Commentary

Boebert Watch: Sorry You Feel That Way

Rep. Lauren Boebert, who really hates unnecessary distractions.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, who really hates unnecessary distractions. YouTube
At some point, everyone has offered someone they’ve wronged a bad apology. You know, the sort of apology in which you take no responsibility for the act itself, but still expect absolution from the person you’ve offended. For most people, it’s not their best moment.

For Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, it's just a continuation of her debasing the political process on a national level. Boebert's shtick is inherently negative. It's racism. It's ignorance. It's malice and hubris. And for a worrisome segment of the voting public, it's inexplicably popular.

Boebert spent most of Thanksgiving week offending Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District Representative, Ilhan Omar, in various ways. This string of offenses started in the debate — such as it was — over Arizona Representative Paul Gosar's video tweet in which he killed Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacked President Joe Biden, anime-style. Gosar, who has been denounced by his own family as “despicable” and dismissed as a "collection of wet toothpicks" by AOC, was censured by the House and stripped of his committee assignments over the tweet. But Boebert took a vituperative stand on the floor, calling the procedures a "dumb waste of the House's time" and then adding that “since the Speaker has designated the floor to discuss members’ inappropriate actions, shall we?” She proceeded to launch into an unprovoked attack on Omar, referring to her as “the Jihad Squad member from Minnesota” and claiming that the congresswoman “paid her husband — and not her brother-husband, the other one — over a million dollars in campaign funds.”
No, Omar didn’t marry her brother — that’s a racist, right-wing lie born from nothing but xenophobia and menace, reminiscent of the Obama birth certificate ridiculousness. And while Omar's husband does run a political consulting firm that at one time was employed by Omar’s campaign, they married in 2020, checked with the FEC to make sure all was kosher, and Omar terminated their business relationship after her re-election so there would be “no perceived issue.”

While Boebert was lobbing her lies, she was also opening the door to "people who live in glass houses" accusations. As Omar subsequently pointed out in a tweet, Boebert’s husband-related history isn’t just rumor, but a matter of public record — from his jail time for “lewd exposure” back in January 2004 to collecting half a million a year as an oil and gas consultant when his wife was voting on related bills in Congress.

But Boebert didn't backtrack. With a losing hand, she doubled down:
Over the Thanksgiving break, Boebert again appeared on social media, doing the sort of open-mic standup routine that makes you appreciate the heavy pours on the two-drink minimum. “I have an Ilhan story for you,” she said, beaming a big smile and name-dropping her “Jihad squad” line that’s been one of her big hits with the far right. She went on to recount an encounter on a Congressional elevator, with a Capitol police officer (you know, the ones she voted against giving medals following the January 6 insurrection) with “fret on his face” running toward said elevator. And the door closes, and she looks around and sees that Omar is also on the elevator, and she says, “Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine.” Suicide bomber joke delivered, laughter from the small (and evidently small-minded) crowd ensued, as did  another beaming smile from Boebert.

But Boebert couldn’t leave that moment alone. Like any bullshit story, it had to one-up itself in its constant retelling, else it lose its power to shock and amuse. So Boebert added that she followed up with “Oh, look. It looks like the Jihad Squad decided to show up for work today.” More smiling. More hooting. More celebratory communal hate.

The elevator incident never happened, but that doesn’t matter to much of today’s Republican Party, which seems to crave as much indecency as its worst trollish representatives can dish out.

But after widespread condemnation of Boebert's standup routine, she decided to listen to whoever was in her ear telling her that she’d gone too far, and on Black Friday issued the sort of non-apology that a tween might offer when made to do so by the middle-school principal. Apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings isn’t the point; by virtue of not addressing the false and hurtful claim, Boebert was standing by what she'd said. She was tripling down. She might as well have just said, “Sorry you snowflakes can’t handle the truth” and then added “nyah.”
The emptiness of Boebert's apology was compounded by a follow-up phone call to Omar, in which she refused Omar’s request for an apology in the media so that she and all Americans could see that such behavior was terrible. “She kept asking for a public apology," Boebert said, "so I told Ilhan Omar that she should make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-police rhetoric.”

So instead of folding a bad hand, Boebert quadrupled down.

And Ilhan Omar hung up on her. An understandable move, certainly, but one that will no doubt feed the self-righteous fires of false indignation so characteristic of Boebert's base. This is a group that demands absolute respect — including their right to have no respect for anyone else.

Later on November 29, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for a censure of Boebert, essentially for all of the above. "Enough is enough," said CAIR Director of Government Affairs Robert McCaw. "Accusing one of the first American Muslim women elected to Congress of being un-American and sympathizing with terrorists is a disgusting new low for Representative Boebert. Republican leaders of Congress, starting with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, must condemn this bigotry and demand that Representative Boebert immediately, clearly and publicly apologize. If she once again refuses to do so, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer should move to censure her. Failing to do so would signal that Islamophobia is an acceptable form of bigotry in the halls of Congress."

No matter what congressional leadership does, Boebert will no doubt continue to prove herself a "dumb waste of the House's time."
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen