We know Mitch McConnell through the many SNL parodies and endless jokes about him on Late-Night Tv, including comparisons to a turtle. He’s an easy target for the role of a comedy villain because of congressional longevity and his personality, that of a pasty old man who looks and acts like the evil banker in a depression era film, the man who takes pleasure from the foreclosure nightmare inflicted upon desperate starving dust bowled farmers.
Over the years I have enjoyed every well written joke at the senator’s expense. The problem is Mitch McConnell is not just a comedic character in our national consciousness. He is a real person with enormous power. And looking back to the Obama years especially, perhaps we as a society spent too much of our time laughing and dissecting the quality of the entertainment instead of mobilizing to push back against Senator McConnell’s egregious behavior that has long-term effects. It turns out, laughter is not always the best medicine.
On the surface it seems odd that McConnell has so much power given the state he represents. I mean no disrespect to anyone from Kentucky, but come on, it’s not powerhouse of anything except maybe whiskey. It only has 4.4 million people. Los Angeles County has 10 million. Brooklyn, NY, (just one NYC borough) has 2.6 million. And my city, the Atlanta metro area has 5.8 million. Kentucky is the 4thpoorest state, with roughly 20% of its people in poverty and for children it’s 25%. It’s also a state that takes a lot more from the federal government than it gives.
Mitch McConnell’s ability to inject his particular brand of political poison is partly due to him never being the shiniest object in politics. He is boring, unattractive, and has a voice no one wants to hear. He behaves like a normal person and his biography doesn’t have the tawdry exploits, cruelty and criminality like President Mob Boss. And with a media landscape hyper focused on presidential politics, he’s been able to carry on, not undetected but in a manner that underrates the termite style damage he inflicts on our democracy because there are no term limits in congress, and he has never sought the highest office in the land.
The other reason McConnell can grind a halt to progress is because he’s not in this line of work to enact legislation for a lasting impact. He’s in government to win so that he can keep winning for the ultimate goal of being known as a winner. He began his career as a candidate supportive of unions, higher wages, and was pro-choice. As the party moved further right, he went along to get reelected. He was once supportive of campaign finance reform. Only to change his tune when it suited his party to support less transparency of big donors. And he has relished his role as an obstructionist during the Obama years causing not only the unconstitutional power grab of stealing a supreme court seat, but also abusing the filibuster to stop confirmations of a lot of judges, resulting in President Trump appointing judges that we will live with for decades.
It’s unfortunate that Mitch McConnell is accepted by so many in the media as a regular Republican, doing what Republicans do. Republicans doing what they do however, is why the legislative branch has failed to address the needs of our society starting in the 1990s when Newt Gingrich led the no-compromise wing of the party. But media pundits like to repeat, “Congress is dysfunctional.” It’s not just dishonest to keep telling this story. It’s actually journalistic malpractice. If you investigate just a wee bit, you’ll see that Mitch McConnell has been playing this game for years, and even told Fox News recently, “I am the ‘Grim Reaper’ when it comes to the Democratic socialist agenda in the House.” Currently, there are over 100 bills passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support that he is not going to bring up to vote, let alone debate. The Paycheck Fairness Act, The Background Checks Act for gun purchases, and a voting rights bill called For the People Act are among the many bills. He has also dragged is feet with 9/11 first responders needing funds. And he has shrugged off several bills dealing with election security specifically to deal with Russia’s meddling in 2016.
The lesson going forward is that while everyone is talking about the stars of the Democratic debates with the media unsurprisingly replaying the big moments, Democrats and independents should digest the most consequential words spoken at the debates. Words not delivered by Harris, Biden, Warren, or Buttigieg, but from Senator Michael Bennet. He said, “Gridlock will not magically disappear as long as Mitch McConnell is there.” “We face structural problems that we have to overcome with a broad coalition.”
It won’t matter which Democratic candidate has the best plans, raises the most money, and inspires the most voters. It won’t matter if a Democrat wins the white house. Income inequality will get worse. Wages will remain stagnant. Environmental damage, healthcare dysfunction, election security, lack of affordable house, bridges falling apart, insulin prices skyrocketing, and thousands of Americans getting shot are issues that will continue to be ignored as long as Mitch McConnell is the senate majority leader. He decides what is brought to the floor for debate. And he has told the American people by words and deeds what to expect from him, which is delay, obstruct, change procedural rules when it suits his party, and blame the lack of progress on Democrats.
We should have been in the streets when Merrick Garland was denied a seat on the Supreme Court and other judges Obama appointed that Mitch McConnell obstructed. We should have been in the streets when the Benghazi hearings dragged on because the obvious purpose was to harass and cast doubt on Hillary Clinton. There should have been large protests when the Voting Rights Act was partially dismantled. And, we absolutely should have protested after precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary were murdered and congress did nothing. In fact, it’s hard to think about all the missed opportunities of collective resistance that should have happened before President Mock the Disabled was elected because either we were celebrating Obama or just being lazy Americans too interested in entertainment and other distractions. Nevetherless, there’s no time for regret.
As we’re going through the nomination process, we have to listen to all the candidates, whether or not there’s a chance of winning, especially those in the house and senate. Each one highlights different problems, sort of like a collective state of the union. Following new house Democrats on twitter is also interesting and informative. AOC in particular sheds light on some of the every day issues of being in government in addition to her many twitter fights. And when it comes to Senate, the loopholes and potholes in the structure of it is explained well by columnist Jamelle Bouie.
Mitch McConnell ain’t gonna change. And so even if our guy or gal gets to the Oval Office, we can’t sit it out and think everything is going to be OK. It isn’t and it’s not going to be anytime soon.
Mitch in his own words
Amy McGrath is running against Mitch McConnell for his senate seat. Check her out.