Just when you thought that politics — and those who participate in it — couldn’t sink any lower, along comes Kevin McCarthy, the man who wants to be the next speaker of the House in Washington. Before all the midterm votes were counted and certified, McCarthy appeared on Fox news boasting, “We have fired Nancy Pelosi.”
That was only partially true — Pelosi was elected to a new two-year term. But truth didn’t matter. Obviously lacking was common decency.
McCarthy demonstrated once more the ill-mannered, hyper-partisan and disrespectful condition of politics today. Not too many years ago, Pelosi’s announcement that she would not seek to serve as leader of her party would have been met with expressions of gratitude for her many years of service. To be sure it would have been permissible for Republicans to add that, even as they disagreed with her politics, they could appreciate her leadership during some interesting, even perilous times like Jan. 6, the pandemic and personal threats.
It was one thing that neither McCarthy nor members of his party spoke forcefully against the vicious and horrendous attack from a MAGA nutjob on Pelosi’s husband Paul, but to continue that silence when she relinquishes her leadership speaks volumes about the civility and goodwill of the members. It calls into question just how they define patriotism. A true patriot, it is commonly understood, vigorously supports his or her country, as well as the institutions and systems of government. We yearn for the days of Bob Dole, John McCain, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and Margaret Chase Smith, Republicans with decency, civility, love of country, respect for our institutions and any who offer public service. We are failing to teach civility, acceptable behavior or appropriate speech.
You don’t have to be a Democrat or even a fan of Nancy Pelosi’s to appreciate the octogenarian’s service to this nation. Pelosi served as speaker during two different periods, helping to pass the Affordable Care Act, among other major legislative efforts, and guiding the 435 members of the House during the worst pandemic in a century, dealing with the biggest attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 and serving with poise during the worst division since the Civil War. Speaker Pelosi always demonstrated a calm and measured presence, a true lady and skillful operative who was masterful in leading through the nuances of House rules and norms. If you can’t give credit to her accomplishments and her service, then there’s little hope for you.
The words were barely out of Pelosi’s mouth before the wannabe speaker and his tribe were boasting of what their agenda would be in the coming year.
Their first action will likely abolish the January 6th Committee. Out of the gate they must decide to either shut down government or raise the debt ceiling. They are expected to raise the ceiling but only if cuts are made to Social Security and Medicare, a mandate that will be dead on arrival in the Senate. Look for another Newt Gingrich-like government shutdown.
The new plurality wants to open investigations into everything including the pullout from Afghanistan, border polices by Homeland Security, the origins of COVID-19, the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, business dealings by Hunter Biden and decisions made during COVID over school closings and vaccine mandates.
Wait. There’s more. There is a growing demand to cut the new IRS agents Biden has hired to prevent tax fraud and extend the 2017 Trump tax cuts. Expect serious consideration of measures to ban schools from teaching about LGBTQ issues, student debt forgiveness, work requirements for those receiving welfare and border security, especially illegal immigration.
It makes you dizzy to even consider this agenda, but don’t get too excited for two reasons. First, McCarthy has just a few votes over a majority and a caucus filled with the Freedom Caucus and other right-wing crazies. Managing them will require masterful leadership. Secondly, the Senate remains in Democratic control (especially if Warnock wins the Georgia runoff) and few, if any of the above items will be considered there. McCarthy knows this. Taking an example from Trump, he wants airtime and discussion on cable talk shows.
My unsolicited, unwanted and probably ignored advice to the new speaker would be along three lines. First, accept victory graciously, understanding that revenge is a dish best served cold and with sweeteners. A dash of humility and humanity will go far. Second, better to focus on a few priorities and seek to get them passed, rather than firing shotgun blasts in too many directions and getting little done.
Finally, heed the wise advice of Dr. Frederick H. Hartman, professor of political science, acclaimed author and longtime professor at the Naval War College. Former N.C. House Speaker and NC SPIN panelist Joe Mavretic, one of his students, frequently recites what he calls “Hartmann’s Law.” It simply states, “Never create more enemies than you can handle at the time.”
It is good advice for a new House speaker and equally good for those in business, people in public life and for us as members of the human race.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.