Archive for October, 2023

Republicans settle on a Speaker – Somebody named Johnson

Wednesday, October 25th, 2023

If it wasn’t apparent before, it certainly is now. The Republican Party, in electing Louisiana’s Mike Johnson Speaker of the House of Representatives, served notice today that its preferred position is filial, with heads bowed, genuflecting before the throne of Donald Trump.

Johnson’s qualifications for the post are minimal. A 51-year-old former conservative talk radio host and one-term Louisiana state representative, he is now in his fourth term as a Member of Congress. He ran the Republican Study Committee, a group of socially conservative lawmakers, and served as vice chair of the House Republican caucus, a low-ranking party-leadership post. Johnson has never chaired a congressional committee and will be the least experienced speaker in 140 years.

As Speaker, Johnson will need to oversee a large staff and manage a substantial national fundraising apparatus—and he is far from a prolific fundraiser, which is a key responsibility for party leaders. His campaign raised about $1.3 million in the 2022 election cycle, a fraction of the $28 million raised by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s campaign.

But Speaker Johnson does have one supremely important qualification for his new job—he is a dyed-in-the-wool acolyte of Donald Trump and the cult of MAGA.

So, what’s his record in Congress?

Johnson was a key player in former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He not only voted against certifying the 2020 election results, he also helped rally over 100 House Republicans to sign a brief in support of a Texas-led effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn election results in four states won by then-candidate Joe Biden. Asked last night by a reporter about his role in attempting to overturn the election, Johnson responded “next question” as Republicans beside him booed.

Johnson supports rigid restrictions on abortion rights, as well as the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans. He has won consecutive A-plus ratings from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a Washington-based nonprofit that opposes abortion rights.

Last year, he introduced legislation that would have banned federally funded institutions from even discussing sexual orientation and gender identity. He has been a fierce opponent of gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Before arriving in Congress, he worked for a socially conservative legal advocacy group, wrote for his local paper defending laws that criminalized same-sex sexual relations, and expressed fervent opposition to same-sex marriage, CNN reported today. “Homosexual relationships are inherently unnatural,” he wrote, before going on to warn that legalizing same-sex marriage could be a slippery slope to allowing “a person to marry his pet.”

Johnson’s foreign policy positions could also become a divisive issue for him to navigate, as he has expressed opposition to continued funding for the war in Ukraine.

Matthew Green, a politics professor at Catholic University who authored a book on the historical role of House Speakers says, “The speakership is unique in the amount of skill that’s required to do well, and some of that comes from experience. It’s through experience that you learn the ins-and-outs of House procedure, you learn more about your colleagues, and you also get to know the dynamics of working with the Senate and with the White House and with the press. Those are things that Speakers have to deal with to a much greater degree than a rank-and-file member.” And, until this morning, that’s what Mike Johnson was—a rank-and-file Member. Now, he’s Clerk-of-the-works, chief cook and bottlewasher, El Supremo.

Asked today about working with Johnson on spending issues, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told CNN that she doesn’t know him and was going to Google him. That ought to tell you everything you need to know abut the 57th Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Over the recent past, the Republican Party has demonstrated considerable opportunistic ingenuity, but severely limited foresight. After 234 years as a nation, that ingenuity and lack of foresight have brought us to—Rank-and-Filer Mike Johnson.

The MAGA takeover of the Republican Party is complete.

We are now two countries, and we might as well admit it.

Monday, October 23rd, 2023

Friday, in the U.S. House of Representatives, chaos continued unabated.

The good news was Republicans did not elevate pugnacious Ohio Representative and alleged sexual-abuse-enabler Jim Jordan to the Speakership. The bad news is they didn’t elevate anyone else, either. After a five-hour, no-holds-barred meeting of their conference, Jordan was sent to the sidelines. His vote total dropped in each of the three rounds of voting. You’d think that would tell him something.

It is clear Republicans had absolutely no plan for moving forward after Florida’s Matt Gaetz engineered the ouster of Kevin McCarthy two weeks ago, because McCarthy committed the unpardonable sin of working with both Republicans and Democrats to keep the government open for 45 days in order to (perhaps) pass the 12 Appropriation Bills required to fund the 2024 fiscal year. This has led to the current globally embarrassing situation in which Republicans now look like flies circling a lampshade, bumping into each other in their frenzied panic.

