The Speaker of the House battle, and the apocalypse

The Kevin McCarthy era will be missed. In the week–more or less– since John Boehner skipped to a press conference podium singing “zippity do-dah, zippity eh,” to announce that he’d finally had it, the speculation had been the House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy would be the new guy. He got a nice roll-out, starting, on Monday, with what was touted as a substantive address on foreign policy for the supposedly friendly audience at the John Hay Initiative, a neo-conservative policy center. It went not so good. Rachel Maddow had a lot of fun with it:

If you don’t want to bother with the link, here are some highlights:

Those who return home are being disrespected by the VA that can’t keep the simple promise to all of our heroes to the need when they need it most.

We must engage this war of radical Islam if our life depended on it. Because it does.

This “safe zone” would create a stem a flow of refugees.

Unlike during the surge in Iraq when Petreus and Crocker had an effective politically strategy to match the military strategy.

We have isolated Israel while bolding places like Iran.

The absence of leadership over the past six years has had a horrific consequences all across the globe.

In the past few years alone, I have visited Poland, Hungria, Estonia, Russian and Georgia.

It defies belief that the President would allow the ban on Iranian oil exports to be lifted, and also stands by a Russia blackmails an entire continent–all the while keeping the place of the band on America.

Hungria. Create a stem a flow. The place of the band on America. Stirring words indeed.

So, okay, the presumptive new Speaker of the House, it turned out, can’t speak. That would seem to be a fairly essential requirement of the position. However, the next day, it turns out, talking to Sean Hannity, McCarthy was quite coherent.

Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping, why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened.

Everyone knew this, of course, that the House select committee on Benghazi wasn’t interested in Benghazi per se, but mostly in doing as much damage as conceivable to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. But you don’t say it.  So, of course: outrage. From the left and right, as it happens, Democrats feigning anger (while secretly delighted) over this revealed unconscionable politicization of the House’s investigative role, and Republicans genuinely furious that the big doofus was dumb enough to spill the beans.

Who knows? He still might have survived. Thursday morning, at an 8:00 caucus meeting, it looked like he might still become Speaker. By noon, he was announcing that he was withdrawing from the Speakership race. What? Why? Well, there are these titillating rumors, see. . . .

The news outlets that broke the possibility of an affair between McCarthy and a fellow House member are not reputable sources. Probably, McCarthy is as pure as the driven snow. After all, both McCarthy and the Congresswoman in question are Family Values Republicans! It does appear, though, that certain scurrilous emails circulating to House Republicans about that oh-so-unlikely affair were a factor in McCarthy’s withdrawal. Especially given that those emails would not have had much impact in the absence of actual hanky-panky. Anyway, Kevin McCarthy’s staying on as Majority Leader, and the search is on for someone, anyone, willing to take on the oh-my-gosh-so-absolutely-thankless job of Speaker of the House.

(Meanwhile Mark Takano, D-Ca, trolled Republicans by running a Craigslist ad for a new Speaker. It was very funny, especially when the fake ad insisted “Babysitting experience STRONGLY PREFERRED”)

Various conservative luminaries have modestly offered their own poor services to a grateful nation in need. One is Darrell Issa, whose last name always sounds, to me, like Jar-Jar Binks trying out a new contraction for ‘I am.’ Issa was on Morning Joe this morning, trying to sound like Michael Corleone giving orders to Luca Brasi: “we need someone who will go to the mattresses.” He also dissed a rival Speaker wannabe, Utah’s own Jason Chaffetz, essentially because, Issa suggested, Chaffetz isn’t conservative enough. Seriously. Chaffetz has, he darkly intimated, treasonously floated, on occasion, the possibility of (gasp) compromising with Democrats. Another Congressman, the splendidly named Florida Congressman Daniel Webster has also thrown his nickle into the fountain, leading a waggish friend of mine to call a potential Chaffetz/Webster showdown ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster.’

(Full Disclosure: Jason Chaffetz is my Congressman. I live in his district. If elected Speaker, he would certainly be the best kicker ever to serve in the role; he handled field goals and PATs for BYU football team in days gone by. Personal aside: I have never voted for the man, and wouldn’t if the alternative meant facing a firing squad.)

So what happens now? Rachel Maddow laid out the four possibilities. And there really are only four.

