McConnell And Asymmetric Polarization

I have previously made my opinion of Mitch McConnell very clear–he has been far more destructive of American constitutional governance than Trump.

America actually lucked out with Trump–a self-engrossed buffoon too incompetent, too ignorant, and too mentally-ill to do the permanent damage to which he aspired. McConnell, on the other hand, understands government and how to manipulate the arcane rules of the Senate to achieve truly evil results.

In the wake of the Georgia special election that allowed the Democrats to take control of the Senate, Jennifer Senior wrote a column for the New York Times that echoed my own reaction:

So tell me, Mitch, in these, your final hours as Senate majority leader: Were the judges and the tax cuts worth it?

Were they worth the sacking of the Capitol? The annexation of the Republican Party by the paranoiacs and the delusional? The degradation, possibly irremediable, of democracy itself?

Those close to him say that Mitch McConnell has his eye on his legacy, now more than ever. But I wonder whether he already understands, in some back bay of his brain where the gears haven’t been ground to nubs, that history will not treat him well.

Senior points out that McConnell plays the “long game,” and that he never does anything unless it serves his personal interests.

He’s methodical in his scheming, awaiting his spoils with the patience of a cat. So if hitching his wagon to a sub-literate mob boss with a fondness for white supremacists and a penchant for conspiracy theories and a sociopath’s smirking disregard for the truth meant getting those tax cuts and those conservative judges … hey, that’s the cost of doing business, right?

Suddenly, incomprehensible as it must seem to him, McConnell is being out-eviled from the right. And that reality is finally beginning to dawn on the media outlets that have aspired to “fairness” by framing contemporary politics with a patently false equivalence–ignoring the fact that the GOP has been moving to the right much, much faster (and much, much farther) than the Democrats have moved to the left, in what political scientists term “asymmetrical polarization.”

(Actually, the Democrats are simply returning to their previous position(s) after also moving right in a misconceived effort to out-Republican the GOP. See, among other things, Bill Clinton and welfare reform…)

Senior writes that, chief among the reasons for this state of affairs is  that the G.O.P. has run what she calls “a decades-long campaign to delegitimize government. Run against it long enough, and eventually you have a party that wants to burn the system to the ground.”

What really struck me about Senior’s column was her recitation of things I hadn’t previously known about McConnell–what you might call philosophical U-Turns if you are gullible enough to believe that McConnell ever genuinely embraced a moral agenda. She notes that he had “a youthful fling” with the civil rights movement, before enthusiastically embracing Nixon’s southern strategy, and that he was once pro-choice (!).

Those of us who follow public policy already knew that McConnell had joined the majority of Congressional Republicans in abandoning the GOP’s purported concern over deficits in favor of tax breaks for the rich and subsidies for favored businesses. And then…

When preserving power prerogatives overtook his party’s concerns about the former Soviet Union? No problem. McConnell refused to hear out warnings about Russian interference until weeks before the 2016 election (at which point he buried them), and he refused to consider bipartisan legislation that would attempt to curb foreign meddling until he earned himself the moniker “Moscow Mitch.”

When his party went from free trade to nativist populism, powered by xenophobia and racist resentment? Not a problem. He’d side with the populists, including their dangerous Dear Leader, until his workplace was overrun, five people were dead and the Constitution itself was among the critically injured.

Norman J. Ornstein, as usual, is analytically spot-on, describing McConnell and the radical Republicans who followed and then eclipsed him in perfidy as embracing an “ends-justify-the-means philosophy” in which winning is more important than governing.

It’s true that American politics is polarized. It is demonstrably not true that the Democrats have gone far to the left. It may look that way to the casual observer because, next to today’s semi-fascist GOP, sanity looks “left.”

We are looking through an Overton Window. It needs to shift.


  1. Well done. I thought asym polarization started becoming evident the day Bush 43 handed the keys to our federal government to his VP. Then Sarah Palin happened. But the people who followed McConnell are not radical Republicans. They’re American fascists.

  2. Very provocative argument to frame a better understanding of current political dilemma(s). My political filter is anchored as a progressive conservative: fiscally conservative social progressive. My far right friends argue I am just a closet liberal, the worst kind. My far left friends say I am just a fence sitter who cannot decide. Thank you for raising the light on The Overton Window. I encourage everyone to click on the link provided by Sheila at the end of today’s excellent post. I played a role in “the situation room” during height of Dallas court ordered school desegregation late 70’s. The example demonstrating how The Overton Window works to define reconcilable possibilities within a shifting frame of education policies are very real. Will, for example, Liz Cheney survive outside The Overton Window in Wyoming politics or does she have the base of support to shift the window? As for Moscow Mitch, his consummate power shifts (short game at the 18th) overshadows what will become his dark legacy. His shorts now look like a wad entangled around his ankles. Not a very regal exit off center stage.

