This great story was published nearly eighty years ago. The chaotic state of affairs in Congress this week reminded me of it. In part because of the connection with real-life Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Florida), and partly because of the obvious Congressional presence of the Devil, or as he is aptly named in the story, Mr. Scratch. Mr. Scratch clearly is running loose in our nation’s Capitol these days. But I will get back to this momentarily.
Earlier this year, in a devastating blow to my supporters, I announced that I would not run for the U.S. Senate in Indiana next year. But politics regularly throws opportunity at those who hang around long enough, and low and behold, it has happened to me again!
Much like the soon-to-be open slot in the Senate following Sen. Dan Coats retirement next year, there is an also soon-to-be opening behind the lectern in the U.S. House. That’s right Indiana, I am announcing my run for Speaker of the House. You heard it here first, and unless my readers shock me with an enthusiastic sense of humor, this is likely where you will hear it last.
It is not a constitutional requirement for the Speaker to actually be a member of the House. Yes, fact checkers, that is true. Some of us knew of this trivial hole in our Constitution before it mattered, but now that it does matter, I am all in. The only qualifications required to be Speaker, are the same to be on the ballot for a run of the mill House seat.
The three basic requirements are that the Speaker must be at least twenty five years of age, be a citizen for the previous seven years, and be an inhabitant of the state planned to be represented at the time of the election. I have the first two nailed beyond challenge, but I have decided that if I am going to be Speaker, I am going to be from Hawaii. I have a trip there planned for December, when I expect the election will occur, and more importantly, when I shut the government down, Hawaii is where I want to be.
How can 247 Republican members of the majority caucus really not have a viable candidate to take this job? I can think of a couple of capable members of the caucus from Indiana, but naming them would not be wise for me at this point. After all, look at what’s happening to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). Rep. Ryan, who currently chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, doesn’t want to be Speaker, which in part has catapulted him to the top of the candidate list. There is however, one bigger problem for a “Ryan for Speaker” campaign.
That problem is that in our government’s history, only one Speaker has ever gone on to become President. And while I am willing to forego any future run for the White House, Ryan clearly is not. James K. Polk is the only former Speaker of the House that was subsequently elected President. He defeated Henry Clay of the Whig Party in his Presidential campaign in 1844, mainly on his platform to annex Texas. If we only knew then what we know now about Texas.
We all thought that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) was the guy to take over for outgoing Speaker John Boehner, but he shocked the political world by withdrawing from the race on Thursday. Why? Was it because of personal “misdeeds” of which all candidates were warned, or was it because leading this Caucus is an impossible task? While the former may be a problem for McCarthy, the latter may be an insurmountable problem for any candidate. Including me.
There are just too many members of the House Republican Caucus right now that simply are not there to help America make progress. Too many are there to be against virtually everything, including their own constituent’s best interests. And shame on voters who keep sending them back.
Which leads me back to Mr. Scratch. At the end of the story, and in defeat to the great Daniel Webster, he foretells many of the disappointments that Webster will experience in his life. These disappointments include Webster’s failure to become President, the death of his sons in war, and his fall from grace for his famous “Seventh of March” speech. Webster happily accepts his fate after Scratch confirms the good news that the Union will prevail in the inevitable conflict among the states, an outcome worth all of the other sacrifices.
The original, famous Daniel Webster, served in the House representing New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the Senate for Massachusetts, and was Secretary of State twice for three different Presidents. He tried and failed three times to become President himself. You know the type.
The fictional version of Daniel Webster sacrificed ambitious outcomes for the good of the country. My research for this edition leads me to conclude that the actual Daniel Webster seemed a bit less noble. But in the story, Webster triumphantly beats the devil as well. And while there are plenty of the real life versions of Webster in Washington today, can’t we find just one like the fictional one to stand up and lead Congress to victory over the anarchist Mr. Scratch? At this very moment, there doesn’t appear to be one.
So I am in the race, as the gentleman from Hawaii. All I need is for the chaos to keep its hands around the neck of Congress for a few extra weeks, until my December trip. When we look back on the embarrassing body of work this bunch has compiled, what is a few more weeks really?
I always wanted to play Mr. Scratch. And if all of this ends happily, which is as good a strategy as I have heard in a couple of days, America can thank me later.