Alan Zendell, April 20, 2023
I can’t recall a better case study for the aphorism, “Be careful what you wish for,” nor a better example of Former White House Counsel John Dean’s warning about succumbing to blind ambition. As leaders go, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is remarkably unremarkable. He lacks both a clear ideology of his own and any shred of talent for inspiring his Republican Conference.
The only consistent theme associated with McCarthy since the start of the Trump administration was his undaunted determination to hold the speakership, a role that fell to him only after it was clear that he allowed himself to become a puppet of his party’s most extreme elements. He is supposed to lead the 222 Republicans in the House, but he responds only to the handful of his colleagues who want to destroy everything the government has built since the New Deal of the Great Depression and the great social revolution begun By John F. Kennedy and finished by Lyndon Johnson.
No one said the Speaker’s job was easy. The last two Republican Speakers, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, both quit and gave up their seats in Congress because they were frustrated by the politics of the House. Ryan never wanted the job because he recognized that his party had evolved to a place that wasn’t politically viable unless it acknowledged having no principles except preserving the wealth and power of billionaires and large corporations. Boehner left because of a no-confidence challenge from the Freedom Caucus, the very same group that has taken McCarthy hostage. Boehner understood that it was impossible to control or manage radicals who were willing to burn everything down if they didn’t get their way.
Apparently, McCarthy doesn’t understand what both Ryan and Boehner did, and the fault is entirely his. Like her or not, Nancy Pelosi proved that it’s possible to be an effective Speaker, even with a Party that’s more diverse in its views than the Republicans. Whatever undefinable magic she possesses, she got the job done by successfully making the case that a unified Democratic Party was in the best interest of the country, that its extremist elements could best serve and govern by compromising their demands.
But McCarthy faces a group whose views are simply shocking, who serve in districts that are so gerrymandered, they need have no fear of being censured by their own voters. They’re playground bullies who are allowed to create chaos and discord because the person whose job it is to corral them and assure that the majority of American voters are properly represented has left himself impotent. Thus, instead of moving ahead with a constructive agenda and preparing a budget that reflects it, McCarthy has let himself become the fall guy for a disastrous fight he can’t win.
Responsible people who understand government have consistently reminded us that increasing the federal Debt Ceiling to allow the country to pay debts it has already occurred is non-negotiable by definition. Unlike many government policies and disagreements, this one couldn’t be simpler. Either Congress raises the Debt Ceiling or America goes into default, a catastrophic situation we would never tolerate from any of our allies or trade partners.
Domestically, defaulting on our debts would cost millions of jobs according to nonpartisan Moody’s. It would spike already high interest rates, and could result in a national unemployment rate of nine percent, where it was during the COVID lockdown. Most perplexingly, forcing the nation to go into default would crash our equity markets, causing the the people and corporations the radicals represent to lose trillions of dollars in real wealth. And in addition to the problems default would cause at home, it would destroy our international trade relationships. Would you sign a trade policy with a nation that defaulted on its debts? The situation is so bizarre, we’re already so far down the rabbit hole, nothing makes sense.
There’s no mystery about this. All the non-radicals in the Republican Conference who have thus far chosen to remain silent know that if their constituents lose the very thing the Republican Party has been committed to since the Reagan administration, they’ll turn on them in the next election. They will never permit that to happen. Therefore, in the end, they will not support McCarthy’s attempt to extort drastic cuts in all the programs the ultra-MAGA radicals want. McCarthy knows that and so do President Biden and the Senate leadership of both parties.
Biden will not give in to blackmail. Democrats in the House and Senate won’t, and neither will Mitch McConnell or John Thune. So why is McCarthy waging a battle everyone knows he can’t win that can only increase the divisiveness that is undermining our ability to function as a nation? That’s what happens when an incompetent leader gets in over their head.
McCarthy has fallen into the trap of trying to reason with the unreasonable,