Stirewaltisms: Four Lessons From the Ziggy Stardust Caucus

Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene on the House floor Thursday, January 5, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)

Our Congress is the David Bowie of gridlock. Every time you think it has exhausted every possible way to express its creativity, it finds new and fascinating ways to capture our attention by mastery of its art. 

The last time the House of Representatives needed more than 11 ballots to choose a speaker, it was 1859 and the nation was locked in an existential battle over slavery that would two years later erupt in a devastating civil war. One party, the Whigs, was dying. Another party, the Republicans, was being born. This time, the fight is almost totally devoid of ideological differences and is being conducted within the ranks of just one party over which tactics or stunts it will use to harass the party in control of the Senate and White House.

It takes some creativity to find a way to have gridlock even before one convenes, but to do so when the stakes are so preposterously low? That’s the masterwork right there.

There is an almost dadaist quality to this performance. It doesn’t really matter who Republicans pick, since the party is substantially aligned on most policy issues and has no chance to advance measures on its own with a wafer-thin majority in just one chamber of Congress. The basic question is about who will be the most outraged and intolerant in its dealings with the Democrats. 

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