Big photos of fellow Kentuckians John Sherman Cooper and Alben Barkley hang on a wall in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Washington office.
He considers the Republican Cooper, a senator and his old boss, and Barkley, a Democrat, Harry Truman’s vice president and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Senate majority leader, his political heroes.
Sen. McConnell, you’re no John Sherman Cooper or Alben Barkley. Both would be sickened by your crassly hypocritical — though not unexpected — vow to green light a Senate vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
McConnell, the Cynic
Alec MacGillis aptly titled his 2014 McConnell book The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell. MacGillis wrote,
At some point along the way, Mitch 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. In the contest of cynical striving versus earnest service, Mitch McConnell already won.
I don’t know if the Cooper and Barkley photos reflect McConnell’s signature cynicism or an astonishing failure to recognize obvious irony. But Cooper and Barkley represent everything in public service that McConnell isn’t and never has been.
Here’s more from MacGillis:
Where Cooper took positions on weighty issues that put him at odds with many in his party and many of his constituents – on civil rights, Vietnam, and much else – McConnell has, by his own admission, been forever attuned to his self-preservation within his party and his state. … In moving rightward with his party, he surrendered himself to the current, rather than fighting against it.
McConnell richly deserves the slings and arrows coming his way from detractors over his about-face on Supreme Court nominations with presidential elections looming.
In his Los Angeles Times column, Nicholas Goldberg tagged the majority leader “the most shameless man in Washington.” Goldberg added that “to rush a new Trump appointee onto the court” is “one of the most nauseating acts of political hypocrisy in decades.”'For McConnell to rush a new Trump appointee onto the court is one of the most nauseating acts of political hypocrisy in decades.' – Nicholas GoldbergClick To Tweet
Goldberg remembered that when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, 2016 — nine months before the Trump-Clinton election — McConnell “simply refused to hold confirmation hearings for [Merrick Garland] Obama’s nominee … and ran out the clock until the following January.”
McConnell “argued — utterly unpersuasively — that a president in the final year of his term shouldn’t be appointing new justices,” according to Goldberg, who called McConnell’s switch “a cynical, partisan reversal.”‘
Back then, there were Cooper and Barkley
“John Sherman Cooper would be appalled at Mitch McConnell,” said Dr. Duane Bolin, a retired Murray State University historian and author. ”Barkley would be, too.”
McConnell interned for Cooper in the mid-60s, when Cooper was among a dwindling number of liberal and moderate Republicans. Dubbed “The Veep,” Barkley was a pro-union, New Deal-Fair Deal Democrat from Paducah who didn’t duck the liberal label.
Both Cooper and Barkley believed that the federal government should play an active role in promoting economic, racial, and social justice. Neither Cooper nor Barkley were given to demonizing the other party. They didn’t believe that compromise necessarily meant craven surrender.
On his first two roll call votes, Cooper sided with the Democrats, angering veteran Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, a leader of the GOP’s conservative wing.
“Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” Taft grilled Cooper. “When are you going to start voting with us?”
Unshaken, the freshman lawmaker responded, “If you’ll pardon me, I was sent here to represent my constituents, and I intend to vote as I think best.”
In 1944, Barkley butted heads with FDR over tax legislation the president vetoed. In protest, Barkley resigned as majority leader, but “was quickly reelected, setting a precedent of autonomy for future congressional leaders,”* James K. Libbey wrote in The Kentucky Encyclopedia. (*McConnell excepted.)
When McConnell was a yeoman in Cooper’s office, the GOP seemed determined to lop off its moderate and liberal wings. Cooper tried to stop the amputations, ultimately to no avail.
He urged the party not to nominate Sen. Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. President Lyndon Johnson drubbed the Republican.
At the same time, Cooper implored the Republicans to spurn the extreme right-wing John Birch Society, an ancestor of the tea party and Trumpism.
Fifty-six years later, Cooper’s party has shifted rightward far beyond AuH2O.
And now, there’s McConnell
McConnell’s values are a far cry from Cooper’s, according to Bolin, who recalled seeing a photo of Cooper that mirrored the senator’s politics.
It shows John Sherman and Lorraine Cooper happily dining at the White House with John and Jackie Kennedy. “They were close friends,” said Bolin.
Unlike Cooper, McConnell has been savaging his Democratic foes since he upset Sen. Walter D. Huddleston in 1984. Right on cue, he’s sliming his current challenger Amy McGrath, a retired Marine jet pilot and a moderate Democrat like Huddleston.
“Kentuckians already know that Extreme Amy McGrath is in lockstep with the socialist agenda supported by Washington Democrats like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer,” says Team Mitch.com. “The fact that Amy McGrath ‘literally’ wants to transform America into a far-left socialist country shouldn’t be surprising since she called herself’ ‘more progressive’ than anybody in Kentucky.”
Team Mitch.com also claims that “if given the chance, McGrath would hike taxes on hardworking Americans, legalize taxpayer-funded abortions, fund Planned Parenthood, open our borders, take away Second Amendment rights, and establish a government-run, single-payer health care system. Senator McConnell stands in the way of the Democrats’ radical, anti-Kentucky agenda, but McGrath embraces it with open arms.
“For Amy McGrath, this race is not about winning a Senate seat, it’s about ending an America that reflects Kentucky values.”
In response, McGrath gives as good as she gets. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing is an immeasurable loss for our nation. And the last thing it should be is a moment for partisanship or petty political fights,” she said in a statement this morning.
“But Mitch McConnell couldn’t wait. He released a statement not even two hours after the news broke last night. And the hypocrisy on display was stunning, even for him.
“When Justice Scalia passed in 2016, Mitch said this: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
“And this is what Mitch said last night: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
“He’s making it clear: He’s always going to do whatever’s best for him and his political party. For Mitch, it’s never been about principles, or precedents, or rules, or laws – it’s only about power.
“He broke Washington, and now he’s willing to light our democracy on fire if he has to in order to get what he wants.”
The bottom line
At least politics is simpler with Cooper’s young protégé all grown up and running the Senate. Whatever Trump wants — or doesn’t want — McConnell aims to please. He’s the president’s super-sycophant.
“McConnell’s bottom line is simply to stay in office and enrich himself and the billionaires who support him. I don’t think he believes in anything,” Bolin said.
I don’t know if McConnell is merely a self-serving cynic or a sincere convert to reactionary, race-baiting Trump-Republican politics. Maybe it’s some of both.
Whatever their shortcomings, Cooper and Barkley were earnest stewards for all Kentuckians, not just the well-heeled and well-connected folks whose dollars McConnell happily pockets and whose bidding he gladly does.
Rank partisanship, demagoguery, and pandering to bigotry are McConnell’s stock-in-trade. They weren’t Cooper and Barkley’s.
They’re not McGrath’s either.
Caricature of Mitch McConnell by DonkeyHotey.