Polman: House of Clowns

Dick Polman

It's well known that Kevin Spacey shadowed Kevin McCarthy before shooting "House of Cards." But if you're looking for cheap intrigue and craven dysfunction, skip Netflix and binge-watch the real thing: House of Clowns.

After their boffo victories in the 2012 congressional elections, Republicans were out to prove that they could actually govern. But it turns out (big surprise!) that they can't even govern themselves.

Why did McCarthy, the alleged heir apparent, suddenly yank himself from the race to become Speaker? Maybe it's because he clumsily outed the latest Benghazi committee as the partisan witchhunt it was always intended to be. Or perhaps it's due to conservative whisperers, led by one disruptive GOP donor, have been spreading sex rumors about McCarthy's private life — and threatening to ratchet them up if he refused to step aside. That's an entire episode of "House of Clowns" right there.

Then you have Boehner, who has been jonesing to escape the House sewer, only to realize that he'll probably need to hold his nose and hang around a while longer — reminiscent of the scene in "Godfather III" when Michael Corleone growled, "Just when I thought I was out? They pull me back in."

Let's not forget Paul Ryan, who dearly wants to keep his Ways and Means chairmanship and remain down in the weeds where he can plot new attacks on our popular safety-net programs. He's being lobbied hard to seek the speakership as a savior who can supposedly unite the establishment and extremist factions.

Then you have the most hilarious "House of Clowns" plot line of all: Because Article I of the Constitution doesn't require that the Speaker actually be a member of the chamber, there's talk of drafting an outsider for the job.

When I first heard that, I immediately joked that Newt Gingrich is tanned, rested, and ready. But it turns out Gingrich is tanned, rested, and ready. He said yesterday that "no citizen could ever turn down that kind of challenge." He was seconded by court jester Sean Hannity, who fantasized that Newt could "come back with a flurry of ideas and a new contract that would advance a conservative agenda that would help the country solve these horrible problems."

Which is priceless, because Newt was basically run out of town in 1998. At the time, his conservative enemies didn't think he was conservative enough, and everyone else thought he was a hypocrite for championing the Clinton impeachment crusade at a time when he was conducting his own extramarital affair. He was replaced as Speaker by Bob Livingston, who lasted around five minutes until he was outed for his several extramarital affairs. Livingston was replaced by Dennis Hastert, who's probably unfit for 2015 savior duty because he's under indictment in a hush-money case.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Freedom Caucus, whose roughly 45 members serve scarlet-red districts that are distant from the American mainstream, have basically gained veto power over all semblance of sane House governance. These members reportedly spurned McCarthy because he refused to endorse their extremist demands — like crashing the government in December unless it defunds Planned Parenthood.

It's pathetic, but this is where "House of Clowns" gets serious: The gang that can't govern isn't going anywhere. Fiscal deadlines are fast approaching at a time when the lunatics are wreaking havoc in the asylum.

Indeed, whoever gets the gavel will likely face the same disruptions that bedeviled Boehner. The crash-and-burn caucus has achieved an institutional choke hold. As Hedrick Smith — a former New York Times Washington bureau chief, currently a public interest activist — accurately points out, "With protected political monopolies back home, the rebels take little or no political risk for opposing their speaker and adopting extremist positions that bring Congress to a halt ... More than 85 percent of them come from a GOP-gerrymandered state, which emboldens them."

So who's it gonna be? Jason Chaffetz, the Planned Parenthood hater from Utah, can't muster enough votes. Daniel Webster, a minor Florida extremist, has roughly the same prospects as the dead Daniel Webster. The new rumored entrant is Darrell Issa, the car-alarm magnate and failed Benghazi witch hunter, whose main booster appears to be Darrell Issa. Heck, Maybe Donald Trump could suggest somebody terrific.

For the sake of our nation, this show does need to be canceled. But alas, much like "House of Cards," it's such a sordid guilty pleasure.

Dick Polman

Dick Polman is a national political columnist and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia.