McConnell’s occasional candor

MCCONNELL’S OCCASIONAL CANDOR…. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not someone I’d generally characterize as “truth-oriented.” But he will, on rare occasions, be unexpectedly candid and make important public concessions.

In March, for example, McConnell was surprisingly candid about his decision from the outset to try to kill health care reform, regardless of merit or Democratic compromises, by demanding unanimous Republican opposition: “It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out.” It’s a dynamic that made compromise, quite literally, impossible.

Soon after, McConnell explained the importance he and the House GOP leadership put on “unify[ing] our members in opposition” to everything Democrats propose, because unanimous Republican disagreement would necessarily make Democratic ideas less popular. “Public opinion can change, but it is affected by what elected officials do,” McConnell conceded. “Our reaction to what [Democrats] were doing had a lot to do with how the public felt about it. Republican unity in the House and Senate has been the major contributing factor to shifting American public opinion.”

And at a political picnic in Kentucky yesterday, McConnell expounded on his strategy.

In the course of defending his leadership of the Senate GOP, which he proudly admitted has been memorable for its unprecedented obstruction, McConnell said he had had no choice but to turn seemingly every legislative maneuver, no matter how minor, into a weeks-long procedural slog.

“We decided when they decided they were going to turn us into France, we were going to say no,” McConnell said. “Had we sort of gone over and made everything bipartisan — you know they’re going to run against us as the Party Of No. Well, it depends on what you’re saying no to, ladies and gentleman.”

Now, as a substantive matter, the notion that the Democratic agenda would turn the United States into France is obviously idiotic — the kind of infantile nonsense one might expect from a talk-radio shock-jock, not from a U.S. Senate leader.

But the concession about strategy is nevertheless interesting — on the one hand, McConnell and his caucus have spent a year and a half suggesting that Republicans have taken obstructionism to scandalous and unprecedented depths because Democrats haven’t compromised enough. On the other, McConnell continues to quietly acknowledge that no matter what Dems offer in terms of concessions, McConnell doesn’t want and doesn’t care about cooperation between the parties.

Indeed, just this week, McConnell told reporters that the kind of political “balance” he’ll demand in the next Congress is the kind in which every piece of legislation is “center-right,” with no exceptions, even if there’s a Democratic majority.

There’s still a sense among “serious” observers in the political media establishment that Congress will be more productive next year, after Republican gains leads to more compromise and bipartisan cooperation. One only needs to listen to Mitch McConnell to know how very wrong this assumption is.