Michael Gerson Kevin McCarthy is a shining symbol of democratic decay


HR King
May 29, 2001
Let’s take a moment from the lightning pace of the news cycle to reflect on a disturbing fact of American life: The likely next speaker of the House of Representatives is a liar, a hypocrite and an enabler of democratic decay.
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Usually such a judgment is the result of hyperbole and intemperance. In this case, it is closer to a math proof or the outcome of an experiment.
On one day, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denied as “totally false and wrong” a news report (from New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin) that he had told Republican colleagues of his intention to urge President Donald Trump to resign over the events of Jan. 6. The next day brought an audiotape of McCarthy telling Republican colleagues of his intention to urge President Donald Trump to resign over the events of Jan. 6. “I’ve had it with this guy,” McCarthy exclaimed, in words that rang as firm and clear as pudding.


What followed, of course, was McCarthy’s attempt to regain Trump’s regard at the price of his own honesty, dignity and sanity. This was, presumably, necessary to preserve McCarthy’s desiccated dream of advancement to the speakership. But it has given the rest of us a prime example of how politics can soil the soul.
Opinion: A Speaker Kevin McCarthy would mean only more debacles like this one
Trump’s main moral damage to the country is not his incitement of the MAGA faithful. It is his extraordinary talent for turning regular GOP pols into hollow men. McCarthy was never an ideological leader (though he once imagined himself, along with Reps. Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Eric Cantor (Va.), to be one of the GOP’s “young guns”). He rose to prominence as an ambitious plodder — as someone difficult for his colleagues to attack because he never had anything remotely interesting to say. Political parties actually rely on such figures for stability and continuity, the way an army relies on mechanics and logistical personnel. These are the people who are often capable of leading a fractious caucus.
But McCarthy has become something quite different — a bright and shining symbol of democratic debasement. His indifference toward truth has made it easier for rank-and-file Republicans to inhabit a dream world in which losing any election is the evidence of an opponent’s fraud. Carried to its natural conclusion, this is the essence of authoritarianism. Because the stakes of politics are so high, because your rivals are out to destroy you, because your opponents are “groomers” and pedophiles, because the other side has done far worse than your worst, any useful deception, any convenient deviance from the democratic rules, can be morally justified.

In a political world that has abandoned truth, people such as McCarthy provide permission but not leadership. The movers and shakers are the most spectacular liars. In a caucus where duplicity, calumny and cruelty are rewarded, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is queen. She often now sets the tone and issues the demands for House Republicans as a whole. Poor McCarthy, after a career of kowtowing, has more than met his match in a deluded and divisive freshman.
Will Trump banish McCarthy for new evidence of past heresy or honor his current subservience? The outcome seems predictable. Certainly, Trump values unquestioning loyalty. But he seems to enjoy it more when heretics come back in cringing supplication. His most exquisite delight is when the wayward remove their own backbones in his presence. Wouldn’t Trump (assuming the fulfillment of both his and McCarthy’s highest ambitions) want to work with a speaker who is well-practiced in self-abasement and embarrassed by his previous defense of democratic norms?
If anything, the revelations of Burns and Martin should provide Trump with reassurance on McCarthy’s fortitude — or lack of it. Immediately after Jan. 6, when the floor of the House chamber was defended by gunfire, there was little light between Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) view of those events and McCarthy’s. The audiotapes prove it. But it did not take long for McCarthy to publicly repudiate Cheney for views identical to the ones he once held.
Opinion: Kevin McCarthy’s stunning — if not surprising — act of cowardice
This is hypocrisy on a heroic scale. Not only did McCarthy abandon his moral convictions, but he also punished a principled colleague for persisting in those convictions. Who would aspire, as a young person, to McCarthy’s brand of politics? Only those who will also be dangers to the republic.
McCarthy was presented with a clear choice: Would the GOP be the party of Cheney or the party of Greene? Eventually, he gave a clear answer — standing with Greene, furthering the decline of American democracy. I imagine that history will be harsh. But he took the surer path to job security. As long as horrible people need a doormat, McCarthy will have a role.



HR Legend
Feb 14, 2004
I never had a chance to see "House of Cards" but from what I heard it was an unflattering depiction of politics in DC.
Current GOP will make for a great series.

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