McCarthy's Faustian bargain comes with strings attached, a due date with history...
The Puppet Master
Kevin McCarthy sure has his hands full. The chaos caucus gets to write the rules of the road for the next Congress. What can go wrong? I am reminded here of the complaint by another McCarthy whose words are similarly channeled from the thoughts of others. It was always true that the dummy got the better lines, but Edgar Bergen got the laughs— and the receipts.
The on-air target of many of his creation's sharpest barbs, Mr. Bergen sometimes expostulated: "I've taken a lot from you!"
To which the irrepressible McCarthy would shoot back: "Yes, and you've kept every penny of it."
— WAPO, “Edgar Bergen, the Ventriloquist, Dies” Martin Weil, Oct. 1, 1978
Edgar Bergen’s wooden dummy often had the final word, which always was the laugh line. His near relative, Kevin, has chosen to become the joke. In vaudeville, when a ventriloquist talks out of both sides of his mouth it is part of the act, and the joke is on him. In this case, Kevin McCarthy seems willing to allow the Republican caucus to pull his strings and speak for him— his mouth, their words. But, then, the resemblance between the two dummies, I admit, is facile and forced. . It helps make the point, the wooden dummy has no choice in the matter— the human one must choose.
McCarthy’s sell-out to the small group of rebels in the GOP caucus belie the belief that his victory was achieved through compromise. When the rules voted on that will run the House are unveiled, they will represent his surrender to a small group of party insurrectionists who have now imposed minority control of the House. Calling the Speaker the weakest House leader in history does not do his position justice. He is Speaker in name only— the conduit for the hypocrisy of the Republican demi-fascist. As Kevin’s speakership dangles like a puppet on a ventriloquist's arm, the threats to national security and democracy hang in the balance. By acceding to their demands, McCarthy, less their puppet, has become their whore— a man willing to do anything to gain their support. His ambition drives him to perform whatever others ask of him, as long as they allow him to keep his gavel.
Early bird gets the worm, but the second worm gets to live. Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy.
— Edgar Bergen nee Charlie McCarthy
And so, the quiet insurrection continues, now housed in the House chambers after being expelled from the White House. What is likely to flow from this session is not the people’s business, but the daily dung the GOP will discharge in the form of grievance and revenge. Faux investigations and hysterical, made-up indignities will replace real ones as governance is put on hold. McCarthy, in a show of weakness, has struck a Faustian bargain forced to mouth Jim Jordan’s venom, Lauren Boebert’s daft, and Matt Gaetz’s degeneracies. Kevin’s bargain comes with a curse, as Goethe’s Faust is warned:
Mephistopheles For Devils and for spectres this is law:
Where they have entered in, there also they withdraw.
The first is free to us; we're governed by the second.
Faust: In Hell itself, then, laws are reckoned?
That's well! So might a compact be
Made with you gentlemen—and binding,—surely?
Mephistopheles: All that is promised shall delight thee purely;
No skinflint bargain shalt thou see.
— Faust (Chap. 3), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The better the bargain, the dearer the price.
The Faust legend is a classic tale of good and evil, temptation and redemption. Some would suggest that, in its current form, the temptation for Republicans is power— a rationale too uncomplicated for comparison to the more nuanced Faustian tales. The question must be asked, power to do what? The original Faust saga has biblical parallels to the Book of Job. Both Job and Faust were pawns to the whims of higher (and lower) powers. The GOP and its players have only earthly demons to blame for their actions. When the terms of the bargain they have made come due, history will offer little solace. Whatever comes first— the fever breaking or democracy dissolving— those who forged the bargain will ultimately pay the consequences of their deal for all times. Kevin cannot blame Charlie (or Edgar) for the script, the seditionist party cannot protest “the devil made us do it!” to excuse their own complicity.
In the words of another misguided soul, Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus may have the last word in this, an explanation that defies excuses and definitively places blame. Marlow’s theme clearly makes its point as his protagonist faces the consequences of his pact with the devil. A bargain is never worth the cost of one’s soul.
At the end of their run McCarthy and his backers, the GOP, and their chorus of shortsighted and privileged suitors, will regret the payment due. Regret is always the better part of the payback. The democratic institutions they paid their souls to scuttle are the very ones that supported and protected their entitlement. In the final Act, Marlowe’s Faustus finally asks the demon the pregnant question, “why?”
Faustus: Stay, Mephistopheles, and tell me, what good will
my soul do thy lord?
Mephistopheles: Enlarge his kingdom.
Faustus: Is that the reason he tempts us thus?
Mephistopheles: Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.*”
*(It is a comfort to the wretched to have companions in misery.)
— Act V, sc. v
C’est la vie!
Misery loves company, especially those most willing to bargain!