The House Speaker Vote -- Embarrassment, Indeed

Yesterday the NY Times printed an op-ed by communications consultant Brendan Buck, who previously worked for former Speakers of the House John Boehner and Paul Ryan.  You think Mr. Buck has a vested interest in seeing Kevin McCarthy named speaker?

Before I comment on Buck’s essay, a word about “communications consultants” -- several decades ago I worked for a large southern utility in their Communications Office.  I was among several selected to be a Media Liaison, the person who issued information to the public/media in case of a catastrophic event that impacted the electrical grid, a nuclear plant, etc.  One of the top communication consultant organizations in the nation was brought in to train us in how to communicate with the media.  

The training covered not just the language we used, but heavily emphasized our appearance, our facial expressions, etc.  One point emphasized heavily was that we were to never look at a questioner to our right or left simply by shifting our eyes toward that person, but to turn our head to look directly at the questioner.  To do otherwise, we were told, “makes you look shifty.”

We were given several catastrophic scenarios wherein we practiced using “positive” language in a calm, controlled manner “in order to create the sense that everything is okay.”  I asked a simple question, “What if everything has gone south and things are not okay… are we supposed to lie?”  The trainer (actually, the head man of the famous company) practically exploded, advising me in no uncertain terms that my job had nothing to do with the truth, but everything to do with creating the impression that everything was under control, in order to spread a sense of calm and that public safety was assured.  Being a bit of a hardhead, I insisted “But the truth is what matters most, isn’t it?”  Suffice it to say that I was not this “communication consultant’s” favorite pupil during this three-day session.  He was positively livid that I refused to abandon a concern for the truth in favor of accomplishing the mission of assuring the public that all is well.

So that’s my experience with what was, at the time, one of the most well-known and celebrated “communications consultants,” Buck’s profession.  Buck begins his essay with the admonition that the “fleeting promise that this Congress will work better than the last” would be immediately dashed if the House fails to elect Kevin McCarthy on the first ballot.

Apparently, Buck hasn’t been outside Washington, D.C. much in the past couple of decades, else he’d know that few Americans still have faith in such a “promise.”  But Buck goes on to state that “electing a Speaker is a responsibility given the House by the Constitution,” clearly oblivious to the responsibility that House members have to uphold the oaths they take to said Constitution, which many (dare I say ‘most’) have repeatedly and flagrantly failed to do.  Failing to give the speakership to McCarthy on the first vote would, according to Buck, “destroy Americans’ confidence in the new Congress.”  I know of very few Americans who have confidence or faith in Congress, new or old.

Then Buck has the gall to say that “a self-serving power play by a small group of Republicans threatens to make a mockery of the institution.” (Italics mine) No, Mr. Buck, the self-serving GOP establishment has long since made a mockery of the institution, by denying individual members the ability to legislate by using House (and Senate) rules to place most of the legislative power in the hands of “leadership” such as John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, and, Buck obviously hopes, Kevin McCarthy.  Just look at the items requested by the Freedom Caucus who oppose McCarthy: the right to remove a speaker who is not responsive to the will of the people, the right to have adequate time to read/analyze proposed legislation prior to a floor vote, using stand-alone bills which must pass or fail on their own merits, etc.  The fact that “leadership,” including McCarthy, resists such common sense (and constitutionally intended) positions is exactly why those few brave House members are balking at “just going along in order to get along.”  And it’s high time they did so!

Buck continues that a failed vote would “weaken Mr. McCarthy or whoever the new speaker will be.”  As if that’s a bad thing?  Good grief, we’ve seen exactly what transpires when the House speaker is little more than a despot, dictating to the other elected members what will and will not be done.  The Constitution gives equal power to the House members, and doesn’t place them in servitude to the “leadership,” be it Democrat or Republican.  But that has been the situation for far too long now.

Buck then says a failure to elect McCarthy on the first vote “will make very clear from the outset they cannot be counted on to fulfill the body’s basic responsibilities, such as funding the government or preventing a credit default by lifting the debit ceiling, both of which will be required later this year.”  Oh, my… he said the quiet part out loud here: the basic responsibility of the House of Representatives is to carry out the will of “we, the people,” and not to prioritize funding a government that currently costs almost $2 trillion per year to operate!  And note that Buck, a Washington insider, insinuates that the only way to prevent default on the national debt is by lifting the debt ceiling (i.e., creating even more debt)… that’s exactly how House “leadership” has thought about it for decades now, instead of… oh, I don’t know… how about spending less money!!  

Buck claims that a failure to elect McCarthy on the first ballot would leave the Republican majority hopelessly damaged, “…along with the institution of the House itself.” (Italics mine) Only a confirmed D.C. insider is blind to the fact that the House (and the Senate) are already hopelessly damaged.  But that damage has been done in large part by the “leadership” which has set the rules and the processes by which all manner of unconstitutional legislation is routinely passed, including omnibus spending bills that no member has actually read.  

In the 50s and 60s, House Speaker Mike McCormick used to greet freshmen Congressmen with the admonition, “Boys, in order to get along, you must first go along.”  Meaning they had to kowtow to “leadership” direction and control to show their loyalty; only then would leadership then extend campaign funds, committee assignments, etc., that would help in re-election.  That a few GOP members of the House are finally bucking the “good ol’ boy” GOP establishment is encouraging; but that it’s only about 12 of the over 200 GOP members tells you all you need to know about so-called conservative Republicans.


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