Politics

History will be made when Boehner becomes first orange-American Speaker of the House, but will his skin color be distracting?

Photo of Alexis Levinson
Alexis Levinson
Political Reporter

In January, America will pass another milestone on the road to full equality when Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner becomes the first orange-American Speaker of the House.

Boehner’s unique skin has made him a target of liberal mockery, and talk of his tan has often eclipsed discussion of what he actually says or does. Even President Obama has gotten in on the fun, joking at the 2009 White House Correspondence Dinner that he and Boehner “have a lot in common. He is a person of color—although not a color that appears in the natural world.”

Obama came back to the joke, according to the Wall Street Journal, “at this year’s dinner, where Mr. Obama enumerated a few of what he jokingly said were hundreds of secret provisions in the health care law, including the ‘Jersey Shore-Up,’” which read, ‘the following individuals shall be excluded from the indoor tanning tax within this bill.’ On the list was Mr. Boehner.”

Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York made a similar joke during the health care debate: “I think Leader Boehner is particularly livid about the tanning bed tax.”

In September, Jon Stewart got in on the joke, reporting a supposed Twitter fight between White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Boehner, in which Gibbs tweeted, “@JohnBoehner You are so orange you fart Cheetoh dust.”

When Republicans took back the house on November 2, Twitter was abuzz with orange jokes. “The Orange man cometh,” joked one tweeter (The Daily Caller also used the same formulation as a headline at one point during Election Night coverage). “Orange is the new black,” said another, ironically citing the name of a novel about a women’s prison.

Boehner’s orange skin tone is an issue of national importance, judging by Yahoo! Answers, which features a large number of threads investigating what Time magazine has referred to as Boehner’s “weird orange tan”: “Why is John Boehner orange?”; “Why does John Boehner dye his skin orange?”; “Why does John Boehner have the skin tone of an Oompa Loompa?”

The general consensus among the message board elite seems to be spray tan, since Boehner has insisted (in response to Weiner’s comment) that he has never been in a tanning bed.

But the tan could be a concern in the coming Congress.

The team at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”  has joked about Boehner’s skin tone, calling the color “distracting,” which prompted Joe Scarborough to note: “He was talking about having a discussion about undoing one of the most historic, important amendments, and we’re just looking at the tan. That shade of orange.”

It was meant as a joke, but as Brad Phillips pointed out on Mr. Media Training blog, the distraction factor could be an issue when Boehner becomes Speaker.

“I know an article about Rep. Boehner’s tan may seem superficial, but it underscores a vital truth about communications: Audiences take more meaning from a spokesperson’s vocal tone and body language than they do from words alone,” he wrote. “If the audience is distracted by something in an interview – whether it’s a monotone delivery, a few dozen ‘uhhhs’ or ‘ummms,’ or an overly-tanned face – they are not going to hear what you have to say.”