Kentucky’s Boy Wonder of American politics, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, has made few mistakes during his 33-year rise in Republican ranks to become majority leader of the U.S. Senate. At least for today, he continues to be the most powerful man in America second only to the president.
One might say that when he does make a mistake, such as taking it on himself to solve the nation’s health-care problems, the mess he leaves behind is a doozy.
His first mistake was to overlook five Republican women senators when he selected his advisory group of 13 white men who all look like Jeff Sessions growing up. Then, he shocked much of the political world when he could not line up three final Senate votes to pass his version of a health-care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
He coined the phrase that he would rip out Obamacare “root and branch,” though he had no idea what might replace it. He repeated the threat so often it became a GOP mantra for destroying the legislative crown of Barack Obama’s eight years as president.
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When McConnell’s bill fell through the floor, Mitch fell off his pedestal with it.
In the aftermath, Republicans are furiously working on a third version of a bill that already seems saddled with baggage from the first two failures. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has reaffirmed that a straight repeal bill would leave 32 million Americans uninsured, while those with insurance would see premiums rise by 20 percent.
How bad would Obamacare have to be to be worse than any of McConnell’s versions?
If there’s one thing Republicans can probably be counted on for, it’s that their health-care bill will be a poorly disguised but massive tax cut for the rich. The original version would have cut Medicaid by $800 million, including coverage for 400,000 Kentuckians, while giving back $500 billion in tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans.
Most readers will be too young to remember the “Peter Principle.”
It is the idea that a person will continue to be promoted in his or her job until reaching the uppermost level of incompetence. No one I know has been better served by the Peter Principle than McConnell. Not only did it see him rise to majority leader, but also financially, he rose from modest means in Louisville to a net worth today estimated at $30 million.
In recent weeks and months, it has become abundantly clear that McConnell has reached the nadir of his fame, the lowest point in a career shaped by a base of birthers and haters of anything Muslim.
He likes to point to the late U.S. Sen. John Sherman Cooper as his mentor, but his true mentors were the inventors of dirty politics in America: the late Lee Nunn, brother of former Gov. Louie Nunn and a shark of Kentucky politics, and the late Kentucky Congressman Gene Snyder. Lee Nunn escaped jail time by the skin of his teeth for involvement in the Watergate burglary; Snyder honed to a science campaigning against the media, so favored by Republicans today.
Holding up President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court for a year, refusing to even give him a hearing while waiting for a Republican president to make the appointment was right out of a Nunn-Snyder playbook. Cooper would never have supported such a trampling of Senate tradition.
What I would tell McConnell: “Mitch, I was there. I knew John Sherman Cooper. You are no John Sherman Cooper. He would not have abided for a minute the lies and racism of birthers and haters of anything Muslim.”
The GOP is still packed with birthers, a movement started by President Donald Trump, which holds that Obama was not born in the United States, and therefore was never a legitimate president. They ignored his birth certificate that proved he was born in Hawaii. In other organized attacks, they continued to insist Obama was a Muslim though he has been a longtime member of a Protestant church in Chicago.
It’s time for McConnell to give it up. He should retire to the South Seas, have a couple Mai Tais with little umbrellas, count his money and write his memoirs. Maybe entitle them something catchy like, “I Am Not a Crook, I Just Don’t Like Poor People.”
Frank Ashley of Lexington, a former Courier-Journal reporter, served as press secretary for Govs. John Y. Brown and Brereton Jones. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.