There is good news and bad news about the farce-cum-tragedy that we just witnessed in the election of a new Speaker of the House. Assuming, not unreasonably, that the so-called ‘Freedom Caucus’ will continue last week’s behavior, the good news is that the 80% of the American voters who believe that the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2020 was not an act of patriotism will almost certainly eradicate them in 2024. The bad news is that they can and probably will inflict serious damage on the United States before we get to 2024.
A guest essayist in the New York Times of January 8, Dr. Joanne Freeman, aptly noted that we should suppress the temptation to laugh at the mess created by spoiled kids. What happened was not a joke. Nine tenths of the members of the majority Republican party were taken hostage by a willful, spoiled, bunch of brats.
That majority cravenly surrendered after Kevin McCarthy, an opportunist so ambitious to become Speaker, allowed the tiny minority to strip the office – and McCarthy – of any authority or dignity.
The entire GOP has become a joke.
In the furor, you may not have noticed that the spoiled brats in the House emasculated Donald Trump as well. Once the kingmaker of the GOP, Trump’s pathetically futile effort to help McCarthy indicated that he, too, is walking around naked.
Let’s get one thing straight: this was not a fight about policy but over about power. The House GOP has abandoned any pretense of a governing philosophy. They have already announced what they will do over the next two years: hold hearings to investigate the January 6th hearings, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Secretary of Homeland Security ,and the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop. They gleefully boast that they will dedicate the next two years to defunding the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security, Medicare, and Ukraine’s fight for freedom. If they do not get their way, they say they will shut down the government.
If that does not work, they have threatened to default on the national debt, plunging the world into an economic catastrophe that will make the Great depression look like a mild ‘market correction’.
A couple of dozen members of the House of Representatives will effectively try their darndest to make the United States an ungovernable mess adrift in an increasingly dangerous world. The two hundred or so Republican members laughingly referred to as ‘moderates’ have already proven they have the spine of an amoeba; they will not stand up to them.
Internationally, we should not exaggerate the risks of letting the Freedom Caucus run riot. The saying “When America sneezes, the whole world gets a cold,” has never been truer. The United States remains the indispensable country. Paradoxically, even as the United States’ role as the sole globe-girdling Superpower declines in a world of growing multi-polarity, the United States remains the essential glue that keeps the globe from descending into anarchy. Does anyone seriously believe that absent American leadership, Europe or any other group of countries would have leapt to the support of Ukraine when Russia invaded? As China flexes its muscles to dominate East Asia and the western Pacific, what other country would have asserted the diplomatic, military, and economic leadership to clip Beijing’s wings?
Happily, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian powers have begun to strengthen their own military power and diplomacy to face down China; but would they have had the chance to do so without the protective umbrella of the United States?
Europe also seems to have awaken from its long somnolence. NATO Europe has finally begun to increase its defense budgets and free itself of its dangerous dependence on Russia’s oil and gas. Now, as a percentage of GDP, European NATO is doing even more to help Ukraine than the United States, but would it have done so without American initiative? Our Middle Eastern friends may posture about tying themselves to China but they, too, know that without the United States they will live in perpetual fear of Iran and of the other disruptive tendencies of the region.
Ιf the so-called ‘moderate’ members of the GOP caucus do not find their spines, however, the United States will find itself sneezing like mad. Even rumored threats to American economic and political stability undermine confidence in America’s ability to deal with threats to international stability. Left unchecked, the Freedom Caucus will find itself an unindicted co-conspirator to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Putin, Xi Jinping, and the mullahs must be salivating at the prospect of a United States so distracted and weakened internally that it cannot marshal the world order against their malign activity.
However, the Biden administration and the Democratic majority in the Senate must not be tempted to compromise with the nutcases. They must not repeat Obama’s mistake in not calling the bluff of the Tea Party (the ancestor of the Freedom Caucus) in 2014. The 2014 budget deal defunded tax collection and undermined public services as well as many other domestic programs, contributing directly to the severity of the current budget deficit and the COVID pandemic. The responsibility to restore good order in our country rests solely and absolutely with the Republican Party whose dysfunction and cravenness spawned the nutcases. Eisenhower and Reagan, whose legacy the Freedom Caucus has disgraced, led the world in containing the threat of communism. Their political party must not go down in history as the party whose mindlessness plunged the world into chaos.