There is a palpable level of panic that seems to have taken hold of Washington this week. Establishment figures are raising the alarm over the rise of dangerous figures as if they are the barbarians at the gate before the sacking of Rome in 410. The threat is coming from both parties in the form of the new Speaker Mike Johnson and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. They may be the worst type of barbarians because they came to this city with the best of intentions.
For some in Washington, there may be nothing more unnerving than the best of intentions. This is a one-industry town where fortunes are made the old-fashioned way with influence peddling, special dealing, and pork barreling. In that world, the rise of Johnson and Kennedy are about as welcomed as a priest among the Pirates of Penzance.
Johnson is the ultimate buzz kill.
Many were aghast that Johnson used his first speech as speaker to thank God and to say that he believes that God has a plan for him. That is a view shared by millions of religious Americans and it is not the first time that a politician has made such public expressions of devotion. Bill Clinton used to invoke God and salvation continually as he set physical records for debauchery. Even after his Monica Lewinsky scandal, Clinton would rally liberals to “politics and political involvement dictated by faith.” The problem is not that Johnson said it but he actually seems to mean it.
I likely do not share Johnson’s views on legislating morality or the separation of church and state. However, he has always been viewed as a honest man with deep convictions. Of course, this is a city that can more easily forgive actual convictions than religious convictions.
This is a city where professed socialists and populists unapologetically give their husbands or children huge amounts of campaign funds. Rep. Maxine Waters has reportedly given her daughter over a million dollars. Confronted with millions of dollars in alleged influence peddling by the Biden family, the media has continued to maintain a lack of interest, often excusing the practice as common in Washington.
Indeed, this month, NBC compared Hunter Biden tapping shady foreign figures for millions to the controversy over Nikki Haley’s daughter using TikTok.
The panic over the appearance of an honest man in Congress was evident in an article by the Daily Beast when senior political reporter Roger Sollenberger declared that the “newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) does not have a bank account” and apparently “lives paycheck to paycheck.”
Of course, surveys show that over sixty percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and fewer than half of Americans can cover a $1000 emergency expense. However, those are average Americans, not one of us. In this city, hard-working members of Congress plan for the future with gold bars and cash stuffed in a closet or millions transferred from corrupt foreign figures through a labyrinth of shell companies and accounts.
In this city, the appearance of Johnson left people dumbfounded like seeing a Triceratops strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue. The Daily Beast’s Mike Fuller noted:
“Mike Johnson doesn’t have any retirement savings, own a single stock, or have any assets at all. He has less than $5,000 in his bank account. He’s got a 250-500K mortgage, a home equity loan, and a personal loan. So what’s his retirement plan? To lobby?”
God only knows.
The same panic was heard this week from the rise of popularity of Kennedy in polls. Once again, there was confusion in the media why the public (yet again) is not buying the universal portrayal of Kennedy as a wackadoodle. The D.C. establishment has been described as “panicking” over the rise of Kennedy in the polls — and the threat that he may present to Joe Biden.
Polls show a shocking 71 percent believe Biden is too old to run for reelection and he is losing ground with young people as well as minority voters. The solution in the establishment and the Democratic National Committee was not to give voters a choice in the primaries and leave them with what they hoped to present as a “better too old than too evil” choice in a rematch with Trump.
That cynical plan is being undone by the rise of Kennedy in polls despite a consistent messaging in the media demonizing the political outsider. He is now near a record in polling for an independent candidate.
The problem with Kennedy is that he is truly a barbarian in the Roman sense. The Romans used the term barbarus for a wide array of people deemed uncivilized or foreign. Kennedy is a foreigner to the Beltway. That problem was summed up by a story from my hometown of Chicago during the heyday of the Daley political machine. A younger law student (and later federal judge) named Abner Mikva went to the ward office of Chicago Alderman Timothy O’Sullivan to volunteer to work on a campaign. When O’Sullivan asked “who sent you?”, Mikva responded, “Nobody.” O’Sullivan responded with the classic: “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.”
Kennedy is that nobody and nobody sent. He has no bona fides for the Beltway. Just some guy who doesn’t like vaccines and the establishment. In other words, a barbarian.
The problem is that a lot of people in the United States want to open the gates. That is what swept Trump into power in 2016 and it is driving the rise of Kennedy. It may have less to do with policies or personalities as much as a deep-seated resentment of the political and media establishment. The more that the establishment and the media try to convince the public that they should not consider Kennedy, the more they are drawn to him.
Likewise, the more that the media mocks Johnson for his abundance of faith and lack of cash the more the public is drawn to him.
The real concern for the establishment is that a nation of “nobodies” may be ready to send another message to the somebodies of Washington.