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In Praise of America’s Least-Popular Man

The news has slowed down in the frigid holiday air, as it always does and always should, so we’ll seize the opportunity to say a few kind words about Kentucky’s Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He’s probably the most hated politician in America, which makes our contrarian selves all the more warm to him, and we’re sure he could use some holiday cheer.
All the Democrats hate him, of course, because he’s not only a Republican but also the party’s Senate majority leader and thus bears the most blame for everything the Republicans did to thwart President Barack Obama during the eight years he was in office. Most Republicans also hate him, though, because all the talk radio hosts and the opinion journalists on Fox News have convinced them that McConnell and the rest of the dat-gummed Republican establishment didn’t do nearly enough thwarting. All the independents have a healthy suspicion of anyone from either party, so they also don’t bolster his horrid poll numbers.
We take a more pragmatic measure of man’s public service, on the other hand, and by our accounting McConnell’s done about as well as can be expected.
All those Democrats should be grateful for McConnell’s restraints on the Obama administration. For the first two Obama years there were big Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and there wasn’t much McConnell could do about it when they went for such big moves as Obamacare and that trillion-dollar “stimulus package” and various other budget-buusting do-goodery, which of course led to the not only a Republican majority in the House but a “tea party” majority at that. With the Democrats’ whittled-down Senate majority vulnerable to shrewd filibustering that soon led to half-trillion budget deficits of the George W. Bush administration, and although the Democrats lost the Senate and a lot of governorships and statehouse and county commission seats we suspect it would have been worst if the Democrats had been able to finish their to-do list.
All those Republicans, especially the Trump-loving ones who get their news exclusively from Fox and talk radio, should also give McConnell his due. There wasn’t much McConnell could do to stave off Obamacare and the “stimulus package” in those darks days of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi regime, but he somehow managed to convince the notoriously individualistic Republicans to stand together to deny those abominations a single Senate vote of bipartisan support. Even when the Republicans won a Senate majority to go along with a House majority there wasn’t much McConnell could do about Obama signing executive orders, but McConnell did play a key role in preventing hard-to-undo legislation and forcing Obama to sign executive orders that could just as easily be undone by any old future Republican president, and he did take a lot of heat for cooling a seat on the Supreme Court until any old future Republican president could make the appointment.
Those Trump-loving sorts of Republicans like to boast about all the Obama-era executive orders Trump has undone and that great Supreme Court pick he made, but they’re also the first to spit and cuss at the mention of McConnell’s name. They seem convinced that only Trump would have done what any old Republican president would have done, and that up until Trump the Grand Old Party was q quisling.
All those independents with their healthy of suspicion of anyone from either party should also acknowledge some gratitude to McConnell. He was a restraint on the excesses of the Democratic party during the Obama years, and in subtle but significant ways he’s also been a restraint on the worst excesses of the Trump years. He somehow managed to to herd all the Republican cats in the Senate to get on the big tax cut bill Trump wanted, which is probably going to bust the budget but maybe not to Obama-Reid-Pelosi levels, and he’s put all but Trump’s most egregious judicial nominees on a quick approval process, but he’s also had a more centrist influence. So far the Senate hasn’t authorized anything more than symbolic sums for Trump’s fantasy of a great translucent wall across the the Mexican border, the body remains committed to finding the truth about the “Russia thing,” and whatever quibbles you might have about his policies McConnell you will have to admit McConnell has carried them out in a quite gentlemanly way without any unnecessarily insulting “tweets.”
These days our healthy suspicion of anyone from either party is such that we find ourselves rooting for the effete establishments of both. We’re rooting for those Democrats who won’t go whole hog for Bernie Sanders-style socialism, rooting against the Trumpist Republicans, and hoping that the likes of Mitch McConnell and the rest of the gat-dummed establishment will stick around a while.

