Why should we WANT to preserve the status quo in House politics?

Why should we WANT to preserve the status quo in House politics?
House GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy (Majority Leader), Steve Scalise (Majority Whip), and Speaker John Boehner. (Image via Politico)

I admit, I can’t get very worked up about the perils of the Speaker drama.  This clearly puts me out of sync with Beltway Republicans.

It appears to me that Rush Limbaugh has summarized the situation pretty well, even if I wouldn’t put it in quite all of his terms.  Dr. Susan Berry, writing at Breitbart, introduced a quote from him thus:

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said Friday the reason why the mainstream media is not visibly celebrating Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)’s decision to drop his bid for House Speaker and the ensuing Republican Party implosion is because the perception is that conservatives have won a victory over Washington insider establishment individuals like McCarthy.

She quotes Limbaugh:

What it should tell you is that McCarthy obviously is a Washington insider, and his fall from grace as future Speaker obviously is bad news to the insiders or the establishment in Washington, both parties. And the reason for that is it is perceived that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the House Conservative Caucus [or Freedom Caucus – J.E.] are behind this, these Tea Party yokels, and it is viewed as these upstart conservatives taking control of the House, and they’re outsiders.

On cue, a post showed up at ThinkProgress on Friday morning castigating the House Freedom Caucus as, basically, the focus of evil in the modern world.  Everything it wants is “disastrous” for the country.  It’s a dark cabal of 40 votes that keep any would-be Speaker from passing legislation to “avoid disastrous consequences.”

Yada yada yada.  You could write the copy yourself.  The arguments never change.

When I heard part of Michael Medved’s radio show Friday afternoon, he was addressing the same topic.  The Freedom Caucus has made it impossible for the Speaker to get his job done.  It’s terribly irresponsible; we all – conservatives – want pretty much the same things, but this isn’t the way.

I respect Medved’s intelligence, as I do the intelligence and good intentions of most old-consensus conservatives.  The problem I have with going sackcloth and ashes over the Speaker controversy is that the old-consensus reaction suggests we would somehow be better off if we could keep a thoroughly broken status quo going.

What do we get out of the House Republicans being able to “pass legislation”?

– We get a continuation of the upwardly-spiraling national debt, with colossal expansion of welfare dependency but chronic funding shortages and loss of readiness for the military.

– We get a continuation of funding without budgeting, which guarantees no political accountability.

– We get no relief whatsoever from the increasing regulatory overreach of the Obama administration, which among other things is strangling economic growth (e.g., EPA rules, education mandates, Obamacare).

– We get no effective opposition to Obama’s executive circumvention of the laws of the United States (e.g., on immigration-law enforcement).

– We get continued abuse of executive branch powers to harass and endanger Americans (e.g., intrusive IRS actions against conservative activists, Operation Fast & Furious, the Justice Department’s politicized intrusions into local policing).

– We get continued funding, with taxpayer money, of things like Planned Parenthood’s abortion and baby-parts services, and money-losing crony businesses (e.g., the taxpayer-dependent renewables industry).

– We get ineffective opposition to Obama’s extremely dangerous and in some cases irreversible security policy moves, starting with the Iran nuclear “deal.”

The full list is much longer than that.  The list of things we get to keep living with, once we all responsibly agree that there’s nothing we can do to stop them, goes on and on.

What’s the big fear here?

Why would it be better to give up principle, in order to stick with that program, than to endure a crisis of the Speakership in the House?

What I suspect is that in the near term, we’ll end up with just about the same thing either way.  Not having a reassuringly conventional leadership situation will turn out to be pretty much like having one, between now and January 2017.

Nothing useful could actually get done, if old-consensus conservatives got their way and Paul Ryan stepped in.  (I’ve got nothing against Ryan, BTW, and he’d be fine with me as Speaker.  But so would Jason Chaffetz, who doesn’t scare me in the slightest.)

On the other hand, things like increasing the debt limit are almost certain to get done regardless, since a majority composed of Republicans and Democrats doesn’t need the Freedom Caucus for that.

So, again, what is the actual value of propping up the old consensus over the next 15 months?

What we need to learn – or face up to

The worst thing that could come out of this political crisis would be failing to establish that it’s the status quo that’s unbearable.  It’s unbearable because it’s unsustainable, and vice versa.  Its logic now is fatally destructive: it depends on an ever-shrinking middle class being willing to take ever-growing losses in freedom, opportunity, and hope.  Nothing proposed by those with the old-consensus mindset is going to change that.

We’ve reached the tipping point at which it doesn’t make sense to keep paying the price for the current status quo.  That’s what the old-consensus pols and pundits still don’t get.

The greatest dangers for Americans over the next 15 months are two things the old consensus has proven itself powerless to act effectively on anyway: overreach, domestically, by Obama’s executive; and his unspeakable fecklessness in national security policy, from the immigration free-for-all to abandoning the Middle East and starving the military.

Even if we could somehow pay the price of silencing the Freedom Caucus, it wouldn’t buy us anything.  The old-consensus wing of the party won’t stop Obama.  We already know that.  Things will get worse no matter what happens with the Speakership, and in the same measure.

But the one useful thing we could do is recognize this unprecedented situation as the sign it is:  not that some conservatives have gotten too extreme, but that government has.  Government now digs too deep; it takes too much away from us; it wants to rule us too much and too intrusively; and it is less and less accountable for any of the more and more it does.  That’s why we can’t agree on what to do about it.  That’s why our traditional, consensus-based politics are breaking down.

If we don’t learn that the problem is the size of government, and nothing will function peacefully until we’ve addressed that, we’re cooked.  In this teachable moment, it’s the conservatives who want to actually reduce the footprint of government in our lives who are the responsible parties – the grown-ups – the peacemakers.  If you want the fights to go away, you have to stop giving people a bigger and bigger stake in each other’s every decision.

And the best way to secure that outcome is the one our Founders chose: limiting government, before all else, to doing less.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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