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Conflictual Politics

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Willie L. Patterson
October 30, 2023

As I continue to teach my Introduction to U.S. Government class this semester, I want to highlight the three simple premises established by the authors of our textbook, “American Politics Today” (William T. Bianco and David T. Canon): politics is conflictual, political process matters and politics is everywhere. We have enjoyed discussing the multiplicity of political issues throughout the semester ranging from the residence of the Alabama Senator, Tommy Tuberville, to the conflicts with Ukraine and Russia and now Israel and Hamas. We have discussed the Roe v. Wade decision from the Supreme Court, our current President and his policies focusing on a couple of hot topics: student loans and the border. Our latest hot topic is the Speaker of the House conflict—the removal of the speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy.

We know that politics make a strange bedfellow, and we witnessed it when all the Democrats and the “eclectic eight” from the Republican party voted to oust the Speaker of the House. What I find most bizarre is the trigger for the removal was when the Democrats voted with McCarthy to keep the federal government operational under a Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA). Less than a week later, those same Democrats aligned themselves with the eclectic eight from the Republican party to oust the Speaker. What I find conflictual are the Congressional issues within a single party which are hampering the operation of Congress. We don’t have a fiscal year federal budget, which is not unusual, but the fact that the Speaker sold his “soul” when he allowed House rules to allow one member to bring “removal charges” against him is. The question beckons, how bad did he want the position? How much bargaining and compromising did it take to obtain the powerful position considering it took thirteen votes for him to finally gain the gavel?

My argument has more to do with the Democrats and seeking to fully appreciate their political strategy. With the political season warming up, it was a strategy from their leader, Hakeem Jeffries, to vote with the eclectic eight and essentially bring the operation of Congress to a halt. I was shocked by the decision as I viewed the extreme eight as wielding more power than they should be granted. The nation is bigger than the eight, and we deserve a functional Congress. Sometimes the political expediency answer is not always the wisest choice for the Nation. Understanding the political process is not as simple as one would expect.

As I continued to analyze the political decision of the Democrats, I told my class to consider if the Democrats would send a message to the extreme members of the Republican party that our nation of leaders are more moderate and reasonable, therefore we will support the Speaker retaining his position. I was certain this would be the end state and the nation would move forward with the multiple agenda items they need to address in Congress. After all, most see the eight as extreme and staunch supporters of President Trump. I surmised that the Democrats would send a message to President Trump! I certainly was wrong on the political front, and it is largely because politics is complex.

How could I have mis-diagnosed this vote? Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he would not give Democrats anything in exchange for their vote to help save his Speakership. In an interview, McCarthy stated, “When Nancy Pelosi was the minority leader, she would always come in, and she told Boehner and Ryan that she would always vote down any attempt to remove the Speaker. This was part of my argument as to why I thought this vote would be dead on arrival to remove the Speaker. McCarthy goes on to say that Pelosi stated, “it was not based on saving an individual, but what’s good for the institution” (The HILL- 10/03/23). And that’s where I thought we were headed with this vote.

I am certainly no political strategist, but it is amazing to teach during the upheaval in Congress. As our leaders struggle with their standoff politics, our economy continues to struggle with inflation, strikes of employees, inflated mortgage interest rates and inflated costs for everything we need to live. The pressing matters are far too important to continue in this conflictual posture. What will it take to move the needle and resolve the conflict? Most that study politics know the key to moving forward with politicians is the ability to compromise.

Jim Jordan is now the candidate for the Republican party for Speaker, but it is uglier with him as the candidate. Some members of the Republican party have alleged they have received death threats for not supporting Jim Jordan, namely Drew Ferguson and Ken Buck. The world is watching us, and I contend there are enough suave political skills in DC to reset America and move beyond the Speaker of the House conflict.

Author: Dr. Willie L. Patterson, Ed. D is a part-time Professor at the University of South Alabama. [email protected] Twitter: @patterson1963

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