GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, Not Obama-Care, to Blame for Voters Cynicism

The Times teamed up their heavy hitters, congressional reporter Carl Hulse and chief political reporter Adam Nagourney (pictured), for Wednesday's profile of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: "Senate Republican Leader Finds Weapon in Party Unity - McConnell's Strategy Is Used to Stall Democrats." While paying homage in somewhat rueful tones to McConnell's effectiveness in blocking Obama-care thus far, the Times aggressively questioned whether what McConnell was doing was good for politics.

Never mind that by blocking Obama-care McConnell is obeying the current will of the people, or that the Democrats' cynical and unprecedented parliamentary attempts to pass it without voting on it aren't exactly bolstering the public's faith in Washington.

Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

Republicans embraced it. Democrats denounced it as rank obstructionism. Either way, it has led the two parties, as much as any other factor, to where they are right now. Republicans are monolithically against the health care legislation, leaving the president and his party executing parliamentary back flips to get it passed, conservatives revived, liberals wondering what happened.

In the process, Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.


The extent of Republican unity to date is attributable to some degree to Democratic missteps, as well as to the rise of the Tea Party movement, which has exerted tremendous pressure on Republicans not to do anything that might give comfort to the president and his party.

But it is also testimony to how Mr. McConnell has been able to draw on 25 years of Congressional savvy to display a mastery of legislative maneuvering. Mr. McConnell rejected the criticism that his approach is all about scoring political points by denying Mr. Obama any victories. His opposition, he said, is rooted in a principled belief that Mr. Obama is pushing the nation in the wrong direction.

In a passage that bears Nagourney's stamp, the Times pointed out that the G.O.P. "is a long way from capturing control of the Senate in November." Is that really a fair measurement? After all, the very possibility that the Republicans could actually take back the Senate was improbable just months ago, but now that Republican prospects have so dramatically improved, Nagourney has been putting pressure on the G.O.P. to make the improbable reality, setting the party up as failures if they fall short.

The question now is how much of an enduring gain Republicans might get from Mr. McConnell's blocking strategy. For all his efforts, Democrats could very well pass a health care overhaul in the next week. While he has drawn sharp ideological contrasts that have rallied conservatives after their Congressional defeats in 2006 and 2008, Mr. McConnell is a long way from capturing control of the Senate in November.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell's strategy has left Republicans at risk of being tagged as pure obstructionists and a party without a positive agenda.