1) Paul Ryan. It doesn’t have to be Paul Ryan, but someone like him; a respected national figure serving in the House who could bring the tattered shreds of the House Republican caucus together. Basically, realistically, that means Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, smart, young, a policy wonk. Who really, seriously, desperately does NOT want the job. And I don’t blame him. Ryan’s ambitious; he wants to be President. The House is in such disarray, serving as an interim Speaker would almost certainly damage those aspirations.

2) Mitt Romney. While Speaker is a Constitutional office, there’s no requirement that the Speaker actually be a House member. They could pick someone who is not in Congress to serve on an interim basis. Mitt Romney is not very liked by hard-core conservatives, but he is, again, a respected national figure. made a strong case for him.  Personally, in the unlikely event that Romney’s offered the job, I would hope he doesn’t take it; I like the man personally, and would spare him that misery. Other, similar choices include Newt Gingrich (boo!), and Senator Ted Cruz. He’d have to quit running for President (yay), and he’d have to leave the Senate (yay). Otherwise boooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

3) Nobody. It’s certainly possible that the House is so dysfunctional that they never, ever, are able to elect a Speaker. If they can’t, then the House shuts down. The Constitution is clear enough; without a Speaker, they can’t vote on bills, they can’t hold committee meetings, they can’t debate. They can’t do anything. It would shut down the government. For some Republicans, that may not be such a bad outcome.

4) John Boehner. Rachel Maddow thought this was by far the most likely outcome; that Boehner will not be allowed to quit. That his own patriotism would prevent option 3, and that he would end up being forced to finish the next 18 months as Speaker. Let the new Congress pick one, in 2017, after the election. Boehner was joking recently with reporters about a nightmare he’d had in which precisely this is what happened.

The fact is, the next eighteen months are going to be horrible for whoever is in that job. There’s a budget that has to pass. There is a debt ceiling that absolutely, positively has to be raised, a task that the Tea Party Right, amazingly, opposes. The Highway Trust fund is broke, and desperately needs more funding. Collapsing bridges and undriveable highways beckon. And those are only three of the really tough calls.

And the simple fact is, there are members of the House who are–and I say this with the deepest respect–crazy. By crazy, I mean that they have focused all their attention on a few frankly tangential issues to the exclusion of essentially everything else.

First, they are obsessed with the supposed leadership failures of Barack Obama, and describe the current state of America in the most apocalyptic terms. And the fact that the country is doing pretty well right now hasn’t really penetrated their consciousness. Any cooperation with this President is tantamount to treason. That’s why they hate Boehner; he hasn’t obstructed Obama at absolutely every turn. Just most.

Second, they are obsessed with the national deficit and debt. They are convinced that a financial cataclysm is right around the corner, with hyperinflation, the collapse of financial institutions and resultant violent anarchy. That’s why they so oppose any budgetary process that doesn’t radically cut discretionary spending, and why they are so violently against raising the debt ceiling (an absolutely routine bookkeeping task, something most countries don’t even bother with, that’s also completely necessary). In fact, of course, no such economic collapse beckons, though the debt is certainly something we’re going to need to deal with at some point, as a reasonably low priority. Doing so probably involving a tax hike (which the Tea Party also opposes) and cuts in defense spending (ditto).

Third, though, is something trickier. To some people on the Right, the country has seriously gone off track. The wrong people seem to be in charge, and a bad culture is emerging. That’s why Donald Trump’s ridiculous call to deport 11 million undocumented workers has resonance, or why Ben Carson’s comments on why Muslims shouldn’t be eligible for the Presidency struck a chord. It’s just a discomfort with . . . I don’t know what to call it. Post-racial post-modernity? The way things are? To call it racism is perhaps too strong; most Republicans aren’t cross-burners. But they’ve been made to feel . . . unwelcome. It’s hard to combat, because it’s more a feeling than anything else. But as the Republican base gets older and whiter, it also gets crankier. And the House Speakership fight is only a minor skirmish in a larger war.

Look at McCarthy’s speech above, quoted with such glee by Rachel Maddow. Yes, it’s certainly incoherent. But it’s not entirely gibberish. Unpack it carefully (keeping snarkiness to a minimum), and what he’s saying is something Yeats said much more eloquently.

Turning, turning in the widening gyre; the falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. . . and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born? (W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming)

Obama? All the while, keeping the place of the band? On America?  No wonder the Speaker fight is being so fiercely waged.



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