Tag Archives: asymmetric polarization

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.