And McCarthy’s allies insist on blaming the Democrats for their ex-leader’s dismissal. If the congressional dems had just played ball with Republicans and voted to keep McCarthy Speaker, everything would be pleasantly hunky-dory now.

People, how on God’s green earth did we ever get into this mess? Better question: How did a group of Donald Trump sycophants on the ideological far-edge fringe of society ever worm their way into the U.S. House of Representatives in the first place?

I suggest we have reached this sorry point, because America has now become two countries in all but name only. There is a Red Country and a Blue Country, and they continue to diverge from each other more every day. One of the countries, the Blue, is growing more prosperous, the other, the Red, more poor, falling farther behind.

So, let’s unpack the diverging countries.

There are more than 3,000 counties in America. If we look at how those counties, the blues and the reds, voted in the most recent two presidential elections, something becomes immediately apparent. Blue counties, although far fewer, are growing, red counties are not.

The following chart from the Brookings Institute and the New York Times paints a stark picture of the difference in the size of the counties voting for Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Note the largest county in the country voting for Trump was Suffolk County, New York, which is located in the easternmost part of Long Island. After Suffolk, counties voting for Trump diminish in size almost to the point of invisibility and irrelevance, but there are more than 2,000 of them.

The nation’s economic geography remains rigidly divided. Biden captured virtually all of the counties with the biggest economies in the country (depicted by the largest blue tiles in the graphic above).

By contrast, Trump won thousands of counties in small-towns and rural communities with correspondingly tiny economies (depicted by the red tiles). Biden’s counties tended to be far more diverse, educated, and white-collar professional, with their aggregate nonwhite and college-educated shares of the economy running to 35% and 36%, respectively, compared to 16% and 25% in counties that voted for Trump.

The Blue counties, despite recognized problems Republicans highlight every chance they get, are highly diverse and comprise America’s 2023 economic engine, excelling in technology, medicine, banking and biotech industries, to name just a few. Red America has historically relied on Agriculture, Mining and basic manufacturing, which has been disappearing over the last two decades. In 1998, 18.1 million Americans were employed in the manufacturing industry, representing 11% of the total workforce. By comparison, in 2018, 13.5 million Americans were employed in the manufacturing sector, representing only 6.7% of all jobs. However, passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (which not a single Republican Representative or Senator voted for) is reviving manufacturing in both Blue and Red America. The law has already unleashed a manufacturing renaissance by nearly doubling the amount of manufacturing construction in just one year, with forecasts of even higher growth in years to come. Blue America made this happen, not Red, even though both prosper from it.

Manufacturing aside, Blue and Red America reflect two very different economies: one oriented to diverse, often college-educated workers in professional and digital services occupations, and the other whiter, less-educated, and more dependent on “traditional” industries.

The economic positions are eye-popping when viewed through the lens of congressional districts.

In the 2010s, median household income began a steady separation, which shows no signs of slacking. But we can go even more granular to show the divergence.

Republicans in Red America represent an economic base situated in the nation’s struggling small towns and rural areas where the population yearns for the safety and security of the 1950s. Prosperity there now seems out of reach for many, and the leaders of the Republican Party, for some unknowable reason, have no desire to consider the policies of the nation’s thriving metropolitan centers. That is not a scenario for economic consensus or achievement.

Jake Grumbach, a University of Washington political scientist who studies the differences among states, has written that red states, as a group, are falling behind blue states on a broad range of economic and social outcomes—including economic productivity, family income, life expectancy, and “deaths of despair” from the opioid crisis and alcoholism.

Consider the following:

  • The gross domestic product per person and the median household income are now both more than 25 percent greater in Blue America than in Red America;
  • The share of children in poverty is more than 20 percent lower in Blue America than Red, and the share of working households with incomes below the poverty line is nearly 40 percent lower;
  • Health outcomes are diverging too. Gun deaths are almost twice as high per capita in Red America as in Blue, and the maternal mortality rate in Red American states with abortion restrictions is three times higher than Blue America;
  • The COVID vaccination rate is about 12 percent higher in Blue America, and the per capita COVID death rate is about 30 percent higher in Red; and,
  • Life expectancy is nearly three years greater in Blue America (80.1 years) than Red (77.4), and in the poorer states of Red America, like Mississippi and Louisiana, the divergence is much greater.

