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Posted at 2:21 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Mitch McConnell's strategic vision

By Conor Williams

In response to Joshua Green's Atlantic profile on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Matt Yglesias claims that McConnell's hit upon a game-changing insight:

Most people don't pay attention to politics very much, and don't have detailed informed opinions about politics. But most people do have reasonably strong feelings about political parties and about political leaders. So most people reason about issues backwards from what elites are doing. Thus if you see Barack Obama propose something and then that something attracts bipartisan support, people generally conclude that it's good. Conversely, if you see Barack Obama propose a series of things that meet with universal GOP condemnation, people generally conclude that these proposals are partisan and extreme. Logically, then, the opposition party should uniformly oppose the President's ideas.

It seems to me that Yglesias -- and by extension, McConnell -- is right about the political mechanics at work. What's strange to me is that this is being hailed as a new insight. Isn't the perception of bipartisanship exactly what Clintonian "triangulation" was all about? Clinton stepped "above" left and right to attract support across traditional party lines and distinguish himself from radical partisans. Presidents throughout American history have included members of the opposing party in their cabinet as insulation against the charge of partisanship.

Of course, McConnell's not up for tenure -- he's after that Majority Leader seat. The remarkable part isn't whether his insight is new, but that he's built a corresponding game plan and executed it better than anyone else in memory.

How is it that Republicans do such a fantastic job building and maintaining unity in their caucus and through their electoral blocs while Democrats haven't? How do they hang together so well? The easy answer is still Will Rogers's: "I'm not a member of any organized party; I'm a Democrat!"

McConnell's got his own answer, which he offers in today's Post: Democratic partisanship is forcing Republicans to band together.

This partisan approach is the main reason Republicans have stuck together over the past few years. In the best traditions of the Senate, we have insisted that the views of those we represent not be ignored. The November election suggested that voters appreciated our stand against partisanship.

He cites Democratic procedural maneuvering as evidence, but this is -- at best -- a partial answer. What about Republican obstruction of uncontroversial judicial nominees? What about the protracted debate over health care? The collapse of the -- bipartisan -- climate bill? When asked to the table, Republicans haven't been willing to negotiate in good faith.

There's a certain genius in McConnell's position, and I think that it's a little deeper than what Yglesias was suggesting: it's not that his refusal to permit bipartisanship is "new," but that he's managed to frame Republican obstructionism explicitly as a defense against partisanship. He's presenting digging in the collective Republican Party heels as a response to partisanship -- successfully. That's innovation. It might not be true, but it's mind-blowingly good political rhetoric.

By Conor Williams  | January 4, 2011; 2:21 PM ET
Categories:  Williams  | Tags:  Conor Williams  
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Just another example of how a large portion of the electorate is just too thoughtless and gullible to be allowed to vote. If you can't figure out what Boehner's doing, realize it's antithetical to how you think the country should be governed, and figure out his interests stymie your own, why should you get to vote.

Posted by: aprilglaspie | January 4, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

let me offer a translation of the following:
Just another example of how a large portion of the electorate is just too thoughtless and gullible to be allowed to vote. If you can't figure out what Boehner's doing, realize it's antithetical to how you think the country should be governed, and figure out his interests stymie your own, why should you get to vote.

Here ya go:

If people won't vote in a manner approved by the above quoted liberal, they should be denied the right to vote.

wow, nothing like being honest about it! I've often believed that this is the fundamental position of those who cherish the liberal dogma. It is kind of heartwarming (in a maalox sort of way) to have some one actually confirm my suspicion.

thank you.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 4, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

It is un-American for Republicans to base all of their decisions on nothing more than partisanship.

So, there you have it, the GOP only worried about their political party, and not even its followers.

Republicans ought to be banned from participating in politics because they're just plain bad for this country.

Posted by: lindalovejones | January 4, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

To paraphrase the Oakland Raiders: "Just posture, baby!"

Posted by: SoCal | January 4, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

OMG, we've got a twofer. Two liberals making the huge mistake of being honest, right here on the WaPo opinion page.

Will wonders never cease!

First we have aprilglaspie telling us that people who don't vote liberal shouldn't vote at all.

then we have lindalovejones (where's the love linda? Where's the love?) telling us that Republicans should be BANNED because they simply don't adhere to the liberal point of view.

I guess we're seeing a new wave of liberal argumentation here. Now instead of prevaricating about the desire to snatch rights from people, they are loudly proclaiming it.

Good luck with that new style kids.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 4, 2011 3:22 PM | Report abuse


Are you suggesting that conservatives don't say the exact same things?

Posted by: Amminadab | January 4, 2011 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Wow! skipsailing28 takes two items posted in a blog and audaciously asserts those two opinions are representative of every liberal in America!

I can play along. Let's see - oh, I know! John Boehner wants to repeal health care reform, so that means he is opposed to American citizens getting their health care needs met, so that means that all conservatives are cruel, mean people who think that poor people do not deserve health care!

See how easy that is?

Posted by: kpharmer | January 4, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse


given the nasty, prejudiced, fact-FREE comments that many of my posts elicit from the leftist/BHO-worshiping lunatics of this forum, i'd say that "skipsailing28" is just about correct.
(there ARE exceptions, but MOST of the "progressives"/LIBs/DIMocRATS are exactly as nasty & filled with UNreasoning HATE & SELF-importance, as "skip" suggests.)

fyi, i've (long ago) lost count of the obscene/MEAN-spirited/nasty/racist/violent emails & phone calls that i've received at home/office, from "PPers", who know who i am "in real life". - so don't preach to me about how "wunnerful, wunnerful & marvlous" that the leftists are, as they daily expose themselves.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | January 4, 2011 5:38 PM | Report abuse

{{so don't preach to me about how "wunnerful, wunnerful & marvlous" that the leftists are,}}

How are the leftists different from all rightists (including you and Skip) who do the same things?

Posted by: Amminadab | January 4, 2011 6:21 PM | Report abuse

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