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  • Jan Flynn

I No Longer Write About Politics

I know I said that, but now’s the time to make an exception.

Okay, I’m listening. Photo by Sue Tucker on Unsplash

A colleague once told me, “I’m not interested in politics.” I was taken aback. The man was well-educated, a history teacher who drilled his seventh-graders on the Constitution until they could recite its articles in order.

I replied, “Well, it’s like what Leon Trotsky said about war. You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.”

“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” — Leon Trotsky

And then I shut up about it. One piece of wisdom I’ve acquired over the decades is that talking politics — certainly, these days — results in one of two things: contention or frustration.

The latter is a deafening session in the echo chamber as you and someone from your end of the spectrum ponder: what’s with all these people who don’t see things the way we do? It’s so clear they’re wrong!

The former — in which you and, say, your once-favorite uncle with whom you now disagree on everything stumble into the Forbidden Topic after one too many glasses of whatever at a family gathering — can sunder relationships permanently.

Writing about politics is even more perilous. Which is one reason I no longer do it. Another is that so many others do it much better and more knowledgeably than I can.

Our current impasse drives me to make an exception

My husband and I have just returned from a ten-day road trip, driving from Idaho south through the intervening states and then all the way down the California coast and back up again. While we were taking in the glorious weather and autumnal scenery — even the Nevada desert sported fall colors — the dumpster fire of geopolitics burst into a conflagration even worse than when we left home.

You know what I’m talking about: Hamas attacked Israel in as vicious and brutal a sucker-punch manner as anyone could imagine. Israel, understandably enraged, responded in force, and now Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip are bearing the brunt of a humanitarian crisis. And Hezbollah, backed by Iran, in turn backed by Russia, appears to be frothing at the mouth in its eagerness to enter the fray.

The whole Middle East, a perennial powder keg, teeters on the brink of a war that could involve much of the globe — and certainly the U.S.

Our current administration is focused on doing everything possible to contain the situation — with the President traveling to Israel, affirming our support of our ally while also underscoring the need for a two-state solution, and pleading with Congress to send aid to Israel and Ukraine.

“As hard as it is, we cannot give up on peace. We cannot give up on a two-state solution,” Biden said. “Israel and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety, dignity, and peace.” — Time Magazine, October 20, 2023

If there was ever a time for America to exert its leadership role and pull the world back from the brink, this is it.

But the power of the executive branch right now is like the biblical Samson post-haircut. Because the power of the purse — the purse that pays for foreign aid along with our own military and other things we like to depend on like roads and bridges and the Post Office and our Social Security checks — resides with Congress.

And with the House of Representatives entering its third week without a Speaker, our bicameral Congress is in a state of bipolar catatonia. The House can’t conduct business without a Speaker, and the Senate can’t do much beyond fuming and hand-wringing until the House gets its act together.

Oh, and the stopgap bill that Congress managed to pass on October 1 to keep the government from shutting down is set to expire on November 17.

Our Founding Fathers never envisioned a situation like this

Those gentlemen, as visionary as they were, had a collective blind spot: they assumed that anyone who would ascend to positions of leadership in the newly minted United States would adhere to certain, basic standards of behavior.

So while the framers of the Constitution put in some guardrails around runaway power-grabbing and greed — such as the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses — it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that those who came after them would fail to at least act like, well, gentlemen.

Ladies back then didn’t even get a vote, just like anyone else who wasn’t a property-owning white male. But I digress.

The point is that the Founding Fathers never imagined how many of their successors would operate with either blithe unconcern for, or ignorance of, the way our government is supposed to work.

But that’s where we are, and I doubt I’d get much argument on that from either side of the divide. We’re an eagle with one wing tied behind our back.

It gives me no pleasure to see the Republican Party self-destruct

I say that as a confirmed tree-hugging, big-tent progressive, the kind of lib the conservatives would love to own. Here’s where I leave it to others to parse what all has led to the GOP’s meltdown — but even a leftie like me is pragmatic enough to see that we need to get the House functioning again ASAP.

But that doesn’t mean we can accept just anyone as Speaker. Certainly not Jim Jordan, the Big Lie advocate who’s never passed a bill in his career in the House and whose strategy of threatening and brow-beating his colleagues led to a steadily increasing loss of support through three rounds of votes. He’s out of the running now anyway.

