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House Speaker wannabe Kevin McCarthy and the paradox of the New McCarthyism

Wim Laven
Kevin McCarthy
(© Shirley Preston – Shutterstock)

By Wim Laven

For Kevin McCarthy to realize his ambition and become the next Speaker of the House he will need to secure the necessary 218 votes. His willingness to say and do (or abandon) whatever is required to increase his political fortune has been demonstrated throughout his career, but it will come with a cost.

The new McCarthy follows in the footsteps of great political fraud. In 1954 Sen. Joseph McCarthy peaked with 36 days of televised hearings—showcasing the threat of communism. Joseph McCarthy managed to push people out of office by selling lies in the court of public opinion, but he failed to make a single allegation stick.

Kevin McCarthy is set to deliver on promises of stripping committee assignments and holding kangaroo courts to pursue and punish political rivals. His website (“our investigations […] are just getting started”) delivers promises of revenge.

Kevin, Trump’s “My Kevin,” stood with all variety of dangerous and deadly lies. He did not stand by quietly; he participated in them. Kevin helped to mainstream “Invasion” and “Replacement” rhetoric.

Forget the El Paso gunman who murdered 23 people to “stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Forget white nationalists violently resisting “Replacement” in cities like Buffalo, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and most recently Colorado Springs (among many others).

“You Will Not Replace Us” was a central chant at the deadly Unite the Right event in 2017. Trump famously pronounced there’s “blame on both sides” and Kevin did not push back.

Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Kevin, in his leadership role, could have corrected him, but he chose not to.

Indeed, Kevin chose to repeat these lies himself many times in defending Trump’s vanity wall at the border. Again and again, we see that he will lie to serve his political interests despite great costs to public safety, civil rights, and human rights.

The paradox is that McCarthyism 2.0 faces a challenge from extremism, e.g., the ultra-right like Biggs, Gaetz, and Norman. To secure the 218 needed votes Kevin will cave-in to foolish requests. In turn these same behaviors that have helped him achieve his political ambitions may lead to his political demise.

Joseph McCarthy was ultimately censured by the Senate, but Kevin’s inability and unwillingness to issue extremists their well-earned reprimands may well be his undoing. He has been obsequious to the bidding of extremists; resistant to basic decency, Kevin has delayed and avoided reactions to over-the-top bigotry throughout his tenure, only participating in gentle wrist-slapping by necessity.

Dec. 1st—Matthew Shepard’s birthday—was a good occasion to remember Kevin’s opposition to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. He was not one of the 18 Republicans in the House to support it.

The mainstreaming of extreme political positions and acceptance of harmful rhetoric has direct links to increases in hate and bias crimes as well as political violence. With anti-LGBTQ Republican positioning like Kevin’s it is no surprise that the father of the Colorado Springs shooter was relieved to find out he was only a mass murderer and not homosexual: “And then I go on to find out it’s a gay bar. I said, ‘God, is he gay?’ I got scared, ‘S___, is he gay?’ And he’s not gay, so I said, ‘Phew …’”

Dec. 5th marks the anniversary of the beginning to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts—381 days of strategic nonviolence against segregation in the US. On Dec. 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her seat up to a white man. Kevin does not believe this history should be taught.

Kevin has been front and center to the great whitewash of American racism. As Trump’s mouthpiece he sanitized the cruelty and prejudice littering the conservative agenda and policy. Misquoting the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in service of opposition to critical race theory, is just one of many crass examples.

The “I Have a Dream” speech, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, keynoted one of the greatest nonviolent antiracist protests in history. Pretending, as Kevin and others do, that King did not want us to seriously examine questions of history and race is sheer ahistorical gaslighting.

Kevin may not have been named in the manifestos of hate crimes like his mentor Trump has. But his actions are loud and clear.

Like MLK said: “The colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land, so we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

Kevin’s embrace of extremists at the expense of the marginalized should be his undoing. I hold onto the hope, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” There is no appetite for Kevin’s bigotry; it is time for action, an end to divisive rhetoric, and moral leaders to replace the apologists for, and enablers of, hate and violence.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.