Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered a lengthy, beautifully written soliloquy on the once-great institution in which he serves. "What have we become?" McConnell asked
. "I'm absolutely certain of one thing: the Senate can be better than it is," he added. "We've gotten too comfortable with doing everything we do here through the prism of the next election, instead of the prism of duty. And everyone suffers as a result."
The long-time Republican is apparently quite invested in his concerns over the demise of the Senate, publishing a piece
on the subject.
When you look at the vote tallies for some of the more far-reaching legislation over the past century, for example, the Senate was broadly in agreement. Medicare and Medicaid were both approved with the support of about half the members of the minority. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed with the votes of 30 out of 32 members of the Republican minority. Only six senators voted against the Social Security Act. Only eight voted against the Americans With Disabilities Act.
This is, oddly enough, practically identical to the kind of lament one might hear from a progressive Senate Democrat. Before the radicalization of Republican politics, bipartisan cooperation on major policies was common, and when centrist GOP lawmakers still existed, popular and even progressive legislation was approved with large majorities.
So why is McConnell echoing Democratic concerns? Because he's convinced of his own misguided righteousness.
When Democrats couldn't convince Republicans that [the Affordable Care Act] was worth supporting as written, they plowed ahead on their own and passed it on a party-line vote. That's why the chaos this law has visited on our country is not just tragic, it was entirely predictable. Chaos will always be the result if you approach legislation without regard for the views of the other side.
It's at this point when knowledgeable readers, too well informed to fall for such a clumsy con, realized that McConnell is playing the public for fools. What we have is a political arsonist condemning partisan fires after he lit the match.
As Ed Kilgore
, Greg Sargent
, and others noted in response to McConnell's breathtaking, almost nauseating, complaints about the Senate, the Minority Leader's whining is not only hypocritical, it's making a mockery of the very idea of self-awareness.
Medicare and Medicaid were approved with bipartisan support, but as GOP extremism becomes the new norm, McConnell and his party are eagerly trying to undermine both. The Voting Rights Act has enjoyed near-unanimous support, but it was Republican justices on the Supreme Court that gutted the law, and it's Republican lawmakers who are now reluctant to repair it.
Social Security is a venerated American institution, which Republicans actively hope to replace with a privatization scheme. The Republican right to celebrate the Americans With Disabilities Act officially ended in December 2012
Indeed, it's not unreasonable to think all of these landmark legislative accomplishments -- Medicare, Medicaid, VRA, Social Security, and the ADA -- would not only face a Republican filibuster if brought to the floor for the first time today, they'd all fail in the GOP-led House.
"When you look at the vote tallies for some of the more far-reaching legislation over the past century, for example, the Senate was broadly in agreement"? That's true. Then the Republican Party became radicalized and it stopped being true.
As for the Affordable Care Act, Democrats desperately tried to find Republican support for a policy built around Republican-friendly policies. No matter how much Dems pleaded with GOP officials to work in good faith towards a compromise, the more Republicans refused.
And it was McConnell who was candid enough to explain in 2010 how and why
"We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," McConnell says. "Because we thought -- correctly, I think -- that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan' tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there's a broad agreement that that's the way forward."
Right. McConnell figured that if Republicans worked in good faith on a bipartisan health care bill, the public would assume it was a worthwhile idea. So McConnell insisted that his party oppose every effort at compromise, and slap away every outstretched hand, so that the GOP could condemn "Obamacare," regardless of the merits.
In other words, even if Dems approached McConnell with a health care plan McConnell liked, he'd still reject it. To do otherwise would be to help Democrats, while denying the Minority Leader a chance to complain later.
Indeed, it's this attitude that has served as a template for Republican obstructionism for five years. When McConnell looks at the dysfunctional Senate, what he sees is the result of his own handiwork -- the ashes of the fire he started, then complained constantly as emergency crews struggled to put it out.
For the Minority Leader to ask, "What have we become?" is a good question. Perhaps McConnell can answer it after a long look in the mirror.