By Terry Manning
A few days ago, after California Rep. Kevin McCarthy secured the position of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, I did something I rarely do: I turned to Fox News.
Actually I went to the Fox News website; I wanted to last longer than the usual three minutes I can tolerate their television broadcasts. My effort was rewarded by the homepage’s centerpiece with a banner headline that read “Bringing Down the House.”
I shook my head and muttered to myself, “You got that right.” But then I clicked and read the main story on McCarthy’s election to the post. There were the expected quotes from his acceptance speech:
“I hope one thing is clear after this week: I will never give up. I will never give up for you, the American people.”
“As Speaker of the House, my ultimate responsibility is not to my party, my conference, or even our Congress. My responsibility – our responsibility – is to our country.”
And finally, to House Minority Leader Democrat Hakeem Jeffries: “There will be times we will agree and many times we will differ. I promise that our debates will be passionate, but never personal. And now the hard work begins. What we do here today, next week, next month, and next year will set the tone for everything that follows.”
“Setting the tone?” He got that right.
Because what was missing from the Fox News story was the tumult that led up to his receiving a majority of votes from members who were voting for the 15th time in four days. After midnight. On a Friday.
To win over holdouts within his own party, McCarthy had to sign off on continuing the Republican Party’s servility to its most unreasonable contingency, the ill-named Freedom Caucus. It comprises elected representatives who believe in everything but freedom for anyone who isn’t a Christian heterosexual of western European descent.
The most recent ascent of this rabble-rousing populism started with the Tea Party Movement, which rose to national prominence around the time of the election of President Barack Obama. Apparently, the thought of a Black man being the leader of the free world was enough to spark extreme fiscal conservatism among a subset of the GOP.
Media figures like Glenn Beck, Andrew Breitbart and Matt Drudge seized the movement’s energy and directed its members’ ire toward manufactured controversies like the ACORN scandal, IRS auditing of conservative groups and Hillary Clinton’s response to the Benghazi attacks. (That was what we now call “the good old days,” when elected officials actually responded to congressional subpoenas.)
Somewhere along the way the movement’s anti-government leanings metastasized to incorporate pro-gun zealotry, Christian theocracy and white nationalism as well. Add in their rabid devotion to former president Donald Trump, including a willingness to overthrow the federal government to keep him in office — and out of jail — and you have … a mess.
McCarthy made concessions that leave him vulnerable to the malcontents’ slightest whims. Multiple outlets reported one “deal” will mean any one of them can call for a vote to remove him from the Speaker position, the kind of threat CNN credited in the 2015 resignation of former House Speaker John Boehner.
Worse, his concessions will handcuff Congress’ ability to make meaningful changes for the American people like those delivered by the previous Democrat-led Congress working in concert with President Joe Biden.
With members of the Freedom Caucus leading key committees, the House’s energy instead will be diverted toward vengeance and conspiracy-motivated efforts like investigating Hunter Biden’s laptop, cutting funding for IRS agents needed to push for fairer taxes on the nation’s wealthiest, and screwing with the nation’s debt ceiling.
But none of that was in the story I read on the Fox News website. Its sole mention of any discord was a reference to a joke McCarthy made in his acceptance speech that drew laughter and applause from his Republican colleagues while Democrats sat in silence. They likely were embarrassed at McCarthy’s pridefulness over a post he was manipulated so handily to acquire.
The Speaker should study the story of the Greek king Pyrrhus, who beat the Romans at Asculum but suffered such heavy losses he told the historian Plutarch, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
McCarthy has shown he is an ineffective statesman, an unskilled negotiator and an appeaser to Trump and his acolytes. But he got the gavel he craved. Whoop de doo.
Terry E. Manning is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.