Unfortunately, Kevin McCarthy Is the Best House Majority Leader We Could Have Hoped For
Jun 20 2014
Screencap via YouTube user Cal Watchdog
A little over a week ago, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor got his ass very unexpectedly handed to him in his district's primary by a Tea Partier named David Brat. Apart from a nuanced position on immigration, Cantor was largely a by-the-numbers Republican in his views, but he had a history of pulling the strings on the Republican party's obstructionism, had displayed some really infuriating ignorance, and was all the more terrifying because he was stone-faced and boring as hell.
We were glad to see Cantor go, and his replacement in the leadership, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, was announced yesterday. McCarthy will be a step up in my book, and there are some real bright sides to his replacing Cantor, but that's really not saying much.
As VICE's Grace Wyler noted, after Cantor's defeat, the Republicans are spooked about the anti-corporate sentiments held by Tea Partiers starting to catch on, which could mean funding might suffer. A Tea Partier in the position of Majority Leader could have had a calming effect on the tension between Tea Part Republicans and establishment Republicans.
Instead of wading through that muck, the Republicans just did the obvious thing and moved McCarthy from the number-three position in the House to position number two. Starting now we're going to be hearing a whole lot from this guy, but, as with Cantor, we hardly know who he is. Unlike Cantor it's not because he's a cardboard cutout, but because his short political career has been an almost Obama-like rocket-ship ride. I only know who he is because he's from my state, California, and he's outspoken on an issue I feel strongly about.
So take it from me—McCarthy's everything you could realistically hope for in a mostly lock-step Republican: He's affable, occasionally inept, and refreshingly goofy.
His ineptitude is arguable. By and large, politicos consider him effective at whipping votes, but he's had surprise failures on the House floor, where the vote count wasn't what he thought it was, and he unexpectedly lost. The New York Times says he's far from "steeped in the fine details of policy," and that he's "likely to delegate substantive policy matters to committee chairmen, which they may prefer."
But it's the goofiness that will make his tenure as majority leader bearable. Specifically, he has a harder time stringing words together than George W. Bush. At least with George W. Bush you could tell what he was trying to say. McCarthy just loses the thread completely and keeps right on blathering. The Washington Post just compiled an incomplete list of McCarthy's word salad episodes. One was an attempt to illustrate that justice is blind:
One of the most important I think that can happen today, Lynn Jenkins’s bill, an idea of fairness, the idea that when you look across the street from the Capitol, you see the Supreme Court, you see the statue sitting there, blinded in the process with the weights in-between.
Huh? It's hard to tell from just reading his nonsensical quotes out of context, but McCarthy's speaking tick is that he constantly interrupts himself, and he never finishes a thought. Listen to him answer this Tea Partier's question at a town hall meeting. (His answer starts at 1:36.)
He's jumping all over the place, and then he becomes lucid for long enough to tell a joke, and then he goes back to saying random shit like in one of those Bad Lip Reading videos, except real. I hope he doesn't ruin the fun by taking a diction class.
Don't get me wrong—politically he's all the things a Republican has to be to get elected: pro-life, for instance, and a card-carrying member of the oil-and-coal fan club—but contrary to a lot of jokes that are going to come out in the next few days, he's not unusually evil. The rumors about his being evil will come from two trivia items:
1. He chose a really ominous clip from Ben Affleck's The Town to inspire cooperation with recalcitrant Tea Partiers when he needed all the Republicans to oppose Obama's budget:
Granted, that's a pretty scary sentiment, particularly the part about hurting people, but apparently he's a huge film buff, and he hosts movie nights with other representatives. My guess is that, just like me, he's too saturated with media to resist a reference to a scene that feels right, no matter how much violence it might imply. I sympathize.
2. He's the inspiration for Frank Underwood, the evil House majority whip from House of Cards.
Well, sort of. Yes, he did let Kevin Spacey shadow him when Spacey was preparing for the role. Yes, he gave House of Cards a quote that became one of the show's most iconic threats. Yes, he did say, "If I could kill just one member of Congress, my job would be a lot easier." But the true inspiration for Frank Underwood is some British guy.
The Republican party is full of cloak-and-dagger figures like Dick Cheney, genuinely hateful demagogues like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, and ruthless juggernauts like Richard Nixon. At the gut level, Kevin McCarthy doesn't strike me as any of those. I would take comfort in the fact that he lacks the oratory skills and policy expertise to bring about some kind of real shift to the right, but past Republicans leaders have proven that a lack of those skills isn't actually an impediment.
(Ed. Note- An earlier version of this article referred to Pete Sessions as a Tea Partier. He isnt one.)
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