At the Potomac’s first rapids, that ephemeral border between the tidewater and the piedmont, summer has begun to fade, as do the spots on the fawns in the back yard, while their mothers’ beige fall coats replace the bright red ones they have sported since the spring. Rains drench the Virginia woods in Great Falls, while after, gravid trees and shrubs tempt the cardinals and jays with their ripened fruits, glistening in the sun of the approaching equinox.
And over the river, in Washington, Congress has returned from its August recess as the month of September moves, ever surely, toward the magical day of October 1, when the federal fiscal year ends, and, after which, in the absence of the mystical incantations of the House of Representatives which breath new vigor into the fiscal lifeblood of the government’s three branches, the whole show will turn into a pumpkin.
Democrats, certainly never in this century, nor in the preceding one for that matter, have ever sought to withhold the arcane chants and inscriptions required to cast the necessary constitutional spells. Republicans, on the other hand, have recently (i.e., within the last fifty years or so) found throwing a spanner in Uncle Sam’s mechanisms of justice, administration, health, welfare, environmental protection, foreign relations, consumer safety, financial market oversight, national defense and so forth to be a source of considerable gratification and amusement. Being convinced, as they claim to be, that the government which governs least governs best, nothing delights them more than seeing a government that does nothing at all.
Thus was born the Shutdown Circus, a periodic occurrence peculiar to Septembers, which, thanks to Republicans’ increasing fondness for it, appears to be turning into an annual event. The 2023 Shutdown Circus is now in full swing, and the usual consequent raucous orgy of partisan, factional bickering, accompanied by widespread hand wringing and bed wetting (both metaphorical and literal) about the consequences of driving everything of consequence going on in the Nation’s Capital off the tracks and into a ditch, is likewise once again running at full steam and balls out down the fraught, rusty and rickety railway of American politics. Will the runaway locomotive’s air brakes be applied in time to avoid a huge, noisy, flaming wreck? And if so, will they actually stop the train? Only God and Westinghouse know, and God’s not entirely sure.
And speaking of bickering, handwringing partisan bedwetters headed straight for metaphorical disaster, about nine this morning, Gretchen let me know that Kevin McCarthy was calling, asking for a telephone consultation.
In the spirit of the season, how could I say no?
McCarthy: Hello? Tom Collins?
Tom: At your service, Mr. Speaker. How may I help the House of Representatives and the people of the United States of America today?
McCarthy: Beats me. I’m calling for one of those free consultations Rand Paul told me you hand out.
Tom: Ah, yes, I must be sure to thank him for referring you. That is correct, initial consultations are without charge. What’s your concern?
McCarthy: Well… the uh… stability… of my current position, actually.
Tom: Ah yes, I take it the Freedom Caucus has you between Scylla and Charybdis.
McCarthy: Between who?
Tom: I hear the MAGA loonies have you by the short hairs.
McCarthy: Hmph! No need to get so earthy.
Tom: At least you understood what I was talking about.
McCarthy: What are you, some kind of wise guy?
Tom: At these prices, who can complain? You?
McCarthy: I guess you got a point there. I hear you’re supposed to be the smartest person in Washington.
Tom: Which is a lot like being the tallest building in Baltimore.
McCarthy: Baltimore? Now you’ve gone from earthy to just plain vulgar. You kiss your mother with that mouth?
Tom: You find Baltimore offensive?
McCarthy: It’s a hotbed of commie leftists and full of [expletive] and Jews!
Tom: I see. Republican kryptonite, huh?
McCarthy: Well, I sure as hell wouldn’t let my sister go there! Nancy Pelosi is from Baltimore, you know.
Tom: So I hear. And you’re from Bakersfield, California.
McCarthy: And proud of it.
Tom: Not too many [expletive] and Jews in Bakersfield, that’s for sure.
McCarthy: And that’s the way we like it.
Tom: Nice and white and Republican.
Tom: Although, obviously, they tolerate the Irish, no?
Tom: Well, it used to be, not that long ago, the Republicans in Bakersfield weren’t so hot on having a bunch of Micks around, either, you know; what with them being Catholics and shall we say, of the Hibernian persuasion.
McCarthy: I’m a Baptist!
Tom: So you are. White and Protestant, yes. But, since you are descended from Irish and Italian grandparents, you’ll never get that “A” and “S” will you?
McCarthy: Which [expletive] “A” and “S” damn it?
Tom: The “A” and “S” in “WASP” which is what you will never, ever quite manage to be, no matter how hard you try.
McCarthy: So I’m not Anglo Saxon! So what? What’s that got to do with anything?
