There is a new e-book out called The Cynic from New Republic senior editor Alec MacGillis that attempts to shine more light on Senator Mitch McConnell.
MacGillis, also a former Washington Post reporter, has a dim view of the senator, but the Post claims he should not be dismissed. He is thorough and well-trained, unburdened from the constraints of he-said-she-said political journalism.
There aren’t many biographies written about McConnell. For all the commentary about him, McConnell lets in few journalists to his inner circle.
For example, earlier this year, at a Mitch McConnell press conference, the police was called on the news editor for LEO Weekly, Joe Sonka. He was threatened with arrest because Mitch McConnell was afraid that he would ask questions at the press conference.
As another example, journalist Peter Hamby visited the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, hoping to dig into some archives. Unfortunately, he was told, his personal papers are on lockdown until McConnell retires.
In “The Cynic,” MacGillis constructs McConnell’s profile around interviews with more than 75 long-lost friends, colleagues and enemies who have known the subject since their early days. The story begins with a focus on McConnell’s election as Jefferson County judge-executive in 1977, a period the author uses for fresh detail about his early political thinking.
As a Rockefeller Republican running for office in a sea of Democrats, McConnell pleaded for and won an endorsement from the AFL-CIO during his campaign and, once elected, made friends in the pro-choice movement by blocking local measures that would have restricted abortions.
Back in those early post-Roe v. Wade days, the young Republican “had a very feminist perspective” on abortion, recalls one local official who worked with him.
McConnell, a Gerald Ford man in a party drifting rightward in the direction of Ronald Reagan, soon backed away from these positions as he prepared for higher office.
These revelations set the parameters for MacGillis’s overriding thesis: that McConnell has become corroded by money and corporate interests, and cares only about winning the next election instead of solving problems. MacGillis: “In the contest of cynical striving versus earnest service, Mitch McConnell has already won.”
This is not a comprehensive work, and MacGillis keeps to the essentials and skips past his childhood and family life.
There’s a chapter on McConnell’s hardball political tactics and the slashing television ads, half-truths and pernicious innuendo that have characterized many of his campaigns.
An interesting fact: the media consultant on his first Senate campaign, in 1984, was current Fox News president Roger Ailes.
(It is probably also no surprise that Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, is also a contributor to the McConnell campaign.)
MacGillis looks at McConnell’s fierce opposition to campaign finance reform, the animating policy issue of his long career.
It’s a topic MacGillis uses for evidence of the senator’s deference to the coal industry and other corporate monoliths that have an outsize voice in Washington thanks to their financial support of Republicans.
His marriage to Elaine Chao, the daughter of a Taiwanese shipping magnate and who would serve as labor secretary under President George W. Bush, brought a generous flood of donations from Chinese American business interests.
The final chapter examines his time as Republican Senate leader, a period of intense partisanship in which McConnell famously declared that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Like Lyndon Johnson, another Senate titan, McConnell has mastered the rules of the upper chamber and the practice of backroom dealing, even without Johnson’s larger-than-life personality.
MacGillis also looks at the way that McConnell has managed to survive and adapt and does whatever it takes to maintain his grip on power and secure victory in the next election.
This ingenuity conjures up all manner of sinister adjectives, like “insidious” and “devious” and “purely partisan” — and MacGillis never lets you forget it.