But the cost of living is higher in Blue America, and people, especially older Americans, are leaving for the lower taxes and costs of Red America, but lower life expectancy can make the move a bad decision for many. Young professionals with children are staying, though, for the better educational opportunities.

Why have the citizens of Red America put up with second place in so many critical areas?

Since early in the 19th century, people of the southern states have marched to their own drummer. Their addiction to the agricultural allure of cotton and the slavery that economically supported it set the south on a track of agricultural dependence that carries through to this day. For example, during the Civil War, 84 percent of the South’s population was engaged in agriculture, compared to only about 40 percent of the Northern population. Today, the South, with 47% of all of the nation’s farms, is still home to more farms than anywhere else. The South also has the largest percentage of small beginning farms. In fact, most of the farms in the south are small. Agricultural reliance has contributed to Red America being slower to embrace the policies that have led to Blue America’s economic dominance.

Obviously, the nation needs a strong farming industry, but the South’s attachment to small farms, rather than the larger variety with greater scale and profitability as the Midwest has demonstrated, condemns it to a somewhat stifled farming economy.

For what other reasons would the people of Red America, who are just as smart and talented and ambitious as their peers in Blue America, be content with putting up with the inertia of the status quo? I think they have slowly fallen for the tripe dished out to them by politicians who stoke their emotions. Since humanity began walking upright it has been ridiculously easy to persuade people into believing something they wanted to believe in the first place — even if it ran counter to their self interest — and this is happening every day in rural Red America where a large swath of the population desperately wants to go back to the good old days of Leave It To Beaver. It’s almost as if political leaders in Red America have somehow convinced their rural constituents that Salvatore Dali’s melting clocks are actually reliable timepieces.

The problem we all face now is that, given the differing and deeply held beliefs of Blue and Red Americans, there doesn’t seem any way forward out of this impossible situation. In this forest of chaos there must be a road to sanity somewhere, but the leaders we’ve sent to Congress couldn’t find it if you gave them a highlighted map and Sacajawea to lead them.

Meanwhile, today, the House of Representatives will once again convene for another demonstration from the Republican Field Manual, Chapter Seven: Instructions for assembling a political circular firing squad.

Healthcare in America is in a deep crisis with few viable options

Wednesday, October 18th, 2023

As Gaza burns and Israel wreaks mighty vengeance on the terrorists of Hamas (as well as innocent Palestinians), America is beset with its own set of domestic calamities, which, in any other era might be appreciated for the looming catastrophes they are, but now get the banal, desensitized response, “Oh, another crisis?”

As I write this, Republicans in the House of Representatives are hurtling down their own moronic, no-bottom rabbit hole, looking to do all in their power to make the U.S. Congress an even bigger global laughing-stock than it already is. These folks are like a dog with four back feet, each wanting to go in a different direction.

Ex-Ohio State University assistant wrestling coach and alleged sexual-abuse-enabler Jim Jordan is a little more than a heartbeat away from becoming Speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency. “Do you really want a guy in that job who chose not to stand up for his guys?” said former OSU wrestler Mike Schyck, one of the hundreds of former athletes and students who say they were sexually abused by school doctor Richard Strauss and have sued the university. “Is that the kind of character trait you want for a House speaker?”

Jordan says he never knew anything about it. His players say he’s lying. America yawns.

Meanwhile, over in the health care sector, Rome is burning.

Despite a steady drop in life expectancy over the last few years, the U.S. continues to spend nearly twice as much on health care as the average for the rest of the world’s developed countries. Consider this chart as backdrop for everything else that follows:

In the mid-1990s, I was a Trustee at a major teaching hospital in Massachusetts, a state with some of the best healthcare in the world. But there was a problem, and we all knew it. We were facing a shortage of primary care doctors, even as the nation’s healthcare intelligentsia had recently realized the importance of the field and were engaged in a solid effort to grow it. It was a noble effort, but while the industry established the Primary Care doctor as the gatekeeper and patient health strategist, it eventually came to treat that same Primary Care doctor as healthcare’s bastard stepchild. Too many patients, too many insurance requirements, too little time, all for too little money. Those chickens have come home to roost.