Tom: So maybe, because you can’t quite manage to be the ultimate, purebred White Anglo Saxon Protestant Republican that someone like, say Mike Pence is, you compensate for that perceived inadequacy by being obsessed with being the most prestigious Republican you possibly can be. Obsessed, some might say, with being the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, no matter what you have to do in order to achieve and maintain that office.
McCarthy: Well, this is interesting. They didn’t tell me you think you’re a [expletive] psychiatrist, Collins.
Tom: Just… speculating, actually. But come now, look at all the compromises you made to become Speaker. You sold your soul to half a dozen radical MAGA members of the House in order to get the votes to make you Speaker. And even then, it took you fifteen tries to do it.
McCarthy: But I got there – that’s what counts.
Tom: Perhaps. Some might say what counts is where it got you. And look where that is – Matt Gaetz berating you in public like you’re some flunky who’s brought him a cold latte, reminding you that you agreed to House rules which allow even one, single representative to call for your ouster at the drop of a hat.
McCarthy: Yeah, well, technically. But it’s not as simple as that, really.
Tom: Isn’t it? Right now, those same lunatics are talking about shutting down the federal government at the end of the month, something you know will totally trash the Republicans at the ballot box a year from November.
McCarthy: Not totally trash it. Maybe some of those Republican seats where Biden won the vote in their districts last time, but there’s not too many of them.
Tom: There are eighteen of them. Lose even half of them, and Hakeem Jeffries is Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and you…
McCarthy: Don’t… even… say that!
Tom: And how about that first name, Mister White Baptist Republican from Bakersfield, huh? How about that? Ha-keem. Yeah. What you think, white boy? That be Muslim or that be Yoruba? I tell you what that be, honky-ofay California cracker, that be black, that’s what that be.
McCarthy: St… st… stop! You’re making me sick!
Tom: Oh? Touched a nerve, did we? You scared of black people, by any chance?
McCarthy: Of… of… of course not! Some of my best friends are… uh… Negroes.
Tom: Right. And pigs have wings, Bill Gates doesn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, Mark Zuckerberg is not a greedy amoral putz, Jeff Bezos respects other human beings and Elon Musk is just a businessman. Oh, and Donald Trump won the 2020 election. So tell me, how is life on Earth Two these days?
McCarthy: Earth Two?
Tom: Really? Come on now, you must have heard of Earth Two.
McCarthy: No. What is it?
Tom: It’s where the Bill Gates who doesn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, the Mark Zuckerberg who is not a greedy amoral putz, the Jeff Bezos who respects other human beings, the Elon Musk who is just a businessman instead of a crypto-fascist, and the Donald Trump who won the 2020 election live.
McCarthy: It is?
Tom: Yeah. You live there with them, you know. Haven’t you noticed the flocks of pigs flying around?
McCarthy: This is insane.
Tom: No, you are insane. Matt Gaetz, Luren Boebert, Louie Gomert, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry and Chip Roy are insane. That’s the problem with the United States House of Representatives at the moment – the lunatics have taken over the asylum. And you busted your hump to become the chief lunatic. How does that feel?
McCarthy: We are not lunatics! We are patriots!
Tom: Patriots who want to initiate an impeachment investigation against the president of the United States to see if they can find any evidence to impeach him with. I mean, really, is that not straight out of the works of Lewis Carroll or what?
McCarthy: For Christ’s sake! Who the [expletive] is Lewis Carroll?
Tom: Okay, Franz Kafka, then.
McCarthy: And who the [expletive] is he?
Tom: Read much over there in Bakersfield?
McCarthy: Hell, yeah! We read the Bible and the Constitution! Now, Mister Smartest-Person-in-Washington-DC, tell me how I can stay in office as Speaker of the House of Representatives!
Tom: Being the smartest person in Washington DC doesn’t mean I can work miracles, Mister Speaker. Let’s get that straight before we go any further.
McCarthy: Okay, I’ll give you that – no miracles expected.
Tom: Right. Well, given that stipulation, let’s assess the reality of the situation, shall we? And that is, there has never been a Speakership more tenuous, less stable, or in greater peril of immediate catastrophic failure and utter disintegration than yours in the entire history of the US Congress.
McCarthy: How can you say something like that?
Tom: Because I’m the smartest person in Washington DC, that’s why. Although frankly, anybody who isn’t a Republican or a retard can see it too. The root of your problem, sir, is that you so… how shall I say it? You so… fetishised… the Speakership that you identified yourself with it, and thus allowed it to evolve into a form of neurotic obsession, a fatal target fixation that, almost in the mode of Euripidean tragedy…
McCarthy: What the [expletive] is uro-rip-a-deen or whatever the [expletive] that was you just said [expletive] mean, for [expletive] sake?
