Right over Kevin McCarthy and his herd of cats

“Karma Wheel (WIP) – Center Element From Bad Karma,” Art Van D’Lay

Editor’s Note:  Have a question about how to hijack the ship of state while stroking off your ego for four days straight on national television? You’re in the wrong Matt space – that would be Ask Matt Gaetz. Have any other questions? Send them to

Dear Matt,
Now that we (finally) have a new Speaker of the House, is it Morning in America again? Is it safe to come out? Or should I stay in bed until noon and sleep off this head splitting “democracy” hangover?
In confusion,
Reagan’s Ghost

I suppose I should have been a dutiful blowhard and weighed in on the past week’s goat rodeo sooner. But I was otherwise occupied celebrating the two-year anniversary of January 6th.  (I watched some “Stop The Steal” speeches on YouTube, then sacked my local CVS for some Relief Factor, the preferred pain reliever of insurrectionists.) “Never Forget!” as we pro-democracy squares say. Not to be confused with “Never Remember,” the means of observance for Kevin McCarthy and his herd of cats. Only one lonely Republican showed up for the commemoration on the House steps –  Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.  I’m guessing the House ethics committee will deal with him swiftly, just as soon as they appoint their new chair, George Santos.

Besides, I figured all the other chatterboxes had the Speaker’s debacle pretty much covered. As per usual in these wildcard times, when every day is anything-can-happen day, their “expertise” proved next-to-useless, as nobody knows anything anymore until after it already occurs. Then they can set about retroactively explaining it, as though that were the inevitable outcome all along. (See the Red Wave that never barked, if you’re into mixed metaphors.)

Me? I don’t pretend congressional expertise, as that would require me to closely watch Congress, which isn’t my kink. It feels too dark, like being into self-mutilation, or necrophilia, or sexting with high school girls. Not unlike an evening at Matt Gaetz’s house, I imagine.  And speaking of the man who puts the “cock” in Freedom Caucus – no easy feat considering all the competition (you’ll recall that Mark Meadows was a co-founding member) – regular readers here know that I have been anything but charitable to the undistinguished  gentleman from Florida.  His full-time, trollish, MAGAtude has brought out the very worst in me.  I have called him everything from a man “who never met a dishonest argument he wouldn’t gleefully make” to a “low-sloping forehead,” which due to his forehead’s sheer size and scope, I re-christened a “low-sloping eighthead.”  (I’m not proud, just honest.)

And yet, last week, Gaetz did the impossible: he made me root for him and the rest of his pirate cutthroats.  For I couldn’t help but enjoy them as karmic delivery systems,  humiliating Kevin McCarthy – or “My Kevin,” as Donald Trump calls his Starburst-sorter– even more than McCarthy already regularly and willingly humiliates himself.

For us irony connoisseurs, Gaetz and co. conducted  a handy reenactment of overturning the will of the people in the very chamber where the rest of their cohorts tried to overturn an election just two years earlier.  While over 90 percent of House Republicans were positively bullish on electing McCarthy speaker, the insurrectionists nearly dashed McCarthy’s only true life ambition, a post he feels he’s entitled to after years-worth of donning kneepads, servicing unsavory types who are perhaps even oilier than him. (If you had to suck up to Marjorie Taylor Greene, you’d probably feel you were owed reparations, too.)

Gaetz and team, of course, nearly got McCarthy bounced  by forcing him to 15 ballots before his ultimate victory. To get there, McCarthy had to make God-knows-how-many concessions which will put him in a gimp suit and subject him to near-constant threat of ejection as Speaker if he steps afoul of the Rage Caucus. So his is a hollow triumph that is actually an abasement on a par with the picture below, the one McCarthy took with Trump in his throne-sniffing tour of Mar-a-Lago, mere weeks after he’d reportedly begged Trump on the phone to call off his Stop-the-Steal droogs during their invasion of the Capitol while McCarthy feared for his life and those of his colleagues.  And too many of his colleagues suffered from similar instant amnesia – 147 of them choosing to march right back into session after the Capitol raid to help the mob overturn an election that they had to pretend wasn’t legitimate. Such is their human sacrifice to the gods of war.

“My Kevin” showing Trump who’s boss after January 6. (Trump is!)

The one thing you can count on the Rage Caucus for is staying angry, even if they actually aren’t. (Many in Gaetz’s crew found it difficult to even articulate why they were displeased with McCarthy, who seemed to cave to nearly every demand.) Because anger is the coin of the realm in today’s overheated climate. Even if their manufactured anger subsided long enough for a sufficient amount of them to vote “present” instead  of “no,” putting McCarthy over the top, their faux-anger will never subside.  They can’t afford for it to. Their postures are just those, which allow them to get down to their true business: fundraising and fame-whoring. And which, whatever you think of them, worked like dark magic last week.  I will just say it outright: Matt Gaetz is a tactical genius.  Even if you follow politics somewhat closely, how many congressional McCarthy supporters could you name when television anchors were ticking them off during roll call? Probably next to none, unless they were your congressperson. Yet all of us know the names of Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert. Two backbenchers who have next-to-no interest in legislating, because legislating is not the business they have chosen. They have chosen the you-knowing-their-name business. And in our fame-whore culture, which rewards shamelessness above all else, it’s hard to argue they haven’t chosen wisely.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, huffing his own gas. Photo credit: Matt Gaetz/Twitter

