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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A lesson for moderates

by John Brummett | January 10, 2023 at 4:54 a.m.

We need fiery, fighting-spirit moderates who kick behinds and take names. We need passion from the passive.

But the problem with moderates is that they typically behave so moderately.

The ones in Congress don't take hostages or dangle government off the edge. They don't exploit leverage; they try to discourage others from doing that. They try to find votes from both parties for infrastructure and small substantive advancements rather than big divisive things.

The moderate's political-party association is a preference for the path he or she thinks best in serving the national need. But it's not a blood oath to the preferred party, nor is it a consuming hate for the other.

The modern parties are the problem, or at least a big part of it.

Newt Gingrich made the speaker's job more a matter of partisan championing than before. The Tea Party made the situation worse. Donald Trump made it worse still. And, yes, being moderate myself, I'll acknowledge that the illiberal woke culture has, in some applications, made things worse on the Democratic side.

Drawing congressional districts each 10 years to stack same-thinkers together ... that's a factor also.

All of that is to say that moderates in the U.S. House, in their timidity and looseness of organized association, blew an opportunity at the end of last week to advance the moderate interest and serve the country.

House Republican moderates were typical non-factors when House Republicans failed through 14 votes in the simple assignment of selecting one of them speaker of the House, then went with the front-runner for the job, Kevin McCarthy.

But that only happened after McCarthy degraded himself in fully knelt concession to a few of the more extreme wingnuts of his party.

He so wanted the title for the sake of the title, and the gavel for the sake of the gavel--and the big office for the sake of the big office--that he agreed to let these destructive forces on his right, who want to blow up government, run the place with him, and probably for him.

Wingnuts of the right were leveraging 20 votes to take command of the House while there were 28 moderate Republicans who are members of the No Labels movement's Problem Solvers Caucus, along with 28 center-inclined Democrats. Twenty-eight could have leveraged the situation the other way, a better way.

They could have sought a compact with the 212 Democrats to vote with them for a moderate to be speaker. Democrats would have had to give up that pointless ceremonial vote upon vote for their partisan leader to be the speaker, which he was not going to be.

On social media, I said the Democrats should agree to a moderate Republican House member to be speaker, because, after all, Republicans won the House in the midterm election. For that I got assailed by liberal partisans whose haughty intolerance tends to frighten moderate Democrats.

By sitting idly by and watching as if amused by the Republican dysfunction, and deeming that good for Democrats politically, House Democrats essentially ceded the institution to dire and dangerous control by a hyperpartisan Republican coalition of wingnuts and a soul-mortgager.

Democrats instead could have gone with a few "problem solvers" among House Republicans--leveraging for assurance of the debt limit being raised and the comfort of open dialogue with responsible leadership--and elected a moderate Republican.

That's precisely what Ohio legislators did last week. It's pretty much what a few pragmatic young Arkansas Republican legislators did a few years ago when they joined Democrats to make independent-thinking Republican Davy Carter, instead of a garden-variety conservative Republican, the speaker of the House. From that we got Medicaid expansion.

House Democrats could have neutered rather than empowered both the soul-seller and the wingnuts, who'd have had to sit and stew while watching a reasonable Republican speaker work occasionally with Democrats, who'd have had the White House, the Senate and some measure of the House.

But Democrats preferred merely to watch the Republicans flail absurdly, calculating that would help the party in the next elections. Aligning instead with a couple dozen Republican center-leaning pragmatists would only have helped the country on avoiding a default on debt and closing of the government.

It's simple. Members of Congress weren't sworn in eventually last week to serve their party. They were sworn in to serve the Constitution.

At this writing, it still was possible House Democrats and problem-solving Republican moderates could combine to defeat the new rules package in which McCarthy wrapped the gift of his soul.

That, however unlikely from such moderate moderates, would implode House Republicans three ways--the nuts, the soulless and the more moderate caucus with the ability to tap into 212 Democrats from time to time to get a little something calm and reasonable done.

That would be far better for the country than a House speaker hugging Marjorie Taylor Greene and beholden to Matt Gaetz.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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