From 'The Great Compromiser' to 'The Great Debaser' Skip to content

From 'The Great Compromiser' to 'The Great Debaser'

3 min read

I was cooking on this column about Mitch McConnell’s latest descent into demagoguery when I got stuck.

The Senate majority leader serially slimes Democrats. So I was having a hard time finding new words to describe his dissembling that the Democrats are the party of mob rule.

“Cynical” is still the best synonym for “McConnell.” But it’s taken. The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell is the title of Alec MacGillis’s must-read biography of Might-Makes-Right Mitch.

So, in my quest for fresh material, I turned to Kentucky history, a subject I taught for two dozen years. I hit paydirt in the Civil War-era Louisville Journal, the Bluegrass State’s leading pro-Union paper.

Blusters and raves like a bedlamite,” “has no scruples” and “monstrous conduct” jumped off the page at me. But there were plenty more nuggets to mine.

Congressman Henry Burnett

The object of the Journal’s disaffection was rabidly rebel Congressman Henry C. Burnett of Cadiz in western Kentucky, McConnell-Trump territory today.

Like McConnell (and Trump), Burnett was a right-winger who was stuck on himself and who pandered to the worst in the body politic. (While the pro-slavery Burnett was flat-out for white supremacy, McConnell blows the dog whistle, and the white folks hear it loud and clear.)

The paper poured it on Burnett, the First District’s guy in Washington in 1861: “He may console himself with the reflection that no one can retort by calling him a dog, for he is ‘A creature / Whom ‘twere base flattery to call a dog.'”

(Burnett hated the Journal, an ancestor of McConnell’s hometown Courier-Journal, which is not his favorite read.)

Anyway, the Journal jabbed that Burnett could “pride himself in the consciousness that although he may not wear a dog’s collar, he has brass enough in his impudent forehead to furnish all the dogs in creation.”

Congress booted Burnett after he sneaked away and helped organize Kentucky’s bogus Confederate “government” early in the war. When the Yankees arrived, he hightailed it to Richmond, joined the enemy legislature and toadied to Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president.

Even before he skedaddled from loyal Kentucky, the Journal suggested that Burnett was “admirably qualified for the office of Blackguard Extraordinary and Scullion Plenipotentiary to the Court of Jeff Davis, for his brain is as feeble as his lungs are forcible and his mouth is as dirty as a den of skunks.

Senator Mitch McConnell

Blackguard Extraordinary and Scullion Plenipotentiary to the Court of Jeff Davis

McConnell is Trump’s top Senate sycophant.

Blusters and raves like a bedlamite…has no scruples

Kentucky’s longest-tenured senator, peeved over the Brett Kavanaugh controversy, hissed that the Democrats egged on “mob behavior” by upholding the constitutional right of citizens to protest Judge Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court.

McConnell hit gutter-bottom when he linked the protestors—and by extension the Democrats—to the unhinged gunman who shot and wounded, one seriously, some Republican lawmakers practicing for a baseball game last year.

Monstrous conduct…Brass enough in his impudent forehead

McConnell sneered that the opposition to Kavanaugh was “only Phase One of the meltdown.” Democrats, according to McConnell, were “happy to play host to this toxic fringe behavior.”

Great leaders emerge “when ambition changes from self to something larger,” presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said on The Beat with Ari Melber Monday night.

McConnell is mired in the “ambition-self” stage.

Somewhere along his path to power, “McConnell decided that his own longevity in Washington trumped all – that he would even be willing to feed the public’s disillusionment with its elected leaders if it would increase his and his party’s odds of success at the polls,” MacGillis wrote, adding that he thus elevated “cynical striving” over “earnest service.”

Ironically, McConnell sits in Henry Clay’s Senate seat. Historians rank Clay as Kentucky’s greatest statesman for brokering a trio of compromises to preserve the Union and stave off civil war.

Clay, who died in office in 1852, went down in history as “The Great Compromiser.”

Perhaps for McConnell, who is debasing democracy for his own aggrandizement, “The Great Debaser” is a good historical handle.


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All results from Tuesday’s primary

All results from Tuesday’s primary

Here’s a list of all the results from Kentucky’s 2024 primary election that were reported on the Board of Elections site. These include federal, state legislative, and some judges and county attorneys.

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