King McCarthy and the Magna Carta
Some Republicans are embarrassed by the spectacle of our divided party on display in the House speaker election. Without question, some political cartoonists on the left have had a field day. But we can share in the chuckle without shame. For we have just demonstrated what representative republican democracy is supposed to be, how it is supposed to work. It is our proudest accomplishment as a party and perhaps as a country in at least three years.
At no point in the proceedings (like, say, after the first vote) did or could McCarthy say, "Okay, we'll pause now. Everyone go home. We'll just have to wait until all the mail-in ballots postmarked next week are counted, and hey! — wouldn't you know it, a truck loaded with photocopied ballots just showed up at the Capitol loading dock, and if that doesn't get me over the top! Nothing to see here; don't be a denier."
Regular order was observed.
No doubt there were plenty of arm-twisting, cigar-smoking, and backroom deals (not least of which those mediated by The Donald Himself) in addition to the manifest public concessions made by McCarthy in order to peel off members of his opposition one by one. But on net balance, it was one of the most open, honest, transparent, and therefore legitimate elections we've seen anywhere in our country in recent years. And like all great compromises, the outcome has the result of leaving everyone dissatisfied to some degree. Moreover, it has probably reduced the percentage of those who still insist that the process was illegitimate to the level of those who believe that Elvis, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Cleopatra are still living it up together on Paradise Island somewhere.
Far from being embarrassed, we should be proud of this achievement. If every election from president down to governor (
When King John of England met with his nobles in that meadow in 1215, it's not hard to imagine that some of those present didn't want merely to limit the power of this King John, but might wish that someone else could be made king, or even no one at all. But such sentiments did not prevail. What they got instead was a compromise, something that all could agree to, the Magna Carta: the Great Charter of Liberty, spelling out in great detail the rights of individual citizens and the limits of royal power. Even if they had covert plans to break with their side's limits (and they did, shamefully and horrifically, over and over again across the centuries), the fact of setting their signature to the document provided some restraining accountability and inspiration to future generations, most notably the authors of the Constitution of the United States, some 572 years later.
Kevin McCarthy, far more powerful in many ways than any medieval king could ever dream of, is learning the limits of his royal power. Having spent the last two years in his bubble, being flattered by his establishment handlers that the office was his almost by birthright, he presumed to start moving into the physical office even before the election had begun. His opposition (or at least those with the guts to defy the bullies and stick their necks out), being apparently small in number (~10%?), was thought not worthy of being taken seriously and could be shamed into submission by accusations of mustering the Circular Firing Squad, violating Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, etc., etc. But while nominally unsuccessful in their bid to prevent McCarthy from plugging in his microphone, they did indeed compel the man to commit ink to paper (due to the shortage of parchment and sealing wax, precipitated by supply-chain disruptions under COVID lockdown policies — but I digress!) to be accountable to his subjects and their enumerated concerns.
Next time around, MAGA patriots might be well advised to groom and promote a couple of viable alternative candidates months or years ahead of time. It didn't help that no one had heard of Byron Donalds before. McCarthy deserves credit at the very least for working single-mindedly toward the goal well in advance.
Long live the king!
Image: Mary Harrsch.