Good morning, it's Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, the day of the week I impart quotations intended to be inspirational or thought-provoking. Today, as the House of Representatives struggles to perform the most basic function of Congress -- appropriate money for infrastructure projects -- I have two quotes, both from historic House speakers.
The first comes from the current gavel holder, Nancy Pelosi. In 2006, as she marshaled Americans to vote Democratic in the upcoming midterms, she quipped, "Maybe it takes a woman to clean house."
It hasn't been that simple, as we have seen during both of Pelosi's stints as speaker -- and is evident again this week. That leads me to the second quotation, which I'll furnish in a moment.
Nancy Pelosi's 2006 use of an old sexist trope about traditional "women's work" was both clever and subversive. Unfortunately, the problems with governance on Capitol Hill have proved bigger than just having too many men in power.
In both of her stints as House speaker, it has become apparent that the incentives are misaligned in modern American politics. Once it was an insult to be called a "show horse" instead of a "work horse." Today, show ponies get all the attention from the press, especially if they have huge social media followings. The unofficial motto of our age is "The more outrageous, the better."
That is a symptom of a growing narcissistic streak in American society as a whole. In politics, the dynamic that makes it worse is the steady movement of each of our major political parties to their extremes: Democrats to the left and Republicans to the right. Certainly, the balkanization of the media into warring partisan camps helps fuel this polarization.
And so, in 2021, although Pelosi has 90 women in her caucus to help her "clean house" (along 33 Republican women), some of the female progressives are her biggest headache.
The question arises: Is there a model for adhering to principle, which the progressives say they are doing, while managing to pass legislation? Perhaps so, and the inspiration comes in the form of a former speaker whose name is on one of Capitol Hill's sprawling House office buildings where several of the young firebrands have their offices. I'm referring to Sam Rayburn, whose advise to first-termers and young back-benchers was "If you want to get along, go along."
That might not work today, but even then, it didn't necessarily mean caving under pressure. As one of Rayburn's fellow Texans, Rep. Jack Brooks once said, "I never thought being a congressman was supposed to be an easy job, and it doesn't bother me a bit to be in a good fight."
An ex-U.S. Marine, Brooks was a Democrat to his core. A protégé of Rayburn, he was with John F. Kennedy when the president was killed in Dallas. A proud partisan, he noted that during Rayburn's tenure as speaker (the longest in American history) his mentor was sometimes known in the newspapers as "Mr. Democrat."
This was true, but Rayburn had a more common sobriquet that better explains his success: "Mr. Sam." The secret of Rayburn's success, opined former Mississippi Rep. Thomas Abernethy, was that he could "work with liberals and conservatives, ran the House with a firm hand but was generous." Mr. Sam would also tell his fellow members of Congress: "A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one."
And that's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.