Those of us from Iowa used to lament that our Republican senator, Charles Grassley, had become the face of opposition to health care reform. Why did the most recognizable Iowan in national politics have to be a wizened elf who accused every bill of providing free abortions to immigrants and kept assuring us that the Death Panels were in there somewhere? I, for one, wished that someone else—anyone else—could serve as Iowa’s delegate to the national imagination. That, boys and girls, is why you must never wish. Representative Steve King (R–IA) has fulfilled our longings in the most ironically disappointing way possible. Sure, Chuck Grassley is an asshole, a stubborn hick whose Twitter feed read “Barb made oatmeal,” on the day his committee abandoned the attempt to reach bipartisan consensus on health care reform. But yesterday Steve King called for the overthrow of the United States government. Apparently Congressman King has forgotten where he works, along with a bunch of other important information that might otherwise have allowed him to make a useful contribution to the operation of America. In speaking to the Huffington Post, he called for a peaceful takeover of Congress similar to Prague’s Velvet Revolution, and likened the state of our country to that of Czechoslovakia under Soviet communism. “It is very, very close,” he said. “It is the nationalization of our liberty and the federal government taking our liberty over.” Which raises a lot questions, not the least of which is whether Representative King knows what that word means.
King is referring, of course, to a bill that would further regulate the health care industry and provide subsidies for poor people to buy insurance. Such a thing would, of course, constitute a gross nationalization of our liberty, in the sense that our liberty would immediately become an interstate industry that sold goods and services at a profit, and the federal government would own the bulk of that industry’s capital and oversee its administration. Also, the government would take it over. One can forgive Representative King his shaky grasp of this political-economic term, since he probably heard it for the first as a buzzword last year, while he was voting on a series of multibillion-dollar appropriations bills. Whether Steve King fully understands high school-level macroeconomics isn’t the point. The point is that, in light of the possibility that Congress will set limits to insurers’ exceptions for pre-existing conditions and provide low-income purchasers of private coverage with a tax credit, the time has come to abandon elections, to dismantle Congress, to “storm this city, fill up Washington D.C., jam this capital so they can’t move.” After 234 years, Steve King has called an end to the American democratic experiment.
Let us put aside, for a moment, the hyperbolic stupidity of King’s argument. Let us forget his assertion that if we decide against health care reform, “you will have your liberty back,” and let’s try to ignore the fact that every time he appears in public, he is wearing the same expression your drunk uncle assumes right before he says something inappropriate at your rehearsal dinner. The electromagnetic field of a microphone does something screwy to Steve King’s brain, and we accept that. What I can’t understand—whether King actually believes this stuff or has just decided that it’s a good way to whip up elderly voters—is where he thinks it could possibly take him from here.
Let’s say that, due to a previously unnoticed chemical found in most brands of toothpaste, everyone starts listening to Steve King. Tomorrow we march on Washington, jingling our keys, and we fill the chambers of the House and Senate and pick up our elected representatives and pass them, crowd surfing-style, hand over hand until we’ve pushed them all out the windows—all of them except Steve King, who called in sick. Steve King votes no on health care reform. It will probably take a few hours to get the liberty back, after which Steve King and we free Americans can set about electing new members of Congress and coaxing Sasha and Melia out of the crawl space. What happens after that? What happens next year, when Representative King is favor of raising the federal corn growers subsidy by 3% over the next ten years, and Michele Bachmann thinks it should be 2.5% over five, and it looks like Steve might win so she calls for the overthrow of Congress to preserve our liberty? Do we march down there and do the whole thing again?
Members of Congress must never call for the overthrow of Congress, even as a rhetorical trope. Forget the hypocrisy, the shameful hysteria, the cheapening of words like “freedom” and “tyranny.” We simply cannot govern by encouraging the American people to disregard our system of government. Congressman King wants to empower the American people to physically capture Capitol Hill in order to prevent the legal passage of a bill they don’t like. Has it occurred to him what else they might be empowered to do? Has it occurred to him that, in four years or forty, Washington might not be in the hands of the Democrats, and delegitimizing our elected government might not serve his own party’s interests?
I don’t object to Steve King because he has no sense of historical perspective. I don’t object to him because he consistently misrepresents the bill he opposes, or because he can’t explain why he opposes it without invoking vague, irrelevant ideas about liberty and tyranny. I don’t even object to him because he called for the overthrow of the United States government. I object to Steve King because he is too stupid to realize that the strategy that works for him this week will completely screw him in the long run. He is undermining the Congress he hopes to run. That a United States Representative—one of the 435 men and women we have chosen to act on behalf of 300 million of us—can’t foresee the consequences of his actions even one election in advance is both astonishing and unacceptable. It’s not that Steve King is playing checkers while the rest of us are trying to play chess. It’s that he keeps knocking over the board. Mister King, you are too stupid to run the country. Please sit down.