Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is promoting a new book, which has led to a flurry of media appearances, including a curious Wall Street Journal op-ed the other day in which the Kentucky Republican complains about President Obama, Democrats, the Affordable Care Act, and governing in recent years. The headline read, “How the Senate Is Supposed to Work.”
…On issues of great national significance, one party should never simply force its will on everybody else. Medicare and Medicaid were both approved in 1965 with the support of about half the members of the minority party. The Voting Rights Act passed with the votes of 30 out of 32 members of the Republican minority. Only six senators voted against the Social Security Act of 1935. And only eight voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. All of these were the mirror image of ObamaCare, which passed the Senate without a single vote from the minority Republicans.What seems to have been forgotten is that it’s not an act of betrayal to work with one’s political adversaries when doing so is good for the country.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
This one’s worth unwrapping a bit. Those who followed the health care fight in 2009 and 2010 may recognize McConnell’s anti-ACA argument: major modern milestones enjoyed bipartisan support; “Obamacare” doesn’t; therefore the reform law is, at its core, a bad idea. McConnell himself pushed this talking point shortly before the ACA passed the Senate.
It remains painfully absurd. When those other legislative landmarks were approved, Democratic presidents found it quite easy to find mainstream Republican lawmakers who were ready and willing to work with Democratic administrations on progressive priorities. There was a time, after all, in which there were plenty of northern liberal Republicans who were well to the left of southern conservative Democrats.
In contemporary politics, Republican politics has been radicalized to a degree unseen in modern history, and no matter how robust President Obama’s outreach to the GOP was – on health care and a host of other issues – Republicans refused to consider bipartisan cooperation. Even when the White House agreed with the GOP, the far-right party wouldn’t budge.
Who made this happen? A senator by the name of Mitch McConnell.
The Senate Majority Leader may find it useful to claim he’s open to working with his “adversaries” for the good of the country, but soon after Obama’s first inauguration, McConnell decided on a very specific strategy: Republicans would oppose everything the president proposed, even when Obama agreed with them, to ensure the White House had no bipartisan victories. It was scorched-earth partisanship on a level unseen in at least a century – as McConnell has candidly acknowledged.
“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out,” Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”Mr. McConnell said the unity was essential in dealing with Democrats on “things like the budget, national security and then ultimately, obviously, health care.”
Which is what makes McConnell’s op-ed so unintentionally hilarious. In effect, his argument works like this:
1. McConnell insisted that Senate Republicans refuse to work with the Democratic White House.
2. Senate Republicans did as they were told.
3. Therefore President Obama is an ineffectual leader who hasn’t worked with Republicans.
No one who’s been conscious since 2009 could possibly believe McConnell’s argument. It’s like reading an op-ed from a teenager who deliberately wrapped a car around a tree and then expresses concern as to how car safety is “supposed to work.”
It’s also difficult not to marvel at the examples McConnell came up with as legislative landmarks of “great national significance.” For example, he pointed to Medicare, which Republicans want to turn into a privatized coupon system; Medicaid, which Republicans want to gut through block grants; the Voting Rights Act, which Republicans have turned against with a vengeance as part of an aggressive war on voting; and Social Security, which Republicans are eager to privatize out of existence.
As Salon’s Simon Maloy joked yesterday, “McConnell doesn’t seem to have realized that he’s accidentally made the case that moments of ‘great national significance’ tend to happen only when Republicans are in the minority and not unified enough to thwart them.”
The Senate Majority Leader wants to talk about how politics is “supposed to work”? The answer appears to be simple: watch how Mitch McConnell governs and do the exact opposite.