  3. McConnell still holds the fate of this impeachment, the government and this nation in his hands because, “As McConnell goes, so goes the U.S. Senate”. His interests are still his own; not that of the Constitution he swore to uphold but has ignored unless and until it benefited his personal beliefs. Would it be safer for the country and safer for the actual lives of Republicans if the impeachment vote was a secret vote as that of the Republicans against Rep. Liz Cheney?

    Reported on CNN Newsroom this morning; Qanon is using a citizen movement from 1871 to claim that Donald Trump will rightly be inaugurated as president on March 4th, the original inauguration day, to maintain the loyalty and support of its members and supporters. They also claim that President Biden is not in Washington, D.C., but somewhere in California. Below I copied and pasted information from Wikipedia regarding The Sovereign Citizen Movement.

    “The sovereign citizen movement is a loose grouping of American litigants, commentators, tax protesters, and financial-scheme promoters. Self-described “sovereign citizens” see themselves as answerable only to their particular interpretations of the common law and as not subject to any government statutes or proceedings.[1] In the United States, they do not recognize U.S. currency and maintain that they are “free of any legal constraints”.[2][3][4] They especially reject most forms of taxation as illegitimate.[5] Participants in the movement argue this concept in opposition to the idea of “federal citizens”, who, they say, have unknowingly forfeited their rights by accepting some aspect of federal law.[6] The doctrines of the movement resemble those of the freemen on the land movement more commonly found in the Commonwealth, such as Australia and Canada.”

    You can also Google the article in Newsweek, February 9, 2021, for a full report regarding the Qanon movement.

  4. I’m still chuckling over the comments yesterday about Biden and the Democratic Party. Really, John, “Jesus Christ?”

    I guess if Biden is akin to Jesus Christ, then Mitch must be the anti-christ – Satan himself. It would certainly make sense and puts everything into perspective.

    Except for the facts.

    Biden will not be going after Wall Street any more than he is allowed by Wall Street. If the financial oligarchy wants to give the Democrats a political win for the “long game,” it will happen. If not, the DNC-controlled politicians will follow the rules.

    As for Senior’s comment about McConnell, “he never does anything unless it serves his personal interests.”

    What percent of our population fits that description?

    The Democratic Party had a chance to show the world how committed they were to “democracy” many times over the last several decades but whiffed. In 2007, Obama promised he’d close the Guantomino Bay facility. It’s still open.

    Instead of holding the DNC accountable for working against Bernie Sanders, we spent four years and extraordinary resources chasing a Russian rabbit down its hole.

    The most recent opportunity for the DNC to show backbone is to hold the oligarchs accountable for funding the organizations behind the Capitol Hill riot. You can’t call it an “insurrection” but then ignore the financiers responsible. Throwing Trump under the bus for being solely responsible is a joke. It’s the same theater the party used with the Russia scapegoating while the media plays along.


  5. Another excellent essay. If you have not read Jane Mayer’s report about Moscow Mitch from the New Yorker, it is worth the read. I never had a clear idea about what an awful human being he is until I read it. It is titled “How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler In Chief”.

  6. Of course McConnell is a scumbag. He’s a Republican without a soul, without a moral compass and without ethics. That last sentence is a redundancy.

    Todd likes to blame Biden and the Democrats for being all sorts of things they aren’t, but he cannot deny that McConnell and the Republicans are so far down the corruption rabbit hole that they will, thankfully, never recover.

    Funny comment yesterday on Nicolle Wallace’s show: McCarthy is such an awful leader and person that he actually makes McConnell look pretty good. Then, that bar is so low as to be invisible.

  7. Bernie Sanders gave us a push out of the Overton Window. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

  8. My doctor tells me that I shouldn’t read anything from the The Mackinac Center early in the morning. It’s not good for my heart/blood pressure.

  9. Todd,

    For real! Those words I posted were not my own, they were from Biden himself! He’s the one who says going to church allows him to stay grounded and keep his promises to do right by everyone in the United States. In other words, the lesser ones, the children, the widows, and the foreign residents. Biden’s words taken right from Scripture.

