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The Ballad of Liz Cheney

Let it never be said that a Republican Party led by Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, operating under a decade-long strategy of opposing literally anything a Democratic President proposes, cannot achieve something remarkable.

They’ve gotten me to defend Liz Cheney.

To be clear, while The Oppy is not meant to be a guide for your personal beliefs nor do my columns represent the opinions of anyone else who has written for it, I disagree with virtually everything Liz Cheney supports that doesn’t revolve around naming a post office. Well, except for that post office.

You know the one I’m talking about.

Still, regardless of whichever post office you do or don’t support, or the fact that Liz Cheney is the type of person who opposes same-sex marriage and tells her married gay sister about it, Cheney, as I write this, is currently the GOP Conference Chair and the third-highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. By the time you read this, Cheney will almost certainly have been stripped of her leadership post [Ed: She was on Wednesday morning].

If you aren’t following the day-to-day scuttlebutt in the District, you might be wondering what grievous sin Cheney committed to warrant this punishment. Did she break a law or exhibit some clear moral failing? Did she endorse a starkly liberal agenda that was out of step with her caucus? Did she try to rename that post office?

The answer to each of the above is no. Cheney has not broken any laws that I’m aware of, any action of hers that one could consider a “moral failing” probably depends upon your politics, and her lengthy voting record is among the most conservative in congress. Instead, Cheney’s downfall is coming for two reasons: 1) She had the gall to fistbump the President of the United States, 2) She has refused to back an insane lie from a lying liar who tried to lie his way into keeping a job he hated having and was terrible at. Evidently there were no bigger problems for the GOP House caucus to deal with.

This is madness.

Look, if you grew up in my house or were in my circle of friends in college, the name Cheney doesn’t exactly fill you with cuddles. Here’s an actual video of Liz Cheney’s father maiming his own child. While I can’t really blame someone for the sins of their father, knowing he could literally shoot someone in the face and get the victim to apologize for it does make me very frightened of that father. Of course, Liz doesn’t really need her father’s reputation to make me anxious. Her voting record does that all by itself.

But even if I think Cheney’s voting record is terrible, I don’t think she’s crazy, and her steadfast commitment to her policy stances means she actually, you know, believes them. There’s an integrity in that even if I think she’s wrong. This GOP exorcism, however, is proving that the majority of congressional Republicans are, in fact, crazy and bereft of the same kind of integrity. Replacing her will likely be New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a woman with a less-conservative voting record than Cheney, who wouldn’t refer to former-President Trump by name during the 2016 campaign and voted against his signature tax cut before deciding it was professionally expedient to become his cheerleader. Huh?

Cheney is a savvy representative, who understands how Washington works and has voted in lockstep with the broader conservative agenda during her tenure. Her reward for a lifetime of conservative political action is to be stripped of her title because she refuses to support a man who literally encouraged an angry mob to attack her and her colleagues.

Nevertheless, despite her likely fate, she persists.

“This is not about policy, this is not about partisanship, this is about our duty as Americans,” Cheney said on the House floor Tuesday night. “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

Whatever your thoughts on Cheney’s policy positions, her voting record, or the fact that her father once shot a man in the face with no real consequences, it’s kind of hard to argue the idea that the integrity of the republic should not be subservient to a demagogue’s purity test. And yet, here we are.

Some of you may be wondering why, as a left-of-center voter, I have a problem with this. “Let the other side eat itself,” you might think. 

Here’s the thing, though. Voting for Democrats doesn’t mean I think a liberal agenda can’t be improved. Diverse fields of opinion often result in better outcomes, and a strong, inquisitive opposition is one of the best ways to get there. It may be painstaking and frustrating, but that’s how effective representative government works in the long haul. I may be plenty liberal, but I also don’t think ramming through your agenda is going to produce the best results for your citizens, and I don’t think ramming through your agenda makes it likely to stick.

(Note: This doesn’t mean I oppose repealing the filibuster, but that’s for another column).

It’s also worth nipping this kind of crazy in the bud because you don’t stop rot by letting it fester. Sitting back and chuckling while the Republican party appeals to the craziest angels of its nature sets a precedent. Laughing at the implosion of your opposition just because it’s your opposition blinds you from the simple truth that this is wrong. And if you don’t point out that it’s wrong when it happens to them, how can you claim it’s wrong when it happens to you?

There is more at stake here than a house seat in Wyoming. What’s at stake is the very idea that we have a government based in integrity even if it has factions. What’s at stake is the idea that our representatives can speak plain truth to power if it’s needed. For many of those on the right side of the aisle, this is the latest test of a republic and if they can keep it.

In truth, the writing has been on the wall for Cheney for months, likely since she publicly had no qualms about voting to impeach the former president. But doing so was the right thing then. Publicly criticizing The Big Lie is the right thing to do now. Unfortunately for Cheney, that will be of little help when her leadership position comes to a vote, and it may be of little help in a year, when she will almost certainly face a stiff primary challenge in a state that voted overwhelmingly to re-elect our previous commander-in-chief. 

Even if I don’t think Cheney’s record is the type that leads to a brighter future for America, everything she’s facing now is discouraging for anyone who values a healthy, balanced democracy. And all of that has to make you wonder how it is that the right thing to do isn’t the Right thing to do.

Photo credit: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/11/us/politics/liz-cheney-speech-house.html

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