Another Republican former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who was himself offed by the Rage Caucus, as McCarthy probably eventually will be, had their number. McCarthy should take notes.  This, from Boehner’s  book, On The House:

Americans are well aware that our government isn’t working the way that it ought to. In part, it’s because of a cable news world in which controversy sells and outrage and rebellion are rewarded. In part, it’s because  of people who come to Washington intent on promoting themselves instead of working together. They claim to be true believers and purists like the right-wing ‘Freedom Caucus’ or the left-wing ‘Squad,’ but they really are just political terrorists, peddling chaos and crisis so that everyone keeps paying attention to them. And they can embolden actual terrorists, like the ones who stormed the Capitol and ‘occupied’ my old office on January 6, 2021. That was a low point for our country and it made me want to cry. I’ve seen so many ‘purists’ abandon their principles when it suits their political needs. After all, the Freedom Caucus, which was supposedly the great conservative bulwark against government spending, barely said a peep as a Republican administration outspent Barack Obama. Some of the self-proclaimed fiscal hawks with the shrillest screeches even joined that administration and presided over significant spending increases and growth of the national debt, which they didn’t seem to care about anymore. You can hold your nose tight enough to stomach anything, I guess.

Well after midnight, during the early Saturday morning hours, McCarthy took the Speaker’s gavel and gave a not-half-bad speech by McCarthy’s unremarkable rhetorical  standards. It was gracious and self-deprecating. (“For all the wives and husbands, the children and parents who are watching a loved one to be sworn in, I knew it took a couple extra days. I’ll be honest, it’s not how I had it planned.”)   McCarthy hit a lot of high notes, speaking of resilience and unity and of us all being in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. It might have even been beautiful, if it were true. But of course, it isn’t true. We’re not all rowing in the same direction. Not just Democrats and Independents. But even McCarthy’s own members. We’re rowing in circles, with a hole in the hull, as surging waves turn our boat into a bucket. There are too many other incentives disincentivizing bad actors to act in good faith. And McCarthy, you could easily argue, is one of those.

In his speech, McCarthy said his favorite spot in Congress wasn’t in the chamber in which he was accepting his Speakership, but rather, in Statuary Hall, where Abraham Lincoln served – just “a one-term congressman, sat in the back.” McCarthy said that late at night, when nobody’s around, he likes to go to that spot, and stand where Lincoln stood, and see the same clock that Honest Abe saw, reflecting on the seemingly insurmountable challenges that ultimately confronted Lincoln: our literal civil war. The times when Lincoln did not know “if a nation could sustain itself.”  McCarthy implored new members to follow suit, taking a moment at least once  “to stand there –  I want you to look, and I want you to think: ‘If America could do it then, we could do it now. One more time.’”

It’s a nice sentiment. One I root on. I hope it will be true of McCarthy’s speakership, but I fear – with plenty of evidence already on the ground – that it will not be. For he has already proven himself subject to ransom demands, time and again. And so a lot of what McCarthy is speaking of, as usual, rings false. As Honest Abe himself purportedly said: “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

In the meantime, McCarthy, along with his decadent and nihilistic late-empire Republicans, are getting what they deserve. Each other.

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Bonus track: A good hangover song, Kris Krisofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” The story behind him getting the demo of it to his idol and eventual friend, Johnny Cash, is good enough that I’m reprinting it wholesale from Songfacts:

Kris Kristofferson wrote this song while living in a run-down tenement in Nashville when he was working as a janitor for Columbia Records – a strange occupation considering he had a master’s degree from Oxford University and {had} risen to the rank of captain in the US Army. But Kristofferson wanted to be a songwriter, so he turned down a professor position at the US Military Academy at West Point and swept floors at Columbia waiting for his break. In the military, Kristofferson learned to fly planes and he worked as a commercial helicopter pilot in Nashville, and the story of how he got his demo tape of this song to Cash has become legend: He flew his National Guard helicopter to Cash’s front yard, where he landed and delivered the tape. The story is often skewed to imply that Cash had never met Kristofferson, but they had known each other since 1965. In a 2008 interview with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Kristofferson explained: “I knew John before then. I’d been his janitor at the recording studio, and I’d pitched him every song I ever wrote, so he knew who I was. But it was still kind of an invasion of privacy that I wouldn’t recommend. To be honest, I don’t think he was there. He had a whole story about me getting out of the helicopter with a tape in one hand and a beer in the other. John had a pretty creative memory but I would never have disputed his version of what happened because he was so responsible for any success I had as a songwriter and performer. He put me on the stage the first time I ever was, during a performance at the Newport Folk Festival.”

This is my favorite version of his song, which has been recorded many times, off Kristofferson’s 1999 Austin Sessions album:

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