    I can’t dispute what he’s said, because his thought process is correct for a Christian, and correct for a Jew!

    As I was perusing previous comments on threads up to almost a little more than 3 years ago, I ran across scriptural predictions that exactly foretold what’s happening right now. Don’t take my word for it, go back and look for yourselves. I believe we discussed the money changers, the ghettos, slavery, Nazi-ism, fascism, all of these previous comments from years past pertain to what’s happening right now! And, as I recall, how many of the regular commenters pooh-poohed these things at the time!

    Jumping on a bandwagon, really does no good! Those who were at the Capitol building insurrection, were no different than the Nazi followers who went along with burning the Reichstag down, but as Sheila said, they were really “know nothings” in the truest sense. So, when the Nazis came to power everyone just went along because, who’s not up for a good capital sacking, or a good book burning? Or a good lynching? Or a load lightning self aggrieved tirade against everyone but yourself?

    To destroy a democracy, you actually need to be a democracy! The Greeks figured their system of government was Democratic enough to last, it wasn’t. Their democracy was bent on war, and slavery, and conquest! After Alexander died, there Democratic ideals went right down the toilet, they were an illusion. So the deluded devolved into civil war, and as Abraham Lincoln said about us, a house divided cannot stand!

    So as Abraham Lincoln so deftly noted, we have the same issues here, our form of government was not and still is not inclusive! So how can you have a democracy if there is so much exclusivity? Our “democratic” government consisted of White, evangelical Protestant, Landowning, Misogynistic, Self-aggrandizing Wealthy Slaveowners! The Constitution was written by them, so, even with addendum’s and amendments, how did that change the thought process?

    You have those who’ve been embedded in government, in every branch, the legislative, the judicial, and the executive, that believed in originalism! Well, if you believe in originalism, you cannot believe in equality, nor can you believe in true democracy or Democratic values!

    It’s really not rocket science, this great experiment is not really a great experiment, because this experiment has been floated before, and it’s failed before. But, when the map tells you that the bridge is out, but you figure the people that wrote the map couldn’t have really sent you on a course of self-destruction, well, your fate is sealed!

    This entire mess needs to be ripped up and rewritten without the exclusivity and with inclusivity!

    But the die has been cast, it’s been written about by many and ignored by most. The end of this form of government is on the horizon, how far? Probably not too far, because right now, all of the things that could never even of been thought about in the beginning, are in place right now, communications, financial pathways, a self aggrieved and self deluded population based on rapid communication and social media, a powerful and wealthy ruling class, and armed militias that are all too willing to turn their weapons on their fellow citizens! And, let’s not forget the lack of fiduciary ethics!

    This parallels Greece, Rome, and also parallels the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Even though most of the Nazi beliefs came directly from this country and its fascist belief system, Constitution be damned.

  10. So, looking forward, what might Mitch believe is his best course… all things considered? He is already assured six more years in the Senate. He and his wife have enough money to support everyone on this blog and then some. He has filled the courts with his kind of justices, and he and his rich friends have the IRS by the b—s. Legacy you say? What would seal the deal to be remembered as the man who “saved” the GOP? If that is all there is left to achieve, what will Mitch do?

  11. Mitch’s legacy is already secure – the judiciary. I’m 39, so not exactly knocking on heaven’s door yet, and judges from Mitch will be in place for the rest of my life. 50 years of locked in, right-wing judges is a pretty solid legacy.

  12. As Theresa so wisely stated; Mitch McConnell’s chosen course will little effect his status, or his legacy, which has been assured for the next six years and his wealth will remain in his control. A bit of comfort from Denzel Washington; “There will be no U-Haul behind his hearse, he can’t take it with him.” His legacy began to be set by his denial of hearings on President Obama’s judicial nominees and appointing any and everyone whose name Trump put before the Senate. President Biden cannot “unseat” Trump’s choices such as Kavanaugh, Gorsuch and Amy What’shername. McConnell’s legacy is set nationally in Article III, the Judicial Branch of this government, only death or resignation can change those appointments. The Judicial system has the final say on salvaging or removing all actions taken by Trump or those which will be rendered in effect by President Biden and all who follow him.

  13. I would love to be privy to the discussions going on within the Republican caucus. Are they all like Mitch merely without conscience calculating what actions will continue their government jobs? Are they merely lazy ideologues never questioning where this bandwagon is going?

