On June 19, 2014, when Republicans announced that they had chosen Kevin McCarthy, from a small town in Central California, to become the House Majority Leader, most Americans met the news with a shrug.
A few were disquieted. “Kevin McCarthy? Where do I know that name from?” asked one.
“Kevin McCarthy, small town in California?” said another. “Something…weird about that. Something…familiar. I guess it’s nothing.”
Then, a movie buff in the Washington press had an epiphany. At Representative McCarthy’s next press conference, she asked, “Hey, wasn’t Kevin McCarthy the star of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Any relation?”
The Congressman laughed. “No, afraid not. Are you sure he wasn’t MacCarthy, not McCarthy?”
The reporter replied, “No, it’s Kevin McCarthy. He’s the most respected man in that rural made-up town in Central California. And he newly returns to town…only to find out that people are behaving somewhat strangely…”
“Sorry, lady, that’s just a movie,” laughed the House Majority Leader-elect. “Next question.”
Now Americans remembered the old movie, where Kevin McCarthy returns to his house only to learn that his friends and loved ones are slowly being replaced by “pod people.” Was there an alien invasion? Certainly not any obvious one. The movie instead shows an eventual whittling away of diversity and freedom of opinion, by people who look just like normal people. As one of them says to Kevin McCarthy, “Love, desire, ambition, faith – without them, life’s so simple, believe me.” Invasion was so trenchant that since its 1956 release, it had been remade or re-released every decade, the most recent version being from 2007, with Nicole Kidman. Although…there hadn’t been one in the current decade. Huh. That was weird.
Some scholars said Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a parable of a Communist takeover, others said it was the opposite, a parable of anti-Communism. What the heck kind of metaphor was it? Well, either way, it was a warning about the dangers of 1950s over-conformism, as represented by the glorification of small-town suburbia, patriarchal values, and the McCarthyite hysteria then gripping Congress. McCarthyite. Huh. That’s weird.
Anyway, back to House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy. He was accustomed to leadership; as far back as 1995, he became Chairman of the California Young Republicans, giving speeches extolling the principles of his fellow Californian, Ronald Reagan, then enjoying retirement in Santa Mira, I mean, Santa Barbara. Wait a minute, how did Reagan become famous enough to be governor, then President? Oh, right, by starring in 1950s B-movies. Huh. That’s weird.
After the press conference, the reporter watched as Kevin McCarthy returned to his House. The reporter reflected on Reagan’s “Big Tent” Republican Party as it had been when Kevin McCarthy led a faction of it in 1995. Back then, the science behind climate change was rarely questioned in the halls of Congress; after all, they had recently voted to restrict emissions leading to acid rain. Back then, the National Rifle Association favored some forms of gun control. Back then, another Republican Majority Leader, Bob Dole, was running for President on a platform that included a vast expansion of health care which required people to get health insurance…pretty much what’s now known as Obamacare. Back then, the party included anti-abortion Republicans as well as stridently pro-choice Republicans. Back then, many were publicly suspicious of open-ended military engagement in foreign countries. Back then, Republicans were willing to work with and even compromise with a Democratic President on issues, Exhibit A being welfare reform. Though neither party got all they wanted on that bill, the Republicans were willing to settle for half a loaf instead of nothing.
Back then, Republicans could openly disagree with each other, and they did, on all of those issues. Now…not so much. Diversity and dissent had been stamped out. The reporter reflected that no one knew this better than Kevin McCarthy. After all, Kevin McCarthy only became Majority Leader because the previous Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, had failed to espouse the party line on immigration, another issue where Republicans openly disagreed back in the 90s. The reporter decided she had to speak again to Kevin McCarthy, who was now leading this concatenation of conformism, this zoetrope of zombies. After all, John Quiggin recently wrote a book called Zombie Economics, showing the persistent survival of slavishly pro-free-market ideas that should have been killed off by the financial meltdown, but instead…
“…Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on,” said House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy, after the reporter pressed the Invasion point at another conference. “If you watch the movie, you’ll see that Kevin McCarthy resists the pod people. You’ll see that he survives at the end to warn everyone about the dangers of conformity and lack of freedom. I think it’s pretty obvious that the freedom-haters are the lock-step party-line Democrats, and I’m Kevin McCarthy, here to warn you about them.”
This shut up the reporter. For a while. Then, she learned something. Don Siegel, who went on to direct Dirty Harry, that prescient warning of a war of vigilantism versus the urban poor, had originally given the studio a different ending to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The studio had decided Siegel’s ending was too dark, and changed it to the ending cited by Rep. Kevin McCarthy. In the original ending, Kevin McCarthy runs from his small California town and makes it as far as the highway, shouting, “You’re next!!” The real film ended by implying they were all next…including Kevin McCarthy.
The reporter put the pieces together in the 21st century manner, with a white corkboard, photos, and a lot of red string. Kevin McCarthy must have stayed Kevin McCarthy because when pods took a body, it stopped aging. These pods of patriarchal, unthinking, unblinking conformism had moved slowly since their takeover of Central California, perhaps to avoid being killed. They managed to get a President elected, but still they moved carefully. After 9/11, they seem to have stepped up their timetable, getting their then most respected face, Kevin McCarthy, elected to State Assembly in 2002. Over the next 12 years, Kevin McCarthy insinuated himself first in Sacramento, then in Washington. By 2014, the 233 Republicans of the 113th Congress spoke in one unified, dissent-free voice, reliably hostile to taxes, gays, gun control, and compromise of any kind. If they weren’t pod-zombies, the reporter asked at the next press conference, why did they never seem open to any kind of disagreement or new ideas?
“Hey, it’s only a movie,” replied Kevin McCarthy. “That guy doesn’t even look like me.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to schedule a vote to repeal Obamacare for the 55th time.”