Wednesday, March 17, 2010
A Portrait of the Master Saboteur-in-Chief
He looks exactly like that dentist whose cuff buttons are made of human molars. I never could stand the pompous, puffed-up, squirrelly cheeks--or the grotesque pack of lies he stores in them as if they were acorns. So I was happy to see an article on the front page in today's New York Times that finally "outted" the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, as the guy who has masterminded and orchestrated the plot to basically throw Obama and Congressional Democrats down the stairs.
I know, I know. Enough already! I'm starting to sound like one of those crazy kooks who used to stand on soapboxes in Speakers Corner in London (do they still do that, I wonder?), but I just can't seem to get over how irrevocably the whole anarchic, dishonorable, Republican circus is propelling our democracy into rack and ruin. I can't continue to watch this happening and just remain mute: I have to howl. Because I'm horrified. Maybe I need to be taken outside the house and walked.
How can it be, I wonder, that Bill Clinton was all but IMPEACHED for getting a blow job in the Oval Office, but a diabolical, potentially treasonous man--and a plan like this--gets a pass? It's not like any of this is hidden. It is not a matter of speculation, or biased interpretation, at this point. It's a matter of pride: Republicans believe this is their Renaissance. Giving off ripples of bright triumph, they couldn't be more proud of their radioactive, bone-eroding accomplishment. Read this. You will find a truly vile vignette for our truly vile political times.
Senate G.O.P. Leader Finds Weapon in Party Unity
By CARL HULSE and ADAM NAGOURNEY
WASHINGTON — Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.
Republicans embraced it. Democrats denounced it as rank obstructionism. Either way, it has led the two parties, as much as any other factor, to where they are right now. Republicans are monolithically against the health care legislation, leaving the president and his party executing parliamentary back flips to get it passed, conservatives revived, liberals wondering what happened.
In the process, Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.
But in the short run at least, his approach has worked. For more than a year, he pleaded and cajoled to keep his caucus in line. He deployed poll data. He warned against the lure of the short-term attention to be gained by going bipartisan, and linked Republican gains in November to showing voters they could hold the line against big government.
On the major issues — not just health care, but financial regulation and the economic stimulus package, among others — Mr. McConnell has held Republican defections to somewhere between minimal and nonexistent, allowing him to slow the Democratic agenda if not defeat aspects of it. He has helped energize the Republican base, expose divisions among Democrats and turn the health care fight into a test of the Democrats’ ability to govern.
“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.”
Still, he said, his party had offered Democrats a chance for a deal on health care but blamed them as being inflexible. Democrats and the White House heavily courted Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who voted for an early version of the bill but later broke with Democrats. Democratic leaders, including the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said they did not think Republicans were ever serious about trying to strike a deal.
The extent of Republican unity to date is attributable to some degree to Democratic missteps, as well as to the rise of the Tea Party movement, which has exerted tremendous pressure on Republicans not to do anything that might give comfort to the president and his party.
But it is also testimony to how Mr. McConnell has been able to draw on 25 years of Congressional savvy to display a mastery of legislative maneuvering. Mr. McConnell rejected the criticism that his approach is all about scoring political points by denying Mr. Obama any victories. His opposition, he said, is rooted in a principled belief that Mr. Obama is pushing the nation in the wrong direction.
* * *
“Their goal,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, “is to slow down activity to stop legislation from passing in the belief that this will embolden conservatives in the next election and will deny the president a record of accomplishment.”
“Senator McConnell is their inspiration, their enforcer and their enabler,” Mr. Durbin said.
Yet such critiques do not disturb Mr. McConnell, who has for years been raked over the editorial coals around the country for his signature opposition to campaign finance law changes. On the wall of his private Senate office, where most lawmakers hang photographs of themselves with presidents and dignitaries, Mr. McConnell instead has framed originals of venomous editorial cartoons that portray him in most unflattering terms.
The strategy that has brought Senate Republicans where they are today began when they gathered, beaten and dispirited, at the Library of Congress two weeks before Mr. Obama’s inauguration. They had lost seven seats in November, another was teetering, and they were about to go up against an extraordinarily popular new president and an emboldened Democratic Congress.
“We came in shellshocked,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “There was sort of a feeling of ‘every man for himself.’ Mitch early on in this session came up with a game plan to make us relevant with 40 people. He said if we didn’t stick together on big things, we wouldn’t be relevant.”
As the year went on, Mr. McConnell spent hours listening to the worries and ideas of Republicans, urging them not to be seduced by the attention-grabbing possibilities of cutting a bipartisan deal. “I think the reason my members are feeling really good,” he said, “is they believe that the reward for playing team ball this year was the reversal of the political environment and the possibility that we will have a bigger team next year.”
On the first big test of his strategy, Senate passage of the economic stimulus bill, Mr. McConnell lost three Republicans; one of them, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, would soon leave the party. Yet before long, Republicans in both houses had become a monolith of opposition.
“Good politics is repetition,” Mr. McConnell said. When there were signs of Republicans breaking from the ranks — like when Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa led a delegation of Republicans in negotiations with Democrats about a deal on health care — Mr. McConnell would keep close watch.
As the months went on, Mr. McConnell would show up at weekly meetings of his conference with a chart tracking poll numbers that, by summertime, showed that support for a health care overhaul had flipped. With their approach producing tangible benefits, Republicans were driven even more strongly to remain united.
Just before the summer recess, on July 21, Mr. McConnell used the weekly luncheon of Senate Republicans in the L.B.J. Room off the Senate floor to list the fruits of their labor. His PowerPoint presentation showed that the president’s approval rating was down and that Republicans were gaining on Democrats on the question of which party voters would prefer to see controlling Congress. “We came up with a plan, stuck to it, and now we’re starting to see results,” the presentation noted....In meeting after meeting in the Capitol, Mr. McConnell, a devoted fan of University of Louisville basketball, urged his colleagues to keep playing “team ball.” He reiterated the message he had employed for a year — the party’s resurgence depended on unity, and Republicans needed to be patient.
They listened. By the time the health bill was approved by the Senate on Christmas Eve with zero Republican votes, Democrats had been forced to cut questionable intraparty deals and jump through legislative hoops in an ugly process that helped sour the public on the party and its legislation.