The Squeaker of the House Is Gone, Now What?
by Wim Laven
Some 269 days before his eventual ouster, Kevin McCarthy put himself into quite a predicament. To become Speaker he was willing to give in to any radical demands within his caucus. On Tuesday Oct. 3rd, those concessions finally caught up to him and he was deposed.
People will recall that it took an historic 15 votes for McCarthy to become speaker. He was not trusted, to overcome this distrust he agreed to rules that made it easier to challenge his leadership. He compromised; he gave up some of the Speaker’s power to become Speaker.
Since Kevin has not stood for much, it has been hard for people to trust him; trust is built when you make and keep agreements—he has a history of breaking agreements. Apparently the final straw was the suggestion he made a side deal with President Biden.
But there are many clear examples of clear flip-flops. I will never forget those surprising minutes when Kevin blamed twice-impeached former President Donald Trump for his role and responsibility in the January 6th insurrection and the efforts to undermine the democratic election of a new President to the White House. McCarthy’s moral courage quickly ran out and soon he was peddling Trump’s lies instead.
He was all in on the Tea Party movement, and he left when it fell out of favor. But the Tea Party movement is really where the Republican willingness to threaten its own party and accept insurgent factions developed. The House Freedom caucus now uses the same scorched-earth approaches.
Dysfunction is certainly not unique to Republicans or conservative politics. Distrusting politicians is part of the political schematic; perception that “they all lie” is rampant, and there is increasing evidence that the lies are working for those who tell them. I’ll never forget that millions of lives were ruined over promises about weapons of mass destruction that never existed. There was zero accountability for those lies.
Ironically, Kevin criticized Liz Cheney for having a backbone, and while Cheney’s backbone cost her political power, in the end it was his lack of a backbone that cost him the Speakership. Like him, she condemned Trump for the insurrection, and we should not forget McCarthy believed the insurrectionists wanted to kill him, but Cheney stuck to her values. Observers are still trying to determine if McCarthy has principles.
Politics is a strange thing, for some winning is more important than staying true to yourself, for others the opposite is true. Kevin gained power in the same way he lost it, and this should not be a surprise to anyone who has watched.
When he took the gavel, he spun yarns about Bakersfield (his and my hometown) and in his departure he told more stories.
He likes to talk about how he won $5,000 in the lottery, invested in the stock market, then opened a deli. I have often wondered why he doesn’t do more to help others access $5,000 like it took him to make a sandwich counter at his uncle’s yogurt place? Why he speaks about oilfields without acknowledging that they are obsolete, a climate-chaos-causing practice of the past that continues to wreck the farms he also waxes on about. He talks less about flipping cars, which he acknowledges was probably illegal.
With McCarthy resuming his old role one might think he will have a chance to help constituents or address concerns in the San Joaquin Valley where he is from. Unfortunately, however, that is unlikely. In his 17-year House career he has sponsored a total of nine bills that have passed to the Senate (the last in 2018) and only two have been enacted (both in 2016; H.R. 4685 and H.R. 5052). Maybe he will focus on fundraising for the GOP, his joint fundraising committee, the McCarthy Victory Fund, has raised $62.5 million this cycle.
The next Speaker will have serious challenges. There are many lessons that have been put on display. Will we see another politician making sacrifices for personal gain, would those gains be short lived? Will we continue to see echoes of the Tea Party as extremists take advantage of minority power to cannibalize their own party?
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Rep. Jim Jordan have thrown their names into contention for the Speaker position, there are plans for a vote next week. In the meantime, the House is frozen. I wish this could catalyze efforts for collaborative problem solving and an affirmation that it is time to heal from the deep political divides but there is rampant pessimism (easily seen on Wall St.) and it is unlikely that the extremists will be voted out. I think it is time we remind ourselves that people power extends beyond our votes, and we start demanding a government that works for us.
Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.