This Unholy Mess


McConnell’s Epic: Triumph of the Won’t

In the context of Trump’s continuing circus of self-absorption, you’d think Mitch McConnell might appear more sympathetic.
Fat chance.
Mitch looks like he should be the librarian on the Death Star, true. But to get a real picture of him these days, we have to put aside easy characterizations–both his reputation as a “master” parliamentary tactician in the Senate, as well as the fact that he has all the charisma of used kitty litter. Just how has he managed to become a poster boy for a Congress that is the object of positively devotional public contempt?
It hasn’t been easy, but Mitch has shown he’s got what it takes: powerful persistence and a contrarian partisan streak as wide as an ugly East Kentucky strip mine. Starting in 2009, when he famously responded to a question about his legislative agenda by saying his first priority was to make Barack Obama a one-term president, Mitch has shown the kind of “won’t power” that is the envy of every three-year-old. It was much in evidence during the Obama years, yes, but since Trump’s accession to the throne it has blossomed into a new, equally skunky variation.
On the face of it, he appears to be out to obliterate any trace of an Obama legacy. That’s the pure partisanship we’ve come to expect from Mitch, whether we detect a nice whiff of racism in it or not. His major consideration is never that wheezy old ideal, “what’s best for all Americans.” Forget that. It’s about the political chess board, about who gets credit for what. It’s about optics. His own personal Machiavellian soap opera.
How can we know this? You might not see it immediately where his efforts coincide with the misbegotten views of his Kentucky constituents, such as coal interests that wanted the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords; or private prison corporations that donated heavily to McConnell and others, opposing Obama-era sentencing reform. Hey, who wants to threaten America’s global domination in the field of incarcerating its own citizens?
But the health care saga is more telling. Just as an aside, I ‘m not crazy about having people like Mitch–who doesn’t have to think about how he’ll get health care–designing my health care program. It’s kind of like having men designing bras. At any rate, health care is where Mitch displays his colors. We all remember the story: the righteous and ferocious “Repeal and replace!” issuing from the foaming lips of Mitch and friends. It almost sounded like something positive was being proposed. Hah, I say. There was nothing on offer. Not a variation on Obamacare, nor something truly original. Just a few last-minute, cheap-shot bits of legislation that stank of revenge and desperation; and that includes the latest iteration from Senators Graham and Cassidy.
To add injury to insult, Mitch’s blood lust to repeal Obamacare was even powerful enough to ignore the 400,000 or so of his own constituents who would lose health care as a result. Now that’s truly legendary “won’t” power.
Even with Trump in office, ostensibly ready to sign a health care bill into law with that signature that looks like a heavily caffeinated seismic event, Mitch can’t muster the “will” that’s needed, so accustomed is he to “won’t.” I could feel sorry for him, except that, like Wile E. Coyote, he has slammed into an imaginary wall of his own making: his unwillingness to contemplate anything other than what must be at least nominally a “complete” repeal of Obamacare. Even to consider working with the opposition to fix the existing law is anathema, because that, my friends, would mean admitting that there are good things in the ACA. Things that Americans want and need. What a horror for Mitch. You mean admit that our black former-president might have had some good ideas?
He’d rather die first. Okay, maybe not die himself—but let some of his fellow Americans die? That seems to work for him. It’s the principal of the thing.
The bad news for Mitch is that the obstructive habit of his “won’t” is going to continue to dog him. A Republican Congress will now have to confront issues like DACA, tax reform, and infrastructure; they will have to take (gasp!) responsibility for what happens—or what doesn’t happen. If he is to have anything to show for his stewardship, Mitch will have to loosen his iron grip and allow the Senate to function with the tools that have served it for generations: debate and compromise. No less than John McCain recently urged in a Washington Post Op-Ed that Mitch return the Senate to “regular order,” i.e., allowing committees to release bills to the whole body for debate, amendments, and voting. Something Mitch has refused to do since he concocted the plan that allowed thirteen men to produce a health care bill that no one wanted.
A bunch of cagey, calculated “won’ts” just can’t provide the “will” we so badly need.

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