The shifting center of gravity

Twenty years ago, Kentucky wasn’t quite as reliably “red” as it is now, but it was still awfully conservative. By the time Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) was seeking re-election in 1990, Republicans had just carried the Bluegrass State in three consecutive cycles.

And yet, consider the message McConnell pitched to voters towards the end of the 1990 campaign, in a spot called, “Fair Share.”

The Huffington Post reached out to the University of Oklahoma Political Communication Center, which houses “the largest and most comprehensive collection of political broadcast advertising in the world,” for a video copy of the ad. The Center did not immediately have access to the video. McConnell’s Senate office, however, did provide a full transcript of the piece, pasted below:

“I’m sure you’ve been watching this mess in Washington. I’d like you to know how I feel about it.

“I haven’t voted for one of these lousy budget packages for years and I won’t vote for this one. It would raise taxes on the wrong people.

Unlike some folks around here I think everyone should pay their fair share. Including the rich. We need to protect our seniors from Medicare cuts too. [emphasis added]

“I don’t care if the President or Congressional leaders twist my arm. I won’t support any deal that isn’t a fair deal for the working families of Kentucky.”

In this context, by the way, McConnell’s reference to the president was H.W. Bush, his Republican ally. What’s more, the commercial was produced in part by Roger Ailes, who went on to launch Fox News six years later.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice the shift over the last two decades. In 2011, McConnell has said he’d rather allow default than allow a debt-reduction deal that doesn’t allow Medicare cuts, and under no circumstances would he even allow the Senate to vote on a measure that asks “the rich” to “pay their fair share.”

In other words, the same message McConnell used to get elected 20 years ago would be considered bleeding-heart communism by McConnell today.

In 1990, McConnell won an election touting tax fairness and protecting Medicare. In 2011, McConnell not only voted for a budget plan to eliminate Medicare, he was also one of only seven U.S. senators to vote for Rand Paul’s truly hysterical budget that, among other things, would have eliminated the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing & Urban Development.

The way in which the political world’s center of gravity has shifted to the hard right over the last two decades really isn’t healthy.