More than 145,000 healthcare practitioners, about half of them physicians, left the industry in the two-year period from 2021 through 2022, threatening access and quality, according to a report published Monday by Definitive Healthcare, a healthcare intelligence company.

Sixteen thousand of the health care providers who left were Primary Care doctors, 11,000 were psychologists or psychiatrists. About 9% of all healthcare workers who left the industry were licensed clinical social workers. Of the physicians and mental health practitioners who remain in the healthcare field, the average age is nearly 60. “Staffing shortages will deepen over the next few years,” said John Markloff, Definitive Healthcare’s senior director of data strategy.

And Primary Care shortages are more acute in rural areas than urban. The Health Resources and Services Administration has designated 7,200 regions across the country as Health Professional Shortage Areas, nearly all of them rural. “Generally, people who live in rural America are sicker, older, and come from a lower socioeconomic level,” says David Schmitz, MD, chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of North Dakota and past president of the National Rural Health Association. “They are less well insured and tend to suffer from a lot of chronic diseases. And, by nature of where they are, it’s often difficult for them to access healthcare, even basic primary care.”

And Behavioral Healthcare suffers from the same shortages. Half of U.S. counties do not have a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist or an addiction medicine specialist, which disproportionately affects low-income patients, according to data from George Washington University.

Why these shortages? Well, we could start with money.

According to the Medical Group Management Association, the median income of specialists is nearly twice that of primary-care physicians. The Group reported median income in 2021 for Specialists in the U.S. was $384,000, as opposed to $212,000 for Primary Care physicians.  To put even a finer point on it, the highest-paid gastroenterologists make about $846,000 a year; the highest-paid internists about $352,000 (in large urban areas). Think about that the next time you prep for a colonoscopy.

Moreover, the very factors that tend to make rural patients sicker are also those that make it difficult to recruit and retain healthcare providers for those areas, says Amitabh Chandra, director of health policy research at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“There are likely a lack of jobs in many of these places, as well as lower quality schools and housing,” he says. “Doctors know better than anyone the importance of good healthcare to a thriving community. Will they be comfortable moving to an area, and raising a family, in a place where you can’t get great hospital care — or perhaps any hospital care at all within a hundred miles?”

And here’s another shortage problem. More than 2,500 OB-GYNs and 2,800 anesthesiologists departed the healthcare field in 2022, according to the Definitive Healthcare study. Rural hospitals are struggling to maintain maternity wards as waning volume craters revenue, making it harder for these hospitals to continue caring for pregnant patients. This means maternity patients, like everyone else in most rural areas seeking care, must travel longer distances for it, which often leads to poorer outcomes. As I have written before, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality among developed nations.

Like so many things, all of this makes no sense at all.

So, what can be done?

Healthcare is so upside down in the U.S., nibbling around the edges won’t help. Although what we really need is a Marshall Plan for healthcare, which would cost a lot of money, I fear edge-nibbling is about all we can do — if we’re lucky.

After all, consider what it took, after over a decade of trying, to get Congress, through the Inflation Reduction Act, to allow Medicare to negotiate the price of a measly ten drugs for 2026. And that new-found ability to control costs may disappear if pharmaceutical companies and the Chamber of Commerce win lawsuits they have brought.

Consider all the effort Republicans put into their year-after-year attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), effort that could have gone into so much more productive work.

Consider Republican governors’ ferocious resistance to expanding Medicaid in their states through the ACA to get health care to the people who need it the most, but cannot afford it. After nine years, ten states still refuse to take the money the ACA offered.

Consider the ridiculous fact that, despite 91 charges in four criminal indictments, Donald Trump will be the likely nominee of the Republican Party for President next year. What would a second Trump term do to (not for) American health care, given the brick-throwing destruction of his first term. His first Executive Order, signed within hours of taking office, aimed at repealing the Affordable Care Act.

And consider that today, 18 October 2023, Jim Jordan may be elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

In our polarized, sclerotic, even paralyzed, society none of this makes any sense. But here we are.



