Not since Groucho sang that song as Huxley College President Quincy Adams Wagstaff in the classic Marx Brothers farce Horsefeathers has Nihilism been so much in vogue, at least in the venerable Halls of the U.S. Congress. Those who think that the country is run by President Joe Biden, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy or even former President Donald J. Trump, haven’t been paying attention. The most powerful man in America may just be Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who is the public face of a group of fellow renegade Republicans who advocate doing: exactly nothing.
Gaetz, who seems for now to have avoided charges in a federal investigation involving sex trafficking of a 17 year girl, is not alone in thwarting every effort to prevent the House from fulfilling its intended purpose of actually running the government. He is joined by other notable right-wing extremists including Paul Goser and Andy Biggs of Arizona, Bob Good of Virginia, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, the nominal leader of the so-called Freedom Caucus, and the always entertaining Lauren Boebert of Colorado. A few of these dissenters are long-time Tea Party members, but all of them share a disdain for government and seem determined to eviscerate federal spending, thwart support for Ukraine in its courageous struggle against an aggressive tyrant and to impeach President Biden even if it means shutting down the government.
All of the group of approximately twenty opposed the elevation of Trump sycophant McCarthy to the role of Speaker, but he, out of desperation or expediency, sold his soul to the group to gain the power of the gavel. And no matter how sincere he may be at actually trying to do his job, he has inherited a herd of cats whose ilk previously thwarted former Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan (neither of who could be accused of being flaming liberals) with their obstreperous demands, effectively driving them out of politics.
The renegades are infuriated by the deal made between McCarthy and Biden to raise the debt ceiling, a deal they regard as a betrayal of the promises made by McCarthy to them about spending limits, a charge that may have some merit since the purportedly senile Biden showed his old Senatorial deal-making skills by picking McCarthy’s pocket and getting much more than he gave.
The question now becomes, where do we go from here? Will the Republicans pay the price at the polls as they did for previous government shutdowns forced by former speaker Newt Gingrich, who bears as much blame for creating the toxic partisan atmosphere that pervades our current politics, but who looks like Henry Clay compared to the clowns who now run the circus? No matter what the political consequences, will the country muddle through while the rebels lay the groundwork for the potential reality of the true Ringmaster, Trump, rising from the ashes and finishing the job of destroying our Constitutional democracy?
One thing is certain. What the renegades represent is not Conservatism, which, in my mind, means lower taxes, limited government and traditional social norms. What they advocate is nothing short of chaos. To achieve their aims, they hold McCarthy’s Speakership for ransom at the price of economically castrating the government, handing Ukraine to Putin and ridding the world of “wokeism.” While utter chaos can get a laugh in the movies, in real life it is not funny.