Mitch McConnell: The most honest man in Washington
There are politicians who lie and exaggerate and spin. Who never tell you what they're really doing, or why they're doing it. Who wrap their partisanship in the prettiest of platitudes and swear that they're looking for agreement when in fact they're looking for victory. Mitch McConnell is not one of them. Mitch McConnell, in fact, is the most honest man in Washington. He seems to almost delight in explaining how the Senate really works in this day or age. And at this point, thanks to his laudable efforts, there's really no excuse for anyone to remain confused.
There was the time, shortly before the midterm election, that he said that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." There was the time he told the Atlantic's Josh Green that “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals, because we thought -- correctly, I think -- that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan."
If these were mere missteps, McConnell's communications staff would've scolded him and told him to be more careful with the press. But they're not. On Tuesday, McConnell sat down with Politico's Mike Allen for a free-ranging discussion on politics. Here's what he said:
MCCONNELL: If the president is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway, we’re not going to say no and –
ALLEN: But that’s not much of a concession. That’s not bargaining, to just give you what you want.
MCCONNELL: Um, I like to think I’m a pretty good negotiator.
Those three comments outline the three most important dynamics driving the modern political system. (1) The top priority of the minority party is getting back into power. (2) Being bipartisan is bad politics, as it makes the country think the majority is doing a good job. And (3) bipartisanship increasingly relies on the lowest-common denominator, the things everyone "would do anyway," not the things they can be persuaded to do as part of a more ambitious deal.
None of this would matter very much except for the presence of the filibuster. If not for the filibuster, it wouldn't much matter that the Senate minority leader was an unreconstructed partisan who called bipartisanship bad politics and compromise a dirty word. And so it's notable that the leadership of both parties have decided to leave the filibuster -- and, thus, the system -- just the way it is. McConnell doesn't present himself as some brave truth-teller. This is just the way things are, and he sees no problem with it, and thus no reason to change it. The question is why so many of his colleagues appear to agree.
Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press.
| January 26, 2011; 2:24 PM ET
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