Looking at Joe Kennedy, Speaker Boehner Saw an Early Moment in His Own Life

Friday, June 20, 2014

Young Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts was new to the Congress in 2013 and he figured it would be good to have a meeting with John Boehner of Ohio, the Speaker of the House, just to say hello and get acquainted.

He asked the Speaker’s staff to arrange the meeting and began waiting. He wasn’t sure if the Speaker would consent to a meeting because the Speaker’s a Republican and he’s a Democrat, but Kennedy knew that, if the meeting was to take place, it wouldn’t be for a while.  The Speaker has more things on his plate than he.

Several weeks passed.   Kennedy got a call instructing him to be in the Speaker’s office at 5:30 p.m. on a certain day that week.  He showed up a little early and was ushered to the Speaker’s large private office, which has a commanding view of the National Mall, from The Capitol down to the Washington Monument and beyond.
Boehner arrived promptly.  The two men, now alone in the Speaker’s sanctum, sat down in high-backed chairs facing each other from a distance that Kennedy felt was unusually wide.  They had just started conversing when the Speaker got up from his chair, walked toward Kennedy, and went past him.  “I didn’t know if I should follow him or remain seated and turn my head around to him,” Kennedy later said.

Boehner told him to remain where he was.  From a cabinet behind Kennedy, Boehner took a decanter of red wine and poured a glass.  He did not offer Kennedy a drink. (No doubt he knew his guest did not touch alcohol.)  Then Boehner lighted a cigarette and strolled back to his chair to enjoy his drink and smoke. 
Boehner asked, “Do you know why I agreed to meet with you?”

“No, not really,” Kennedy said.

Boehner told him that, when he was a freshman representative in the Ohio legislature (almost 30 years ago), he requested a meeting with the House Speaker.  He did not receive a reply from the Speaker’s office for six months.  Then one day, out of the blue, he was told he could see the Speaker for three minutes that afternoon while the Speaker was walking from one appointment to another.  Boehner decided to decline the offer.  He told Kennedy that, if all he could get after waiting half a year was three minutes on the fly, it wasn’t worth the trouble and he no longer cared if he met the man or not.
Boehner also told Kennedy that, at that moment of disappointment and disillusionment, he vowed that, if he was ever in a position of leadership and a freshman legislator, regardless of his party affiliation, asked to meet him, he would do so as soon as he was able.

I know this story because I was at the Seaport Hotel in Boston one week ago today, on Friday, June 13, when Kennedy told it to a roomful of people at a breakfast event sponsored by the New England Council.
Other than recounting Boehner’s explanation of why he met and repeating some advice Boehner gave him, Kennedy declined to discuss the details of that discussion “because it was a private meeting.” 

Boehner’s advice to Kennedy was simple.  He said that, if Kennedy wanted to be successful as a Congressman, he should,  “Be nice.  Be respectful.  Work hard.  And don’t take it personally” (when a colleague disagreed, or refused to vote, with him).
In his speech last week, Kennedy reflected, “Turns out, that’s some pretty good advice.  It’s also not easy.  But if you can do it – in the midst of the rhetoric, the emotions of the day and the partisan ping pong – then you get to what really matters, what this job is actually all about: Good policy; informed, intelligent decisions that make the lives of the people you represent a little bit better;  and what happens far away from cable news and election-year antics, in the decidedly unglamorous zone of bringing facts, evidence, and data to tough choices.”

Be nice.
Be respectful.

Work hard.

Don’t take it personally.

That’s good advice, but difficult to arrange in order of priority.

If, God forbid, in the unlikely event I were ever advising a young man who was keen to climb the ladder of Congressional leadership, I’d tell him Don’t take it personally is the most important, for it serves equally well as a guide in coping with opposition, insults and betrayal, and as a comforting bit of self-talk, i.e., He shouldn't take it personally, and hence an inducement, in pursuing one’s own political goals and advancement.

Who can fail to hear in Don’t take it personally an echo of the words spoken by Sal Tessio, the character played by Abe Vigoda in the Godfather, Part 1? 
Tessio is being taken off for execution for having joined a plot against his boss, the Godfather, Michael Corleone, when he says to his executioners, “Tell Mike it was only business.  I always liked him.”
I love it when life imitates art.

No comments:

Post a Comment