The Politics of John Boehner’s Tan

HOWARD MEGDAL: This is not to suggest that John Boehner’s tan should have anything to do with his ability to sell his policies to the American people. But it seems like a strange image for the GOP to put forward as it looks for a visual point man in these 2010 elections.

Boehner is not just someone with a tan. He is clearly someone who cultivates a tan, the tanner the better- a strange symbol of a life at leisure during an election the GOP is trying mightily to make about the economy.

And from this vantage point, he isn’t simply tan- he is George Hamilton Orange. This isn’t just a single picture, either: check him out here. And here. And here.

It would be one thing if this were either an unavoidable image- if Boehner were homely, for instance, like Mitch McConnell- or if it didn’t dovetail with the Man at Leisure portrait of Boehner, thanks in large part to his apparent love of bars and golf junkets.

In a politics that has never been more image-driven, the choice to tan as deeply and as often as Boehner does- to the point that if you google John Boehner, the first two suggestions are “John Boehner tan” and “John Boehner orange”- seems like the wrong choice to make.

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: Boehner’s got some nerve. Everyone thinks maybe he doesn’t realize how bizarre he comes across on camera, like the product of an unholy union between a Muppet and a butternut squash. But I’ve come to the conclusion, after some soul-searching/googling, that the man is no fool. In fact, he’s got us right where he wants us. After all, wily Boehner knows that his political opponents are unlikely to reach for the low-hanging fruit that is his ghastly, overtanned skin—but with every gently glowing and thus unnerving televised appearance, he is daring them to.

“Bring it on,” his traffic-cone-hue seems to whisper. “You wanna make something of my looks? You want to mock the color of my skin? Do it. I dare you to go there!”

Boehner knows that the joke is on everyone else. His tan is the flaming, wrinkly elephant in the room; the subject no one wants to broach, because it would just be too weird. He’s like the Jocelyn Wildenstein of politicians; there’s no way to carry on a conversation or engage in a debate with him without your mind wandering into all sorts of unsettling directions—and that is how he gets you.

Yes, the best defense, we’ve learned from the House Minority Leader, is a good offense, in the form of a distractingly weird physical appearance. A fiercely glowing tan is more subtle than a pair of rubber fangs or cat’s eye contact lenses; but the overall effect is the same. Coupled that a last name that opponents must remember is pronounced suspiciously different than it seems as though it should be pronounced, and Boehner’s a walking two-pronged diversionary tactic. The rest of us don’t stand a chance.

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