The media and the left were content to munch popcorn this week as House Republicans struggled to select a Speaker, but now that the deed is done largely on terms dictated by the so-called “Chaos Caucus” (I prefer Rebel Alliance), they are starting to wring their hands about how terrible this is. Which means they are worried. Which means the outcome is probably good. There is a disturbance in The Force.
Exhibit 1 is Joanne Freeman in the New York Times today. Freeman is a professor of American history at Yale, and as “mainstream” (meaning liberal) professors go, she isn’t half bad. (I’ve taken in a few of her lectures on the Open Yale Courses platform.) But she thinks the scene in the House right now is very bad. She has the case exactly backwards, though. Freeman writes that unlike the epic Speaker selection battles of the 19th century, this one “lacked a policy- and legislation-bound core. More than anything else, it was about power — a gap that reveals much about the state of the nation.”
It is precisely because the Rebel Alliance wants to have a greater voice in the “policy and legislative-bound” core of the House’s business that they demanded changes in the House rules that diminished the concentrated power in the Speaker. The unstated subtext of Freeman’s piece is that these “radical Republicans” might actually do something—something that she doesn’t approve. There’s another glaring irony of people like Freeman using the “radical Republican” label. The “radical Republicans” of the post-Civil War era were the ones who pursued genuine reconstruction and equal treatment for ex-slaves against the intransigent opposition of Democrats. So yeah—I guess that is just like today.
Or check out old reliable Dana Milbank at the Washington Post. He says McCarthy has empowered radical Republicans to destroy the House.
No doubt some took pleasure in the Republicans’ pain. But as a longtime reviewer of political theater, I found nothing enjoyable about this performance.
This is what happens when a political party, year after year, systematically destroys the norms and institutions of democracy. This is what happens when those expert at tearing things down are put in charge of governing. The dysfunction has been building over years of government shutdowns, debt-default showdowns and other fabricated crises, and now anti-government Republicans used their new majority to bring the House itself to a halt.
[McCarthy] is trying to save his own political ambitions by agreeing to institutionalize the chaos — not just for the next two years but for future congresses as well. . . He agreed to put rebels on the Rules Committee, giving them sway over what gets a vote on the House floor, and in key committee leadership posts. He agreed to unlimited amendments to spending bills, inviting two years of mayhem. He agreed to other changes that make future government shutdowns and a default on the national debt more likely, if not probable.
To paraphrase Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, I’m starting to like this deal better and better. All you need to do is use the palpable panic in the “respectable mainstream” as a litmus test.
Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.