    One thing is obvious, and that is that there are no mentions of the Constitution, democracy, or what’s best for the country. It’s almost all how to blame Democrats and avoid accountability.

  14. First of all in judging McConnell if you think he is worried about his legacy you would be wrong. McConnell is all about power: The power to obstruct or the power to approve. Nothing else matters to McConnell. The Trumpet was a shooting star that burned itself out. The Trumpet was a useful dupe in terms of McConnell retaining power.

    The judges McConnell rammed through are Right Wing Reactionary ideologues, in this respect McConnell is a hero to the bible thumper’s and steroid corporatism.

    The filibuster is one of those road blocks McConnell can continue to use that needs to be eliminated.

    Stacey Abrams, “Democrats in Congress must fully embrace their mandate to fast-track democracy reforms that give voters a fair fight, rather than allowing undemocratic systems to be used as tools and excuses to perpetuate that same system,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in which she endorsed getting rid of the filibuster.

    “This is a moment of both historic imperative and, with unified Democratic control of the White House and Congress, historic opportunity.”

  15. Apparently Todd thinks it is okay that a geopolitical enemy of the U.S., Russia, interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win and that the Trump campaign warmly welcomed that help.. That finding was not just in the Mueller Report. That was also the unanimous finding of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was led by a Republican and had a majority of Republicans on the committee.

    What is sad is that Mitch McConnell is not even the worst Senator from Kentucky. Rand Paul holds that title.

  16. There are solutions to JoAnn’s lament on Mitch’s efforts to pack the court – add seats to the court (which would also provide a damper on right wing appellate court decisions) – and as to massive tax breaks for the already rich corporate class – repeal such giveaways and increase their ridiculously low tax rates (see 92% at one point under a Republican, Eisenhower). We the victims of Mitch have many weapons at our disposal, including adoption of Senator Warren’s wealth tax proposal and a Tobin Tax on transfer of securities (the latter already in effect elsewhere).

    Eminent economists such as Stiglitz and Piketty are wealth tax aficionados, and so am I. Piketty discusses the moral justification for the non-taxability of great wealth inherited by those who had nothing to do with its acquisition in his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, my secular bible. There is no justification.

    As for Mitch, he, among other demonstrations of power and with Russian sanctions at his beck and call, suddenly decided that we should go easy on Putin at or about the same time a Russian oligarch decided to build a big aluminum plant in recession-stricken Ashland, Kentucky. Coincidence? Payoff? Too bad banks in Zurich are so secretive. . .

    There are not enough bad words in the lexicon to describe Mitch, and my only comfort is in knowing that he, like the rest of us, cannot take it with him. When Jack Benny was told that he couldn’t take it with him, he said he wouldn’t go, but he did – and so will Mitch.

  17. That Mitch, of the McConnell sort, is nothing but a dirtbag, and other descriptors not meant for prime time family viewing!
    As others have pointed out, he has nothing but his own greedy interests at heart. Once believed, recently, that he cared about his legacy, but now think that he does not give a damn, because he will not leave the Senate until he goes thawed of all flesh, and then it “Will not be my problem; screw ’em.”
    Biden, and company need to play as much hard ball with him as they can. destroying the Filibuster would be a great place to start. then reversing those obscene tax cuts.

  18. I think the GOP is heading towards becoming a party that will model itself on the crazies who took control of a portion of the US and renamed it Gilead in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” If you haven’t read it, please do and then tell me I’m wrong.

  19. I will have to say, everyone’s on point today!
    ML, Paul, Gerald, Mitch, Pete, to name a few!
    It really isn’t difficult to see the handwriting on the wall, Sheila alluded to history being cyclical or repeating itself, and, no truer statement has been made about this situation brewing today. Once again, I encourage everyone to look up the meaning of “power lust!” (A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence) And tell me that doesn’t exactly describe the GOP today, err, I’m sorry the Q-OP, LOL!

  20. For years I have been quipping: If you want to read the future history of the United States, read the Handmaid’s Tale.

    A while ago, Margaret Atwood explained (I think I remember reading) that she modelled some of the ceremonies in the book after rituals she observed at Harvard when she was there in the 50s, a thoroughly sexist place, for all the deep learning and implied commitment to the betterment of humanity. The irony is rich indeed. Good intentions are rarely good enough.

    Isn’t politics the art of the possible? It is wonderful to hear Biden refusing to surrender to the benefit of the doubt that Republicans have been milking for decades.

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