An Israeli Trail of Tears

Thursday, October 12th, 2023

Last Saturday, 7 October, in a well-organized and highly sophisticated operation, aided and abetted by Iran, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel from Gaza.  They launched an attack on various Israeli areas with a hatred and savagery that would have made Adolph Hitler proud. More Israeli non-combatant men, women, and children died by violence on Saturday than in any single event since the Holocaust. This atrocity was of monstrous proportions without a scintilla of justification. It was barbaric. In addition to the hundreds of Israelis who died in the attack,  14 Americans were killed, and more than 20 remain unaccounted for. Hamas took about 150 people hostage, ferried them back to Gaza, and is now using them as human shields, pledging to kill one every time Israel bombs something in Gaza without warning.

The people of Israel, divided and fighting among themselves since the most far-right government in the nation’s history took power in January, instantly united and are responding with a ferocity that has already turned large chunks of Gaza into rubble and killed hundreds, mostly innocent civilians. Last night was the fifth consecutive night of ferocious bombing in Gaza. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to form a war cabinet, focused entirely on the conflict, with former defense minister and centrist opposition party leader Benny Gantz, a joint statement from Gantz’s National Unity party said.

With the possible exception of Iran, this will not end well for anyone.

Amid all the anguish, can we take a step back to cast a broader view at the “why” of all this? Right now, we are at a single point in time. It’s like catching a glimpse of an arrow whizzing past a crack in a door. In my view, it would be advisable to swing wide the door and understand a little bit about how we got to this awful moment. When we do, we see that none of the events of the last few days had to happen. Everything was preventable. All this, the deaths of innocents, the hostages, the God knows what to come might have been prevented if only in 1971 Golda Meir had made a different decision and if Israel had fulfilled its commitments in the Oslo Accords of 1993. To be clear, Hamas is absolutely responsible for the totality of this latest carnage, but there were two opportunities, which, if seized, might have led to a different outcome.

Let me explain.

Arabs have occupied what is now Israel for many centuries. Israel’s current population is 21% Arab and 73% Jewish, with 6% comprising other demographics. Three-quarters of the Arabs in Israel are Israeli citizens. Some Arabs from the Gaza Strip have Israeli citizenship. They are Palestinian by heritage, but Israeli by citizenship.

But before 1948, there was no state of Israel; there was Palestine. Jews were there, but most people who lived there were Arabs, Palestinian Arabs. Hence, the people of Gaza think themselves Palestinian. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), created by the Arab League in 1964, represents Palestinians living in the West Bank and the rest of Israel — with the exception of Gaza where Hamas rules.

Gaza is a coastal strip of land that sits on ancient trading and maritime routes along the Mediterranean shore. The Gaza Strip is 139 square miles. It is narrow, about 25 miles long and 5 miles wide — about the size of Philadelphia — and is bordered by Israel in the east and north, Egypt to its southwest, and the Mediterranean to the west. Its population is ~2.22 million people. That’s three-quarters of a million more than in Philadelphia. So, Gaza is a crowded place.

Hamas, which started out as an underground terror group more than three decades ago and hasn’t changed much since, is today, along with the PLO, one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political parties. It governs more than two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It has, quite rightly, been labeled a “terrorist organization” by most western countries, a reputation it more than lived up to on Saturday. The PLO has renounced violence; Hamas has not. The terror Hamas has caused over the years led to Gaza now being surrounded by a seemingly secure (until Saturday) 35-mile, 20-foot-high, barrier wall built by the Israelis. To get to work and return home, the people of Gaza must go through permanent, as well as mobile, checkpoints  — this can take an hour, it can take a minute, and at times of political stress, the checkpoints close completely. The people never know. There is one other checkpoint just for goods.

The barrier wall (sometimes called the “iron wall”) infuriates the Palestinians of Gaza, 57% of whom express at least a somewhat positive opinion of Hamas. But the wall would not be there were it not for Hamas. The wall is Israel’s way of protecting itself from evil incarnate.

Gaza has a painful history. It and its people have been controlled by somebody else for more than 500 years. In 1516, the Ottoman Empire moved in and stayed until the end of World War I, when, as part of negotiations to divide up the spoils of war, the League of Nations created the British Mandate, and Britain assumed control of Palestine. A crucial piece of the British Mandate was its incorporation of the Balfour Declaration of 1917,  in which the British government committed itself to a “national home” for the Jewish people. In part, the Balfour Declaration also states, “… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

The British left in 1948, and Israel became an independent state, whereupon, under the agreement that created Israel, Egypt took control of Gaza. Jordan got the West Bank. However, Palestinians in what was the new State of Israel revolted, and a civil war, the first of many such battles, ensued. Many Palestinians made the long march to Gaza, under the protection of Egypt. And there they stayed.

