In McCarthy's Pyrrhic Triumph, The Real Winner Is The 'Eff 'Em Caucus'
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I had a last line about the election of Kevin McCarthy that didn’t survive the final edit: “The word pyrrhic comes to mind.” McCarthy’s take-every-humiliating-hit-and-wear-them-down climb (or is it descent?) to the speakership is the very definition of the word: His “victory” was achieved at too great a cost to be worth anything to the victor.
We’re already getting a hint of just how fleeting his victory might be. Politico headlined, “The clock starts ticking on McCarthy’s speakership,” calling him “speaker in name only” because of the concessions he made to the right wing of his party in the House. For the first time in history, the Speaker won’t control the all-powerful Rules Committee, on which will sit three of the shut-down caucus members who caused his 15-ballot humiliation last week. They could get together with Democrats on the committee and kill any bill they don’t like. The power to control the floor of the House of Representatives lies in what doesn’t reach the floor for a vote, rather than what does.
The most interesting take I’ve seen on last week’s clusterfuck in the House arrived in the unlikely pages of the Wall Street Journal, which pointed out in an otherwise standard wrap up on the deals McCarthy made with his right-wing that “The full list of concessions hasn’t been released publicly and may never be.” That seems to me to be the hidden key to the whole thing. We know that he yielded to Freedom Caucus demands that a single representative will be able to make a motion to “vacate the chair,” essentially firing the Speaker if the motion carries.
And we know McCarthy promised to make any increase in the debt ceiling dependent on equivalent spending cuts, which puts a stake through the whole reason you have to raise the debt ceiling in the first place. Remember, the rise in the debt ceiling isn’t on new debt, it’s to pay off debts already incurred by previous spending.
There were some noises made by the Loon Caucus that McCarthy had committed to attacking in some unmentioned fashion so-called “wokeness” in the military. OMG! They’re teaching diversity training at West Point! That the U.S. military contends on a daily basis with a workforce that is probably the most diverse of any major organization in the country was not mentioned, of course. McCarthy apparently just gave the go-ahead to scream about wokeness at top volume, because they’re never going to be able to do anything about it, whatever the hell wokeness is.
There was a brief mention on MSNBC that McCarthy had made some kind of deal to go after food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Then that particular concession disappeared from the radar screen as the punditocracy put their focus on the thing they all agreed represented just how low McCarthy was willing to go to make himself Speaker – his life-long dream, they kept reminding us – because the “vacate” deal made him “weak.”
Going after food for poor people is one of the unwritten deals mentioned by the Wall Street Journal that we’ll never see, and it gives us a glimpse of what was really behind the drive for power by the right-wing in the House. In 2017, about 40 million Americans were recipients in some fashion of food assistance. Of that number, 49 percent had children under the age of 17, and 55 percent of those were single parents (read: mothers). Fifteen percent of households receiving food benefits had elderly residents; 20 percent were disabled; the average gross income for households receiving assistance was $731; the average net income was $336, indicating that those needing food assistance appeared to be paying one hell of a lot more in federal, state, and local taxes than He Who Will Not Be Named.
For some reason unknown to me, Republicans – and not just conservative Republicans -- are bothered by the fact that the federal government is giving stuff away to people they don’t like. That it is in the form of food that goes into their stomachs matters not. They think all those people earning $731 a month just need to work harder. Get out of that wheelchair or nursing home bed and go to work! That’s what right-wing Republicans want. If they can’t work, fuck ’em. They don’t eat.
Some political pundit famously wrote about Trump that for him, “cruelty is the point.” He or she was correct about the man, but cruelty was baked into the conservative model of politics in this country long before the Man With a Tequila Sunrise On His Head came on the scene. These assholes have been after welfare and food stamps and housing assistance and any other program that benefits poor people since Goldwater ran for president, and arguably, long before that. The Republican Party of the 1940’s and 1950’s had a goal of shutting down Social Security, you will recall.
And as soon as Medicare raised its head, it, too, was targeted for closure – and not just by the far right. The Republican Party has put this shit in their platform. How many votes did the Republican-led House of Representatives take to shut down Obamacare? In 2017, Newsweek reported that they had found “at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act since its inception as law on March 23, 2010.” Newsweek went on to note that nearly every attempt to defund or otherwise get rid of Obamacare included provisions to defund Planned Parenthood, too.
So, you get the picture. Poor people need to eat? Fuck them. Poor women need reproductive heath care that might include pap smears, early-pregnancy check-ups, and other non-abortion care? Fuck them, too. That the people making use of Planned Parenthood health care are our mothers and sisters and girlfriends and wives and grandmothers, well, they’re not us, so fuck ’em.
Everyone seemed to agree last week that the fight in the House over the Speakership was about power, and they really got into the power dynamics of the procedural shit McCarthy caved on and how weak it made him. But nobody was asking what they’re going to do with the power they were fighting over now that they’ve got it. This is what these people are really up to. They want power, and what they want to use it for is to hurt people.
It hurts people when they scream about Critical Race Theory and ban teaching the truth about slavery and the Civil War and ban books that talk about sexuality that isn’t like theirs. It hurts people when you cut taxes on wealthy people so they can pay $750 for one year’s taxes, or zero dollars, while poor or middle-class people pay considerable percentages of their income. It hurts people when you deny them health care by disallowing the increases in Medicaid enrollment made possible by the Affordable Care Act. It hurts people, and kills people, when you sit around in the well of the House on your cellphones sneaking drinks in the “cloakroom” while freezing temperatures and violent storms rage across the country with poor people in their path.
Kevin McCarthy’s victory in the early hours of Saturday morning may have been pyrrhic, but the losses that he and his Fuck ’em Caucus will render against the American people will be all too real.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
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