A Voter’s View: Toxic Mitch McConnell puts personal power above democracy
“Heart.” President Trump wanted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to deliver a revision of Obamacare with “heart.” Which is a laugh — one heartless, amoral man expecting possibly the only other American politician more heartless, more amoral than himself to deliver a healthcare proposal at least tinged with compassion.
And, of course, the proposed Senate replacement for the Affordable Care Act — unveiled yesterday after weeks of secrecy — doesn’t have heart. It’s not worth going into details other than to say the GOP’s proposal will drive health insurance out of the reach of 20-some million people, purge coverage requirements for essential medical services, and free up funds to provide $500 million in tax cuts to the richest among us.
But that’s not what angers me most.
It is McConnell’s contempt for accepted process — “regular order,” in Congressional parlance — that is so destructive to our democratic institutions. As a result, McConnell is as responsible as any single person for the decay of American governance and stature that has accelerated over the last decade.
McConnell’s appetite for power is as rapacious as Donald Trump’s is for money and attention. His ability to work dark magic in back-room shadows to further his own purposes is prodigious. He is more toxic than Trump — in fact, McConnell uses Trump’s shenanigans as an invisibility cape to allow his own actions to pass unnoticed. He colludes, corrupts and manipulates while maintaining a bilious simper and a bland silence.
The Kentucky Senator doesn’t care if you think that’s a bad thing. His utter lack of shame frees him from the strictures of common decency and Congressional tradition in pursuit of personal power.
The cynical, done-in-the-dark pursuit of a Senate vote on repeal and replacement of Obamacare is only McConnell’s latest transgression of regular order. He’ll bring the bill to a vote next week, regardless of complaints. I don’t think he gives a damn what it contains, or whether it passes or fails, so long as the Senate can move on to restructuring the tax code to more fully favor the rich.
The millions of Americans who may lose access to health insurance? Pfffttt!…a piddling concern. Protestations that secret deliberations by a panel of just 13 men are unAmerican? A fart on a distant hill.
(The irony is that, as a child, McConnell was stricken with polio. He regained his health and avoided lifelong disability as the result of treatments funded by philanthropists at the Warm Springs, Georgia, center where FDR was treated. Wonder if polio shows up as a pre-existing condition on his current, government-funded insurance plan?)
Who knows whether McConnell can maintain a hold on enough votes to pass the measure. That he has managed for six weeks to keep the details under wraps while shrugging off dissent — even among many Republicans — demonstrates how comfortable he has become as an autocrat with no moral center. That saga of hypocrisy is detailed by Alec MacGillis, in a 2014 book, “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell.” Elected to the Senate in 1984, he ascended to his dream job as Majority Leader in 2015.
Just as Donald Trump used the racist birther movement to gain national exposure, McConnell rode an anti-Obama agenda to national prominence. Shortly after the 2008 election, then-Minority Leader McConnell declared his number one goal was limiting Barrack Obama to a single term. He missed that mark but assiduously pursued an agenda of obstructionism that not only frustrated Obama but wreaked havoc on the reputation of Congress, as Republican senators followed McConnell down the path of extreme partisanship.
Until the health care bill, McConnell’s most brazen transgression of Senate tradition was his refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. McConnell announced within hours of Scalia’s death in February 2016, that the Senate wouldn’t hold a hearing for any Obama nominee. Then, with seemingly iron-fisted control, he cowed his members into complying with the decree. Trump filled the seat in March, more than a year after Scalia’s death.
McConnell wields two blunt instruments when his need to control votes exceeds more subtle persuasions: The power to appoint members to important — or obscure — Senate committees, and possession of the strings to a very fat purse.
Fundraising is one of McConnell’s favorite pastimes. Former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson famously said of McConnell: “When he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds.”
The Senate Leadership Fund is a conservative super PAC that McConnell controls. The PAC raised almost $120 million during the 2016 election cycle, and injected $25 million into six races at the last minute, to ensure a Republican majority in the Senate.
The Leadership Fund is just one of the Majority Leader’s many deep pockets. You can bet he keeps detailed notes on who voted his way and who didn’t, for use in determining his largesse in 2018.
The Huffington Post called McConnell “a modern-day Machiavelli,” the 16th century diplomat and author of “The Prince.” The name is synonymous with deceit, immoral behavior, despotism and manipulation in the service of politics. Machiavelli said it would be best to be both loved and feared — but if the Prince had to choose, fear would be the most effective choice.
The comparison seems apt. But Jim Manley, once a top aide to former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, disagreed with that assessment.
“I think Machiavelli had at least a little bit of heart,” Manley told HuffPo. “I don’t think McConnell does.”