During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured Gaza from the Egyptians and the West Bank from Jordan.

And then came the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

In October of 1973, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan surprised Israel by invading it from the south, east, and north. The first few days were perilous, but Israel triumphed.¹ In the Yom Kippur War, 2,688 Israelis, and nearly 29,000 Arabs, died.

But before and after the Yom Kippur War, there were two moments when the course of history might have changed. Here’s how.

First,  in 1971, in response to a long-term peace proposal from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and a similar one from Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir formed a committee to examine the proposal in depth. The committee unanimously concluded that Israel’s interests would best be served by full withdrawal to the internationally recognized lines dividing Israel from Egypt and Syria, in other words, the pre-1967 borders. The Committee’s recommendations meant returning the Gaza Strip to Egypt, as well as most of the West Bank to Jordan. Meir became angry and rejected the Committee’s proposal.² Meir’s rejection of the Committee’s unanimous proposal left Gaza in Israel’s hands.

Why did Prime Minister Meir reject her Committee’s unanimous recommendations? Two reasons. First, her entire life had been driven by a fervent desire to provide Jews a place of safety, and Israel was that place. If she took the recommended actions, Israel would suddenly become only nine miles wide along the West Bank. Second, she could not bring herself to trust the Arabs who had done everything in their power to destroy her “place of safety.” After all, the pre-1967 border lines had led to the Six-Day War, the first full-out attack on Israel.

The other moment in time when history might have changed course happened in 1993 with the Oslo Accords. In these agreements, Israel agreed to leave the majority of the West Bank in Palestinian hands and remove Israeli settlements from most of the area. This never happened.  The result is the West Bank Settlement map below.

Clearly, when one looks at the map above, which was prepared in the spring of 2015 for President Obama by Frank Lowenstein, a senior State Department official, one has a hard time imagining how a two-state solution could ever happen. Since 2015, the settler population has risen nearly 16%, now reaching more than half a million, according to Israel’s Ministry of the Interior.

“We’ve reached a huge hallmark,” said Baruch Gordon, the director of a settler organization and a resident of the Beit El settlement. “We’re here to stay.”

We’ll never know what would have happened if Golda Meir had accepted her Committee’s recommendations, or if Israel’s government had moved ahead with removing settlements in 1993. But history had amply shown that trust in Israel’s Arab neighbors could be seriously naive and of deadly consequence.

You can follow the tragic 106-year trail of tears beginning in 1917 as if it were a bright, red rope in the snow leading to Saturday, 7 October 2023 . We didn’t have to end up here, but here we are.


¹ After the war, Israel fired its top four intelligence and Military leaders for the intelligence failures that led to the surprising invasion. Makes one wonder what will happen after the current conflict is over.

² Podeh, Elie (2015). Chances for Peace: Missed Opportunities in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (first ed.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press

The biggest question at the end of the week that was: What do we do now?

Friday, October 6th, 2023


 “Sometimes in politics one must duel with skunks, but no one should be fool enough to allow the skunks to choose the weapons.”
Joseph Gurney Cannon – Republican from Illinois, second-longest serving U.S. Representative in history,¹ and Speaker of the House for four terms from 1903 to 1911.

Until this momentous week, Joe Cannon, known as Uncle Joe, or sometimes Czar Cannon, was the only Speaker to be faced with a Motion to Vacate the Chair, which he survived by 40 votes in 1910 toward the end of his long reign when he was beginning to lose his formidable power.²  Now, he’s still the only Speaker to survive a Motion to Vacate.

Cannon’s Motion to Vacate, which he proposed himself to show who was still boss, was entirely different from the circus we witnessed this week. On Tuesday, Republicans in the House of Representatives gave further evidence, if any was needed, of their uncanny ability to eat their young, in this case the “young” being Kevin McCarthy’s 269-day speakership, the shortest in more than 140 years. For contrast, Joe Cannon’s Speakership lasted 2,671 days.

