Kevin McCarthy is unencumbered by morals. He only claims to take a stand on anything. He poses, pretends, prevaricates and preens. He is like an actor who has buried himself under so many roles he’s lost track of who he really is. He has become one of TS Eliot’s hollow men, with a headpiece where his head used to be — now filled with straw. In Congress, Kev is the way the world ends.
Welcome to the new McCarthyism, a void wrapped in a chasm inside an abyss. Kevin McCarthy is finally Squeaker of the House — in two senses. One, in that he just squeaked in with the barest margin, a margin the size of Donald Trump’s penis. Two, in the sense that he’s a pipsqueak, a little man, a silly man, a man of nothing and of no substance, and he now finds himself standing up to his chin in the mighty shoes of Nancy Pelosi.
Adam Schiff tells a story about Kev in his autobiography. Back in the days long before Donald Trump became history’s biggest blight on the American political landscape, back in the halcyon days when Trump was at worst a punchline to a bad joke, on a memorable day approximately six months before the 2010 midterms, Congressman Schiff happened to be seated next to fellow Congressman Kevin McCarthy on a plane back from Washington to California. They exchanged the usual uncomfortable small talk that you might expect between men from opposite ends of the political spectrum who had nothing in common and little to say to one another.
In their brief exchange while waiting for the in-flight movie (“any movie,” as Schiff wryly puts it), Schiff expressed the hardly unexpected opinion that the Democrats would retain the House after the election and McCarthy expressed the opposite view. It was the humdrum and unsurprising opinion of two rivals in opposition. It was understandable wishful thinking.
The following morning Schiff happened to pick up a newspaper where he read a quote from Kevin McCarthy. In it McCarthy said that everyone knows that the Republicans were going to take back the House. He said that he’d recently spoken to Adam Schiff on a plane, and even Schiff admitted that Republicans were going to take back the majority.
Later when Schiff confronted McCarthy about the lie, about how in fact he’d said the precise opposite of what McCarthy quoted him in the press as saying, McCarthy replied, “I know, Adam, but you know how it goes.” Schiff was beside himself with incredulity. “No Kevin, I don’t, you just make shit up and that’s how you operate?” McCarthy just shrugged.
In one infuriating incident, Adam Schiff learned all he needed to know about Kevin McCarthy. Schiff is more restrained in his assessment than I am. In his opinion McCarthy traffics in alternative facts. In my opinion McCarthy is a lying pile of crap who will invent any falsehood he needs in order to advance his corrupt and evil agenda, and that agenda is his own personal advancement. Either way, in that one encounter, Adam Schiff learned everything he needed to know about Kevin McCarthy.
Of course, shocking as this anecdote may be, it’s hardly surprising. McCarthy, like most Republican liars, isn’t very good at lying. Because of this he’s developed a reputation as a backstabbing, conscience-free snake.
That reputation came back to him in the form of the 15 humiliating ballots it took to elect him Squeaker of the House. That is how hated he is. So now he can finally stand before the House and squeak, gavel in hand. It was a Pyrrhic victory, a humiliating road to his make believe power over chaos.
This is the man who removed Liz Cheney from all her committee assignments because she voted to convict the arch criminal Donald Trump in his impeachment trial. This is the man who at first came out against Trump and the violence of the January 6 insurrection, until the failed ex-president summoned him down to Mar-a-Lago and handed him his marching orders. Kev the Squeaker is a failure, a haircut of a man, a spineless nobody, a nothing, just like his lord and master.
In his novel “Mother Night,” about a man who pretends to be a Nazi during World War II, Kurt Vonnegut writes that it is his only novel that he happens to know the moral of. The moral is this: You are who you pretend to be, so be careful who you pretend to be. Kev the Squeaker pretends to be no one at all.
McCarthy bends with the wind. He whored away his soul to become Squeaker of the House. He is in reality a little man, a silly man, a hollow man. He is the perfect symbol of the Republican Party and the new McCarthyism. And in the coming two years of chaos of the 118th Congress, he will take us to new depths and show us just how small a man he truly is. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.