Tom: Ah… let’s just say, what happened to you is very much like what has happened to some other famously ambitious, powerful people before, and you shouldn’t consider it to be a completely fatal flaw, although it is, in fact, pretty close. So you gotta be careful and think outside the box from now on, or otherwise you’re gonna be totally [expletive], okay?
McCarthy: Oh, right. Why the [expletive] didn’t you just [expletive] say so in the first place?
Tom: My apologies for overestimating your erudition.
McCarthy: Overestimating my what? Lemme tell ya, buster, I got plenty of spunk left, okay?
Tom: Of course you do, Mr. Speaker.
McCarthy: “Mr. Speaker.” All right. That’s better. Okay, Collins, enough of your [expletive]-ant over-educated elitist bull-[expletive]. Shoot your [expletive] wad.
Tom: Very well, listen carefully. If the political framework you have constructed continues without significant modification, in order for you to maintain your position as Speaker of the House, it will be necessary for you to become a door mat for Trump and the MAGA maniacs. Not only will you be required to let them shut down the government, and impeach Joe Biden, as well as impeaching random members of his administration, without the least scintilla of evidence…
McCarthy: What the [expletive] is a sin-tilla?
Tom: Oh, sorry. Without the tiniest little bit of evidence, you will also be required to endorse their harebrained schemes to cut off funding to support Ukraine’s armed resistance to Putin’s Russia; enact a national ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother; institute deportation of aliens brought to the United States when they were small children; declare war on Mexico to control illegal drug importation and immigration; re-institute racial segregation; and, re-criminalize commonly practiced consensual sexual behaviors, including…
McCarthy: Yeah, I get the idea. And you are saying that’s going to send so many [expletive], beaners, slopes, queers, college students, eggheads and women to the polls in 2024 that a Republican won’t be able get elected dog catcher.
McCarthy: So what’s Plan B?
Tom: Plan B is a morning-after contraceptive, possession of which will be punishable by ten years in federal prison if your psychotic colleagues have their way. As I said, forget about obvious alternatives, like using back channels that depend on the senate majority or presidential vetoes to blunt the force of the irrational onslaught. None of them are going to work for you: if you don’t start coloring outside the lines, if you don’t go outside of the box, there is only one possible outcome.
McCarthy: Which is what?
Tom: You lose the Speakership.
McCarthy: You’re sure?
Tom: It is absolutely inevitable. There are, however, two possible ways that could happen.
McCarthy: And what are those?
Tom: Path A: You refuse to become the MAGA door mat and the wackos call for you to step down; there’s a vote on it and you lose the Speakership. Path B: You remain the MAGA door mat, in which case the Republicans lose control of the House in 2024, and you lose the Speakership. The only choice you have is how long you can hold on. Path B is the best option for that.
McCarthy: So what’s outside the box?
Tom: You switch parties and become a Democrat.
McCarthy: What the [expletive]! Now who’s talking like a madman? That’s like saying I should go get a sex change operation!
Tom: Well, would you get a sex change operation if it meant you could remain Speaker of the House?
Tom: I said, would you get a sex change operation if it meant you could remain Speaker of the House?
McCarthy: You think that would work?
Tom: Why do you ask?
McCarthy: Because I’d rather get a sex change operation than become a Democrat.
Tom: Unfortunately, no, getting a sex change operation would not allow you to remain Speaker of the House. But changing parties to become a Democrat would.
Tom: It works like this: You announce you are joining the Democratic Party to unite the nation in the spirit of bipartisanship and putting an end to the ongoing extremist attacks on, and undermining of, American political traditions and freedoms from both the left and the right. The MAGA wackos immediately call for your ouster. There’s a vote, and the all Democrats, along with a significant number of moderate House Republicans, elect you Speaker, resulting in a solid majority in your favor. You become a national hero, a legend in your own time, and serve as Speaker of the House until you decide to run for president yourself. Now, doesn’t that sound better than becoming an historic failure of monumental proportions, not to mention being the butt of thousands of political jokes for the next forty or fifty years?
McCarthy: I donno… I guess so…. I mean, I can sorta see how that would work and all, but… I… That’s… uh… That’s the only way?
Tom: Take it from the smartest person in Washington. It’s either that or hand the big gavel over to Marjorie Taylor Greene or Hakeem Jeffries, depending.
McCarthy: On what?
Tom: On your choice of Path A or Path B.
McCarthy: Oh. Right. You sure I couldn’t do the same thing with a sex change?
Tom: Positive. But hey, no need to commit to it now. Just think about it, okay?
McCarthy: Uh… yeah… guess I could.
Tom: Right. Do that. Goodbye.