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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

There is a time for war and a time for peace, according to the book of Ecclesiastes and The Byrds. In the contest to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House, the Republican candidates chose to sell themselves as full-time political warriors. Forget about the national interest. Their job, as they have framed it, is to smite Democrats.

The security of American diplomats in dangerous places and maintaining America’s promise to pay its debts are a concern to everyone. Sadly, many ambitious Republicans distort the facts surrounding these important matters to fuel their political advancement. In their terms, that means entertaining hard-right voters not tuned in to the big picture. When that happens, governing stops.

Now we are not so naive as to think that a high wall separates governing and politics. But the House speaker needs to know how to avoid political warfare that turns the American people into collateral damage. Boehner understood that much of the time.

One of the aspirants, Jason Chaffetz, vowed to threaten default on the U.S. debt and a government shutdown as a means to yank concessions from Democrats. The Utah Republican’s martial words: “We’re just not going to unilaterally raise the debt limit.”

Huh? Fight over taxes and spending, sure, but compromise America’s reputation for honoring its debts as a negotiating tool? That treats the entire country as a hostage.

After the Republicans’ 2011 debt ceiling outrage, stock prices plunged, and consumer confidence fell through the floor. Standard & Poor’s lowered America’s previously magnificent credit rating. Even though a last-minute fix stopped the horrible from happening, the stunt cost all of us.

Just handing the powerful speaker of the House job to a man suggesting he’d do just that all over again weakens the American economy. If that weren’t sport enough, Chaffetz also backs shutting down the government rather than funding Planned Parenthood.

In promoting his political war skills, the leading contender, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, foolishly blew the cover off Republican motives for their endless investigation into the Benghazi tragedy. You see, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state when a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed at the besieged U.S. Consulate in Libya. Now she’s a strong Democratic candidate for president.

McCarthy said this: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?”

What clever fellows they are. So dragging America through the details again and again had little to do with reaching a truth on Benghazi — one of a multitude of calamities tied to the violent chaos in that part of the world. It was all about pushing down Clinton’s poll numbers.

Republicans are understandably sore at McCarthy for making that revealing statement. What’s interesting is why a practiced politician such as McCarthy would say such an impolitic thing.

Perhaps when everything that happens is seen as politics, nothing seems impolitic. McCarthy was on Fox News Channel, where accusations concerning Benghazi (and Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state) go round and round in a mind-numbing loop.

McCarthy may have simply lost track of the fact that there’s a voting public outside of the angry Republican base. He forgot that our officials in Washington have duties beyond obsessing about the next election.

As a final thought, let’s note that other democracies have rules in place to temper political warfare.

In Britain, for example, the speaker of the House of Commons must be nonpartisan. According to Wikipedia, “the Speaker, by convention, severs all ties with his or her political party, as it is considered essential that the Speaker be seen as an impartial presiding officer.”

In America, that’ll be the day.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) laughs as he addresses questions about his bid to replace retiring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) during a news conference after their closed Republican House caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst