The House operates like a 17th century pirate crew | New NY 23rd

Seventeenth century pirate crews were nominally democratic much like today’s House. They had norms and rules. The Captain held office at the pleasure of the crew. As in Treasure Island, the Captain could be given “the black spot,” a demand for an election. In the House, the equivalent is a motion to “vacate the chair.”

Pirate captains maintained their position by showing competence and by creating a fearsome reputation. Blackbeard, very successful at piracy, was able to participate in colonial American society, while keeping his leadership position as captian with a reputation for ruthlessness. With his reputation, Blackbeard was often able to win without a fight.

When a potential prize was sighted, the crew voted on how to act–to attack or not. But once a fight started, of necessity the Capitan gave the orders and was obeyed.

Today Speaker McCarthy’s problem is that his caucus is rebellious. He gained his position by granting concessions, which weakened his reputation. He evidently isn’t much feared; he can’t give G. Santos the boot for fear of losing even one vote. In the battle over the debt ceiling, he can’t expect to be obeyed, making his stated intention to avoid default difficult at least.

Does the Speaker have a plan B? He has publicly rejected several potential solutions. He has little room to maneuver left. Rather than winning without fighting, or winning in a fight, he stands to lose the battle.

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