Sunday, August 4, 2013

Has Mitch McConnell Become the Meat Instead of the Master?

That seems to be the case, as Jonathan Miller of The Daily Beast, reports:

The bell rang for Round One of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell's toughest re-election fight—at Kentucky's tradition-seeping annual Fancy Farm picnic. Unfortunately for the GOP leader, the very church-picnic-turned-boxing-ring that he transformed over the years into his own hyper-partisan image, just may have revealed his glass jaw.

[...] it's the one weekend that the most remote area of the state (and one of the country's most economically-struggling regions) receives the full respect and attention of the big city slickers, capital politicos, and budget-debilitated Frankfort press corps. This is grassroots politics at its finest.[...]

Al Cross, the dean of Kentucky political journalists, remembers that Fancy Farm used to be a “traditional community gathering with the focus on the interests of Western Kentucky,” with a small-town, state-fair sort of ambiance.

But that all changed dramatically in the 1980s, when the picnic’s political forum devolved, according to Cross, into “a piece of political theater”: a hyper-partisan, name-calling screaming match, a microcosm of everything that Americans hate about politics.

The primary culprit? Cross points squarely at Mitch McConnell, and few would disagree. Al Smith, a retired journalist who's such a Kentucky legend that the state's major journalism award bears his name, argues that the Senator must assume significant responsibility for the precipitous decline in civility at Fancy Farm: "McConnell was the first with the idea to bus in hundreds of noisy supporters from the rest of the state, and maybe out-of-state as well...[and he] was the first to use the stage as political theater," cutting down his opponents with elaborately designed, choreographed productions, dressing up his staff to make fun of his opponents.[...]

Saturday’s event was no exception. In the hours prior to the speechifying, angry crowds skulked right next to the stage, ready to unleash vocal abuse on their partisan enemies. Even before the headlining speakers cleared their throats, the furious chanting, the blindly acid-laced yelling began in full force. As an eight-time veteran of that stage, I can attest that the noise is so penetrating that it becomes nearly impossible to hear yourself speak. (Check out this 2003 clip in which this soft-spoken Jewish pischer was transformed into Elmer Gantry.)

Due to these unique oratorical challenges—as is usually the case—there were no clear “winners” on the stage Saturday. (Although McConnell’s Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, got off the best one-liner, teasing the obstructionist Minority Leader: “If the doctor told Mitch McConnell he had a kidney stone, he’d refuse to pass it.”)[...]

But while it would be unfair to characterize McConnell as the event’s “loser”—as always, he ignored the Democratic taunts and delivered his prepared remarks crisply, if not charismatically—the Minority Leader took by far the most rhetorical hits.[...]

Perhaps more telling was the lack of enthusiasm from Republican troops for the man who’s been most responsible for turning the state red. Yes, they showed up, wore their “Team Mitch” shirts, and joined in the obligatory anti-Obama chants. But at both the picnic and the GOP breakfast hours earlier, the crowd response was more of the polite and perfunctory variety[...]

There’s the ultimate rub. Over the next fifteen months, the politics-as-warfare construct that McConnell brought to Kentucky—and to Washington for that matter—will force him to battle on two fronts simultaneously, without a passionate base of support upon which he can rely. And in the end, the monster that McConnell helped create—the ugly, resentment-fueled nastiness that’s infected American politics and that despoils an otherwise idyllic Fancy Farm weekend—could ultimately slay its master

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