“Not all Republicans are the same.”


Guess who said it.

You don’t like playing games? Okay. Okay.

If you watch the View, you would know. It was Whoopi Goldberg.

Say what!?

Yup. Whoopi. Ms. Goldberg got groans and guffaws from the audience when she said it, according to an account I read. She should have gotten oohs and ahhs. It was a pretty remarkable observation and brave, given the criticism that “all Republicans” engender, especially after the debacle over the Speakership of Kevin McCarthy and the ensuing mud fight to find a replacement. House Republicans finally settled on Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana (how can you go wrong with a name like that?) as the 56th Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Ms. Goldberg is a comedian, and the remark could have been considered jocular. It didn’t seem so. The way it was described, the comment seemed sincere and genuine.

She is also considered a leftist liberal so the insight about Republicans was out of character.

In any event, what she said, of course, is a simple truth to which any reasonable individual should agree with.

All Republicans are not alike, “slime balls all,” as some describe them, and all Republicans shouldn’t be cast that way any more than Democrats, comedians, journalists, police, immigrants, or college professors—that last one may be a stretch—should be. It insults the intelligence. It is prejudicial, patronizing, usually partisan, and narrow-minded. It’s good ole fake news.

Now, having said that a number of Republicans in the House and some willing media have given people every reason to think they are all alike, lemmings trailing behind the Trumpster.

Over-generalizations and exaggerations like that are the bane of our political existence, and one of the underlying causes of our inability to get along, to reach consensus, and to govern effectively, if at all. In their unassuming simplicity, they are destructive and misleading. Stereotypes of that nature are like a whistling tea kettle filled with the exasperation and anger of a genuinely grieved public.

The sin of generalizing applies, as well, to other of our tribal typecasts, like conservatives and liberals. There are so many subsets to those two “ideologies,” lumping the subsets together renders the terms meaningless. The new House Speaker—Mike Johnson—has been described by the media over and over again as a “staunch conservative.” What does that mean? The same applies to moderates and centrists, progressives and populists. The lump sum categories we have created and the 40-character conversations in which we engage demean politics and dramatically and negatively alter political behavior.

The Republican Party is in a destructive spiral, granted. It persists in snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory and creating scorched-earth policy perceptions. The outlandish behavior of a relative few is easily translated into an entire community—40 million registered voters and probably 40 million more who identify as Republican—of “deplorables.” But the infighting among the GOPers is yet another reminder that true differences exist.

Having worked for a time among House and Senate Republicans, one of my first discoveries was the degree of individuality among Members. Stereotypes need not apply. Each member had personal characteristics shaped by many distinct influences. They had parochial views, national views, ideological leanings, and a public perception persona that diverged from their colleagues, sometimes just a little, sometimes a lot. In a pinch, those individualized traits could make a difference in a vote or a critical decision.

Most Members of Congress were, of course, members of caucuses, committees, social groups, and countless other affiliations where they shared common views and interests that categorized and cataloged them politically, but the personal distinctions were a constant reminder to avoid pigeonholing.

As my time in Washington flew by, the generalities became more and more a part of political-speak, news-speak, and worst of all, partisan-campaign-speak. Their roots now run deep in the political soil and cannot be easily pulled or eradicated. They go well beyond slogans and stump-speech messaging. They are the currency of political negotiation and identification, campaign rhetoric and unenlightened media coverage. They are the linguistic fuel that makes people mad when they really don’t know what they are mad about or at whom they should direct their rage.

The new Speaker—did I mention that his name is Mike Johnson—will have his hands full bringing Republicans together and then bringing Republicans and Democrats together when conditions demand it and then working with the real enemy, the US Senate. He will have even a greater challenge next, restoring public trust in the institution he now serves.

It is up to him to decide whether he will be a Speaker of the whole House or just a faction of it. It will be up to him to decide whether he will be the servant of a broad and diverse center-right country or the servant of the ideological perspective to which he adheres, and I have no doubt believes personally it is best for the country. The question remains, does he have the instincts of leadership that can keep him upright when some in the House prefer their Speaker bowing and scraping?

Fortunately, the wisdom and reason of Ms. Goldberg’s observation may be pivotal in his thinking. It will help him understand what the country needs and it is not division. At least not now.

What is needed is an attitude adjustment, a 24-hour period when you rethink what you thought initially, but this time with reason, the benefit of the doubt, with an open mind, and the slim, slim possibility that your snap judgments may have been wrong. The reality in politics is that you never have the full story, the unvarnished truth, or all the facts that matter. You are almost always behind the curve rather than in front of it. Being engaged in politics, forming political judgments is a process that requires continuous education, especially when it comes to improving the public’s access to and influence over the US Congress, the one institution of government that the Founders believed would be the people’s first line of defense against governmental negligence.

Unfortunately, civics education in America is a national disgrace and citizens who want to be engaged are left without the tools and the power to do so. I may have mentioned it in another article that a colleague and I have written a book to help engaged citizens make a bigger difference in how Congress functions. It will be out early next year.

Meanwhile he—Speaker Mike Johnson—has a leg up on all of that because he knows who among his colleagues are there to work, not play politics, and are genuinely committed to our system of self-rule, preserving the American character that has kept us united when unity counts the most, like now, for example. He is familiar with the institutions and the process.

I hope, soon, it will be safe to say, “let Mikey do it.”

Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff, co-founder and member of the Board of the Congressional Institute, and a participant in the Congress of Tomorrow congressional reform project. Johnson is retired. He is married to Thalia Assuras and has five children and four grandchildren.