Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) became the odds-on favorite to take one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, D.C. — a position he did not seem to really want.
In the most anti-“House of Cards” narrative imaginable, the apparently resistant Ryan announced his candidacy to fill the spot of Speaker of the House soon to be vacated by John Boehner with a slew of caveats.
Ryan said the GOP must unify behind him and that he does not want to be beholden to a rigorous fundraising schedule. Additionally, Ryan stressed, he does want to be under the constant threat of losing the speakership to something called the motion to vacate, a rarely used parliamentary tactic in the House believed to be the reason Boehner is stepping down.
Ryan is likely to win the gavel, particularly after strikingly winning the support (but not the endorsement) of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC). For the uninitiated, the HFC is a group of 38 House members that constitutes the more conservative wing of the chamber’s GOP caucus and is often one of the biggest thorns in House Republican leadership’s side.
But how did we get here? How did we get to a place in our politics where someone had to have their arm twisted to be a candidate for one of the most essential posts in our constitutionally limited, representative democratic republic?
Perhaps it was the unintended consequences of the rise of the Tea Party movement from 2010.
President Barack Obama gets elected. Republicans throughout America seeking office run against Obama and his policies but find themselves running to the right of anything we’ve seen in American politics in recent memory.
Those seeds are planted and nearly five years later, we’re bearing the fruit of elections past.
That freshman class elected in 2010 is now an entrenched part of Capitol Hill. Along the way, as some members have retired, Tea Party-minded members have filled some of those seats and a solidly conservative caucus has grown in numbers.
Some would argue this is a good thing — that we need to shake up Washington because it doesn’t work as intended, the government is overstepping its intended purpose, etc., etc.
Those are all valid concerns. Many of the people who voice such concerns, however, often fail or are unwilling to recognize there is an equal, if not greater, number of people who feel exactly the opposite about what the role of the federal government should be.
In fact, there are some voters in America who don’t care what the ideals of the Founding Fathers were or what the Constitution says. They have little or no regard for any of that.
It would be easy to say, “Well, why give them any attention?” As citizens, their votes count as much as anyone else’s vote, and the people they ultimately elect have a role in the legislative process.
Having those competing perspectives means such ideological purity in the halls of Congress is unlikely to be achieved in the short-term, even if you wanted to adhere to the clichéd “throw the bums out” philosophy
As a minority party, Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team over the years have been able to keep those on the fringes of the Democratic Party in line. Granted, as leader of the House Democrats she has as different role as the head of the loyal opposition. But for the most part, no one has ever been able to orchestrate a coup within the Democratic ranks under her leadership.
Boehner has not been as successful and that’s why we are where we are now, which is at a loss for an heir apparent or even an eager candidate to take his place as House Speaker. That bench of potential future speakers was particularly thin after Eric Cantor’s election loss last year. Indeed, current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-California) lack of discipline ultimately cost him a shot at the speakership.
But equally as important — for the self-proclaimed purveyors of truth, justice and the American way who sought the removal of Boehner — is offering a viable alternative beyond obstruction, something those Boehner opponents failed to do.
Sure, they were successful at disrupting the process and ousting Boehner, but from the get-go this entire revolt, perhaps inspired by what was the Tea Party movement from years ago, has never established a figurehead it could get behind and, more importantly, one who could win over hearts and minds.
That’s one of the ingredients that’s required in our system. It takes more than a small vocal minority consisting of less than 10 percent of the total body to change things.
If that system needs to be changed, then you have to work within the system to change it, as has been the case since creation of the United States. Convincing people to adopt a new perspective is key. It may be difficult, but isn’t that a good thing? Would the U.S. be what it is if it were possible to have government shift gears at the rate of a banana republic?
This is not meant to be an indictment of anyone’s political beliefs, but rather an indictment aimed at those who fail to acknowledge how Washington really works. The process now is not ideal — but it is the process and will remain the process until someone comes along and can change it from within.
Those goals will certainly never be achieved with online temper tantrums, on-air invective or calling for the heads of every duly elected public official who is not entirely pure.
The malcontents from all areas of the spectrum really need to brush up on civics because all this energy put into ideological warfare — as was the case with the effort to overthrow Boehner and will likely continue to be the case again with Ryan — will be for naught.
Instead, America will be stuck with the status quo.
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