Politics & Policy

OK, Let’s Fight

The free-for-all over choosing a new House speaker isn't chaos; it's democracy.

The Republicans have decided to have a little bit of authentic democracy within their party, and polite Washington is flipping out.

John Boehner decided that he no longer wants to be speaker of the House, or a member of Congress, so he is retiring. This in itself confuses and vexes official Washington: Why would a man who worked so hard in his life, rising from very modest origins to become the second-most-powerful man in government, voluntarily relinquish power? That there is a life beyond politics, even for the speaker of the House, is beyond them.

Boehner’s No. 2, Kevin McCarthy, thought he wanted the job, but he didn’t. Facing a revolt on the Right and a Democratic caucus happy to see any Republican discomfited, and having himself made a crude and embarrassing error with his boasting about using the Benghazi investigation against Hillary Rodham Clinton, McCarthy decided that, for the moment, House majority leader is as far as he desires to rise. The decision was “a shocking move that throws the House into chaos,” CNN claims.

RELATED: Why the House GOP Ousted Boehner

But the House isn’t in chaos. It has a complete leadership structure in place, with Boehner staying on as long as needed. There probably will be another fight with the White House and congressional Democrats about various spending authorizations. In the Senate, Democratic leader Harry Reid already is blocking an energy bill in a purely political attempt to force Republicans to cobble everything together into one big Frankenstein’s monster of a bill that will be too big to stop. There will be a fight over legislation to raise the debt ceiling, which the federal government is expected to hit on November 4, and over general operational funding, which will expire in December. The usual hysterical ninnies will shriek that the United States is about to default on its debt (it isn’t) and that allowing general spending authorization to expire for a few days or weeks will lead to anarchy (it won’t).

A real democratic fight instead of a backroom party-machine process — that is what CNN calls a House in chaos.

What really has the salon set shaking its head is that the Republican party, which has within it a steep disagreement about tactics, priorities, pace, and style, has decided to settle some of those questions through an authentic democratic process. There is, apparently, going to be a real race for the speaker’s gavel, rather than a negotiated settlement among party leaders organized around the question of whose turn it is. A real democratic fight instead of a backroom party-machine process — that is what CNN calls a House in chaos.

Well, bring on the chaos.

#share#The most interesting thing about this moment is that it captures in miniature the broader reality that something close to the entirety of substantive political debate in these United States is on and among the Right. The fight in the House is an intra-conservative fight, despite the best efforts of our talk-radio friends and the circus monkeys on cable to magically transplant John Boehner et al. from the political tradition of Ronald Reagan to that of Woodrow Wilson. On the left, there is endless rehashing of the economic policies of the 1930s and the sad, deluded liberationist socio-sexual ethic of the 1970s, and the hot topic is whether the Democratic field is too old and too white and whether Jonathan Chait is too male (assuming that’s how he identifies) and too white to remark upon the whiteness.

On the right, there’s a genuine fight.

RELATED: The House Republican Civil War

There are cautious, reserved, process-oriented conservatives among GOP leaders — Boehner, McCarthy, etc. — who are conservative both in the ideological sense and in the temperamental sense. And in opposition to them, there are radical conservatives, impatient with the pace of change and excited almost beyond endurance that Barack Obama, the unlikely left-wing back-bench nobody from Chicago, has twice managed to get himself elected president, to keep his partisans in line, and to frustrate the hell out of Republicans despite their holding their best position in Congress and in the states since . . . ever, really. A great many of these more radical conservatives are good, genuine, valuable public servants, some of whom also want to be president. A few of them, mainly outside of government, are cynical media manipulators who traffic in perpetual artificial outrage because perpetual artificial outrage is how you sell people gold coins and freeze-dried apocalypse entrees.

#related#This is the radicals’ moment. Boehner and McCarthy have simultaneously knuckled under and issued a challenge: “Okay, big boys, you don’t like our leadership? Let’s see what you’ve got.” There are some potential answers to that question that are very exciting.

The House is about to find out whether the more energetic conservatives long dissatisfied with the leadership of John Boehner can effectively put forward one of their own for the top House job — and, if they do, Congress and the country are about to find out what that means. As a way of settling a genuine political dispute, this could hardly be improved upon.

Washington retreats to its fainting couch. A passionate fight over ideas, over how we govern and to what ends? Angels and ministers of grace defend us!

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.


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