— Bud Norman

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The Democrats in the Post-Clinton Era

At this point we haven’t had the chance to pick up a copy of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” a recently released book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, but it’s being so widely quoted in all the papers that we soon won’t need to read it. We should issue a spoiler alert, but apparently the Clinton campaign was very badly run.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, of course, but the early reviewers have been surprised that it was run even more badly than they thought. The authors were granted complete access to the innermost circles of the Clinton campaign in exchange for an assurance they wouldn’t make anything public until after the election, probably because Clinton wanted someone to chronicle her long-presumed victory, and it looked even worse from the inside than it did to the public. Although Clinton had years to plan and plenty of money to spend, as well an ex-president husband and a decades-old political machine, the book describes a series of amateur mistakes, missed opportunities, and a complete lack of a coherent campaign strategy.
The book describes volunteers being sent out to knock on Wisconsin doors with any campaign literature or training, a campaign manager who declined to spend any money on polling in the crucial state of Florida, a once politically astute husband who agreed that Clinton had the state “in the bag,” and a frustrated aide whose warnings that the director Federal Bureau of Investigation’s statements about her e-mail practices should have prompted a change in tactics went unheeded. There’s also a conclusion that the campaign also failed at the fundamental task of providing a persuasive argument why Clinton should be president.
To be fair, making that argument would be a tough job for even the shrewdest and best-run campaign. Clinton was touted as a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and and presumptive First Woman President of the United States, but her time as First Lady was spending defending her sexual predator husband’s appalling behavior, her brief Senate tenure was entirely unforgettable, and her four years as Secretary of State brought nothing but a lot of baggage about re-set buttons and Benghazi and those e-mail practices the FBI found to be “extremely careless” but not quite illegal. She was indisputably a woman, which some voters found a compelling argument for a candidacy, but that was never going win a majority.
She did wind up winning the popular vote by about three million or so, but that only makes it all the embarrassing she couldn’t figure out how get just a few hundred thousand more in Florida and the Rust Belt states that wound up long the electoral vote. That she lost to Donald Trump, who had plenty of baggage and campaign chaos and no relevant experience and the lowest approval ratings of any president on Inauguration Day, does require a book-length explanation.
We expect that most Democrats will gratefully accept Clinton’s awfulness as a candidate and the awfulness of her campaign as the reason their party couldn’t hold on the White House for another four years, because it doesn’t require them to admit that their party’s control for the previous eight years also had a lot to do with it, and that the party itself is in disrepute some key parts of the country. The 40 percent or so of the party’s primary and caucus voters who much preferred the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders have already convinced themselves that their guy would have won, and that all the party has to do overcome the Republican’s majorities in both chambers of Congress and most of the nation’s legislatures and governors’ mansions is to become even more insistent on racial identity politics and high taxes and hyper-regulation of the economy and an ever-expanding welfare state.
In other words, do more of exactly what drove just enough voters in Florida and those Rust Belt states as well as all the more reliable red states into the arms of a thrice-married casino-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam university mogul and reality television star whose only compelling argument for his candidacy was that he was the antithesis of all that.
Had the Democrats chosen former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb or the former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the relative centrists who were knocked out early in the race while polling in the low single digits, we suspect they might have made easy work out of such a flawed candidate as Trump. Some day we’d love to read the inside account of why the party poobahs preferred such a scandal-ridden and charisma-free nominee as Clinton, who was far enough to the left to scare everyone on the right and a whole lot of people in the center without firing up all those Sandersnistas on the left. Trump was scary enough to the left that they would have preferred anyone with a “D” after his or her name, and he was scary enough to a whole lot of people in the center who would have preferred any number of possible Democrats who weren’t Clinton or Sanders, so the Democrats should ponder that.
Trump is now as unpopular as any president has ever been after such a short time in office, and it’s going to take a lot more winning than he’s done so far to change that, so the Democrats are presented with yet another opportunity to blow. They came uncomfortably close to winning a special election here in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District a week ago with a candidate who liked to be photographed firing semi-automatic rifles and talking a fairly centrist line, and they still have a chance in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District with a young whippersnapper who’s cultivating a very pragmatic public image, but in such a reliably Republican district he’s also likely to come up short, so all the Democrats we drink beer with will probably conclude they should have gone full socialist with a transgendered bisexual of some indeterminate race.
Clinton was an awful candidate who ran an awful campaign, awful enough to lose to the likes of Trump, but the Democrats would be well advised to admit they have bigger problems than that. The Republicans are bound to have their own problems with Trump, but they once again might not be enough.

— Bud Norman