I'VE spent most of the week in quiet, and unproductive, reflection, that old Zen koan "How did a dumbass like Mitch McConnell come to be leading anything?" running through my head. The only thing I can figure--and they tell me that if you're figuring you've already missed the point--is that the following Trouper Trent and the Kindly Cat Doctor the GOP decided to split the difference and get someone with half of Trent Lott's skills and half of Bill Frist's IQ.
McConnell's an interesting case study insofar as his c.v. neatly matches the American Long March into partisan jackassery and historical obliviousness. He began a successful career of living off taxpayers as a perpetually aggrieved post-Nixon Southern Baptist, then squeaked into the US Senate on Reagan's coattails, where he has remained for twenty-two years, through demands for term limits, promises to cut the deficit and Federal spending, calls for the elimination of the Department of Education, massively wrong-headed reshaping of public school curriculum by the Department of Education, support for heroic rescue missions in Grenada and Panama, support for heroic opposition to rescue missions in Serbia and Bosnia, support for, then opposition to, a rescue mission in Somalia, depending on whose ox got the gore. There was the post-dated celebration of Reagan defeating World Communism, and the fight over reducing military spending in its wake; the Star Wars boondoggle(s) and the S&L debacle; the fight over the right to filibuster, and the fight over the right to restrict filibustering; legislation designed to keep Terri Schiavo a vegetable, and opposition to legislation designed to keep middle class families with sick children out of the Poor House; the complaints about the threat to civil rights in the aftermath of the Murrah bombing, to their wholesale elimination less than a decade later. Plus that series of blank checks in the pursuit of Vietnam II.
Sure, it's easy to point out that in twenty plus years in Washington, many of them spent posturing as an outsider, there's not one piece of significant legislation with McConnell's name on it. But I remind you that there hasn't really been a significant piece of legislation in that time, and that the only half-assed swipe at significance that didn't involve dropping bombs on tenth-rate powers--campaign finance reform--McConnell adamantly opposes. He's spent his time on Rules and Appropriations and the Permanent Subcommittee on Stamp Adhesives, Paper Cuts, and Nipple Twisting, as well as running the Republican National Senatorial campaign committee. By electing this guy four times (mostly narrowly) Kentucky has been repaid with absolutely reliable votes for all major Republican corporate donors, plus his increasing dexterity at shuffling paper, mostly green. (Which, it must be admitted, at least gives The Bluegrassers a chance of having some benefit to average Kentuckians fall into their laps by accident, or greed, compared to the thirty-year sinecure Hoosiers have given Dick Lugar so he could position himself as an important historical footnote. But then what they get from Jim Bunning, besides Commonwealth-wide embarrassment, is anybody's guess.)
McConnell's "Who, Me?" moment this week would be a fitting end to the What The Hell Have Any Voters Ever Actually Received From The Reagan Revolution Era, if only we could be so lucky. I've also spent some time pondering the perfect historian to write its epitaph, in light of David Brooks' funerary oration for the career of Deborah Pryce, the eight-term citizen legislator, former chair of the House Republican Conference, and un-indicted Abramoff Crime Family capo, or, as Brooks would have it, the sotto voce conscience of Republican Motherhood and the tear-jerking story of how she was forced to conduct a Dirty Campaign Only Her Opponent Was Worse. I'm sorry I couldn't find the time Wednesday to dissect the thing before it dissolved into a pool of its own crapitude. Brooks--he's writing for the New York Times, remember, not the South Jersey Auto Trader Monthly--expects us to buy, and share! his professed shock that a Representative sitting down for a fluffy career retrospective would speak of her own participation in ugly campaigning right before excusing herself for it. Another career bound by raising sufficient money to get back to Congress so you can raise more money. That isn't a sad fact of life that Pryce had to steel herself to; it's what she did. Her job was to make sure every Republican voted the same as every other Republican. Tell me who enters politics with that as a driving principle?
And now that her career's over Brooks wants us to imagine she's some sort of independent thinker because in the past few months she's realized Iraq is a disaster. Wow. I remember when these guys were the fearless bloodhounds of abuse of Congressional check-bouncing privileges. Now they can't even tell the cess from the pool. You'll excuse me if my surprise doesn't register.