For the Sake of Democracy, Celebrate Mike Johnson

We’ve seen movies aplenty in which a deeply flawed protagonist, someone we’d pretty much given up hope on, has a stirring of conscience or change of heart and puts his immediate interests at risk for the sake of something bigger. The music swells. The credits roll.

I never expected the music to swell and the credits to roll with Mike Johnson’s face in the center of the frame.

Johnson, the House speaker, reversed a position that he’d previously held, banded with Democrats and infuriated some of the loudest, meanest and most vengeful members of his party — that’s Marjorie Taylor Greene you hear wailing in the wings — to pass a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan last weekend. We’ve read all about it.

But before we move on to the next congressional melodrama, let’s make sure we’ve given Johnson his due. I say that not as any fan of his — he had no business being elected speaker, given his assertive role in trying to overturn the 2020 election — and I think that’s all the more reason to say it. In an era this intensely and corrosively partisan, it’s especially important that we give warranted praise and appropriate thanks to people with whom we usually disagree. Tribalism discourages that, but a healthy democracy demands it.

I strongly support the aid package while understanding the qualms about it, but its merits aren’t my focus here. Johnson’s principled course is. He made common cause with political adversaries. He potentially put his speakership in greater jeopardy than if he’d taken a different tack (though these matters are tricky and time will tell).

What impresses and encourages me most, though, are accounts of how he arrived at his backing of the bill: He educated himself. As Catie Edmondson reported in an article in The Times on Sunday, Johnson “attributed his turnabout in part to the intelligence briefings he received, a striking assertion from a leader of a party that has embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s deep mistrust of the intelligence community.”

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