than the word “conversation.” And now that I’ve studied transcript, there were a few things in there that might have been worth hearing. For example, Boehner’s demands in addition to waiving the implemention of the mandates in Obamacare, he also wants the conversation to be about cutting entitlements. But I’ll leave that for another day or a smarter pundit. I’ll just conclude by briefly beating my obsession with “conversation” a little further into the ground.
I guess, Boehner, and whomever else was involved in devising the “conversational” strategy, believes that if you called it a, let’s say, “negotiation” or said that you want the president to make a “concession,” it might lead to some bad thoughts about whether one agrees or disagrees with the Repubulican bargaining positions. But heck, if someone wants to have a conversation, it’s rude and stubborn not have one. And if the public can accept that the continuation of the shutdown and the threat to economy represented by the debt limit is about Obama being too busy or too snobby or too high and mighty to have a goshdarn conversation for goodness sake, that might change those polls that generally say the public blames the Republicans more than Obama for causing the crisis. But if so, c’mon guys, a little subtlety please. Ten or 15 references to “conversation” might’ve sufficed.
By the way, if the “dangling conversation” headline on this puppy was mysterious, it’s an homage to poetry of the early Paul Simon, back in and-Garfunkel days.