We can’t have a Speaker who is utter anathema to over half the country, not to mention a wide swath of his own party. But we’re going to have to find someone to take the job, and considering how accurate the House R’s are when it comes to shooting themselves in the foot, it seems clear that there’s going to have to be some bipartisan cooperation to get out of the quicksand before it’s too late.

Because math

With the House in its current configuration, it needs 217 votes to elect a Speaker. Right now, all the Dems — who were understandably reluctant to come to the aid of Kevin McCarthy, especially after he tried to launch impeachment hearings against President Biden, and were even less enthused about voting for Jim Jordan — are voting in a bloc for their guy, Hakeem Jeffries.

But there are only 212 Democrats in the House, and the likelihood of five Republican reps falling on their swords and crossing lines to vote for Jeffries is — well, snowballs and Hell and all that.

As of this writing, there are a couple of GOP reps throwing their hats into the Speakership ring, but it’s unclear that any of them can get enough of their fractious party brethren to line up behind them — especially the hardline flamethrowers who Kevin McCarthy empowered to create this mess in the first place.

Earnest lib that I am, it appears to me that it’s up to the House Democrats to clean up the mess. It would mean a decidedly out-of-character display of unity among the Dems, and it’s entirely unfair. But in the interests of the nation and avoiding Armageddon, I think the time has come.

We need a Republican the Dems can vote for, and I have just the guy

Again, because math. If all 212 Democrats would vote for a Republican they could begin to imagine being able to stomach, at least enough to get the government functional again, then it would only take five Rs to join them.

There are currently 14 House Republicans representing districts that went for Biden in 2020, so that’s not such a high bar.

Ah, but what Republican could possibly cause the Dems to hold their noses long enough to say “aye?”

Mitt Romney.

I can hear my progressive brethren (sistren?) gasping in horror. Yes, he’s kind of a patriarchal tool and I’m pretty sure if he could see into my pinko, feminist heart he might cheerfully see me burned at the stake, if that were still a thing.

And others are right away thinking, but he’s not even a member of the House. Not only that but his snit-and-tell biography is about to be launched as he’s on his way out of the Senate.

Bear with me here. For one thing, no rule says the Speaker actually has to be a member of the House (remember last week, or was it the week before, when Trump was being floated as Speaker?). And that book could be just the thing that allows the House Democrats to swipe right on him, just this once.

Now, I am not in possession of an advanced reader copy of the not-yet- released Romney: A Reckoning. But Michael Gold, political correspondent for the New York Times is, and in a NYT piece updated on October 20, he has plenty of hot dish to share.

Senator Romney articulated his assessments of some of his Republican colleagues with the book’s author, McKay Coppins. And those opinions are frank, unstinting, and make for some delicious bites.

On Ted Cruz: “scary,” “a demagogue,” and “frightening.”

On Ron DeSantis, posing for photos with voters in Iowa: “There’s just no warmth at all . . . he looks like he’s got a toothache.” And, “He’s much smarter than Trump . . . there’s a peril to having someone who’s smart and pulling in a direction that’s dangerous.”

On Mike Pence: “a lap dog for Trump for four years.”

On Rick Perry: “a dimwit . . . Republicans must realize that we must have someone who can complete a sentence.”

On Rick Santorum: “sanctimonious, severe, and strange,” with “apparently bottomless self-interest.”

And on Donald J. Trump: in a 2016 email to Chris Christie, Romney wrote of DJT, “He is unquestionably mentally unstable, and he is racist, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, vulgar, and prone to violence . . . There is simply no rational argument that could lead me to vote for someone with those characteristics.”

I can forgive Mitt a whole lot based on those remarks. Especially when compared to others in his party, he emerges as a man of character. And while he may have burned a lot of bridges among the Rs, surely the House Dems can, like me, put aside their differences with him (and each other, and anyone who uses the wrong pronouns) long enough to promote him to Speaker.

And I’m betting there are at least five Republicans in the House who, in their secret heart of hearts, agree with everything he said about all those guys.

So how about it? Mitt for Speaker, sez I!

Now if only he’d agree to take the job.

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