clock menu more-arrow no yes

John Boehner's amazing cameo during Obama's White House Correspondents' Dinner video

Obama and Boehner joking around in a video played during the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night.
Obama and Boehner joking around in a video played during the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night.

Kicking back side-by-side in plush red leather chairs, President Barack Obama and former House Speaker John Boehner held matching bags of popcorn as Toy Story flickered on the movie screen in front of them.

"So," the president says, "got any advice for me?"

Boehner was making a surprise cameo in a video played during Obama's presidential speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday night. In the clip, called "Couch Commander," Obama turns to his onetime bargaining rival in the Republican Congress to ask what to expect from life beyond public office.

"Yesterday, I had a beer at 11:30 in the morning, and McDonalds serves breakfast all day long," Boehner responds. "I finally got the grand bargain — on a sweet Chevy Tahoe."

Boehner's "grand bargain" joke refers to the failed debt negotiations of 2011, when a proposed blockbuster deal between the president and Republican leadership was scuttled by pressure from Boehner's far-right flank. The idea is that while Boehner couldn't land the great deal while in office, it's been much easier to to do so in his personal life.

Obama, for his part, seems to agree that he'll get a better shake once removed from the searing gaze of Washington, DC. He approached the podium last night to Anna Kendrick's song, "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone." The "Couch Commander" video ends with CNN's Wolf Blitzer reporting that the retired Obama is on his 347th round of golf, "and nobody cares."

"You'll be able to walk out of the Oval Office," Boehner tells Obama with a grin, "singing zippidy-do-dah, zippidy-yay."

What the Obama/Boehner sketch about the joys after leaving office is really about

But while the video with Boehner and Obama was technically about the great joys of life after office, its main purpose was as a commentary on the problems of life within it.

For all of its flaws, the failed grand bargain between Obama and Boehner was a big attempt to solve big problems in a big, bipartisan fashion — the kind of thing that the elites gathered at the White House Correspondents' Dinner most want.

After the negotiations fell through, Boehner blamed Obama for "moving the goalposts" and thus preventing a deal. But since Boehner quit the House this fall, there's become increasingly little doubt about who he really faults for its demise.

Last week, Boehner made national headlines for calling Ted Cruz — infamous for his obstructionist tactics in the Senate — "Lucifer" and a "miserable son of a bitch." Boehner also called the Freedom Caucus, the hard-right officials who opposed every gesture to work with Obama, "knuckleheads" and "goofballs."

"Boehner was the Republican most responsible for managing the normal workings of the government," Vox's Ezra Klein noted. "And he reserves his real venom for those who were contemptuous of those duties."

Boehner's tone toward Obama in last night's video couldn't be further from regarding him as a kind of "Lucifer." Here they are in the video discussing life after office:

Boehner: "Here's the beauty of this thing … you can just be you. If you know how to do that again?"

Obama: "You mean I can just be me?"

The two men are talking about the liberating joys of life after office, but their real subject matter is politics itself: the fun here comes from watching them openly acknowledge that their positions have forced each to act like someone he's not.

In a way, this picture romanticizes things too much — they do have competing ideological visions — but the essential argument is that Boehner and Obama would work together just fine if it was the two of them alone.

In case that wasn't clear enough, the scene immediately cuts to Obama and Boehner striding confidently together through the halls of power wearing slick shades, looking ready to kick butt and take names.

Why Toy Story?

Most press accounts of the dinner treated the Boehner sketch as a funny moment among many from the night, but it's worth pausing to note that something really astounding is going on here.

Boehner isn't just putting distance between himself and the hard-liners fanatically opposed to Obama since the president's first term in office. He's now actively embracing the president — "pals around," The Hill put it — not a week after comparing one of his party's most prominent leaders to the devil.

"You've got a friend in me…"

I don't know how much thought, if any, went into the decision to have Obama and Boehner watch Toy Story during the video segment. Maybe it was just a way to get in a gag about Boehner's strange penchant for crying all the time.

But the choice could hardly have been more fitting. The movies are about the secret friendships of toys forced to adopt fake personas in the presence of any human audience. When nobody is looking, the toys get along great — but when they're performing for Andy, the toys stiffen into lifeless wind-up dolls who can only spit out prewritten slogans and quotes. They basically become politicians.


President Obama on Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton