The Minority Has Real Power

Yesterday I speculated on the doubtful future of whomever the Republicans choose as their nominee for Speaker to replace John Boehner. That is due to the toxic schism in their caucus. But there is a far more certain outcome if Democrats wish to wield their power! The actual election for a new Speaker will take place before the entire House on October 29. Every member casts a vote, not just Republicans. Historically, members of the minority party slavishly cast their votes for their party leader, who has about the same chance of election as you or I do. Sometimes they just vote present, which is only marginally less lemming-like.

IMG_0388But think a minute. Suppose the Democrats watch the results of the Republican conference on Thursday and consider which of the top contenders is best from their viewpoint. Yes I know, they are all Republicans so none have much to recommend them from a Democrat’s perspective. But not making a choice is the same thing as making one. It leaves the choice solely to Republicans. Can that ever be the best for Democrats?

If they swallow their reservations, Democrats have the electoral muscle to choose the Speaker, i.e. the best of the bad as they see it. Why isn’t that more sensible than what they normally do? Of course Republicans could thwart this ploy by unifying behind one candidate. But even this provides tangible benefits for the functioning of the House. A Speaker secure in his office is better able and more likely to negotiate compromises on important issues. Moreover, the knowledge that Democrats will have their say would block efforts by an anarchic minority of Republicans to blackmail their leader, as the right-wing repeatedly has done with Boehner.

Do I expect this sensible policy to be followed? Absolutely not! On average, members of the House show less good sense than the average pet dog, and the Democratic leadership barely qualifies for that title.