McCarthy was done in by eight Republicans. Think about that for a moment. In a country of more than 330 million people, a gang of eight pulled off what many of their kind had wanted, but none had achieved in the 235-year history of America’s Constitution.

And for what? Why this revolution in the ranks?

When Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to become Speaker in January he “let the skunks choose the weapons.” Moreover, he could not rely on a single Democrat to help him when his Republican enemies loaded, cocked, and fired those weapons. Democrats had been persuaded on two occasions they could not trust him. First, when immediately following the January 6th Insurrection he publicly laid the whole thing at the feet of Donald Trump and called for an independent congressional commission to investigate, only to fly down to Mara-a-Lago a few days later to beg forgiveness, renew his obeisance, and repudiate even the idea of such a commission. Second, when he struck a debt and budget deal with President Biden in May that set a framework for federal agency funding for the next two years while allowing the Treasury Department to continue borrowing, only to renege on the agreement a few weeks later after MAGA extremists in the House loudly contended (everything they do is loud) they had won promises from him to lower spending, not leave it where it was.

McCarthy’s Speakership was doomed from the moment he won the job on the 15th ballot nine months earlier.

The hot question now is what happens next? Someone has to be Speaker, and is there any hope that whoever grabs and gains the gavel will fare any better than McCarthy? Further, is there any chance at all that the next Speaker will be able to get rid of the rule the MAGA crowd forced on McCarthy, which lets a single Member bring a Motion to Vacate as happened Tuesday? You can bet that will happen if one of the MAGA junta is elected.

However, the biggest question for me is what happens on 17 November when the Continuing Resolution McCarthy negotiated with Democrats expires? That was McCarthy’s finest hour. It showed courage, but it gave Florida’s Matt Gaetz  and his cronies the ammunition they’d always wanted to oust the Speaker just to prove they could—there’s no other cogent reason. For Gaetz, et al, cogency is not a strong suit. They are political, anarchist bomb throwers of the first order. Nothing more.

Pragmatically speaking, the nation’s business is being held hostage by a tyranny of the few to the detriment of the many. This cannot and must not go on. But right now it’s hard to imagine finding adults in the Republican caucus who have the nerve, strength, and temerity to exile the toddlers to their rooms for a lengthy time-out.

So much hangs in the balance. All the safety net programs in America, the profound issues on our border, the battle to mitigate climate change, and above all, Ukraine. Providing Ukraine the weapons it desperately needs to send Vladimir Putin’s army back to Mother Russia is critically important for our national security. Were Ukraine to suffer defeat, Russia’s autocratic leader would be strengthened at home, emboldened abroad. It would not just be a defeat for Ukraine, it would be a defeat for the U.S. and all of NATO. We really cannot allow that to happen, but that is precisely what is at stake over the next few weeks. Ohio’s pugilistic Jim Jordan, now a candidate to replace McCarthy, and whom Donald Trump endorsed this morning, this week said he’s against providing any more funding for Ukraine. In his mind, it’s either Ukraine or our southern border, and the border’s ever so much more important. Plus, Ukraine’s not our fight, anyway.

Not our fight? Is he right? Is it really an either/or proposition? Of course not, but he and his extremist colleagues seem to live only in a black and white world (in more ways than one).

Every day we make history, but America’s never made history this way before. From now until the 17th of November will be a time fraught with peril. May we navigate it with strength and patriotism. A corny word for sure, but it’s the right one.

May some person emerge from the Republican side of the House capable of pulling the fully-loaded clown car back from the edge of what is a deep and rocky gorge.

And may all members of Congress put personal ambition and self-interest aside and work for the common good of the country and its people.

Yes, I know. That’s probably asking more than most are willing to give.

Joe Cannon would have eaten this bunch alive.


¹ The longest-serving Member of the House of Representatives was Don Young, (R-AK), who held his office for 49 years, from 1973 until his death in 2022.

² Speaker Cannon was so powerful he made himself Chair of the Rules Committee and personally appointed the Chairs and Members of the other 19 permanent Committees of the House. Consequently, he  controlled everything the House did. The Cannon Office Building, named after him, was the first D.C. building to be named for a Member of Congress.