With a straight face, Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell told KET’s statewide audience, “Secretary Grimes’ whole campaign has been designed to deceive people into thinking she’s someone she isn’t.” I had to laugh at the irony of the chameleon-aire seeking to soil his challenger with his own DNA during Monday night’s hourlong debate. It’s Mitch’s twisted version of swiftboating — cynical disingenuousness guaranteed to make your head explode unless you laugh and puke a little to relieve the pressure.
The master of manipulation was seeking to foment fear and uncertainty, but Grimes defined herself as principled and passionate — two crucial traits that elude McConnell. He was engaged, though not very engaging, as his intermittent snickering cast an aura of complacency amid a notoriously costly, canned and callow campaign. Stylistically, it was a rerun of Fancy Farm: Grimes’ shock-and-awe vs. McConnell’s yawn-and-fart.
McConnell is saddled with the hardest sell of his three decades in Washington. He purports to be the change agent in the race, but his conservative positions largely support the status quo among an electorate hostile to business-as-usual. He routinely blames President Barack Obama for all that ails the nation, but critics blast McConnell — whose top priority was to deny the President a second term — for political sabotage. Others hyperbolically have accused McConnell of treason — but obstructionism, hypocrisy, greed and gridlock resonate more widely, fueling unprecedented disapproval of Kentucky’s senior senator.
His defiance of grassroots initiatives supported by Grimes may advance the narrative that he’s out of touch with struggling Kentuckians. Raising the minimum wage, he insists, would thwart job creation. By that logic, cutting wages would grow jobs. But there are other priorities — like fairness and dignity for working stiffs. Who let wages stagnate amid years of economic growth? People get creative when they can’t earn a living. Some get on disability — to be bashed by policymakers of mass desperation. The middle class remains under siege — while the uber-rich and China conspire with Mitch, according to Curtis Ellis’ “Mitch McConnell’s China Syndrome.”
Discerning viewers of nuance noticed an empathy divide between the candidates. Grimes agonized for struggling, suffering Kentuckians — including students beset by staggering debt — McConnell blithely dismissed relief championed by her and luminary Sen. Elizabeth Warren as another pesky tax burden. One gets the sense of a disconnect between Mitch and the peons who get peed on. McConnell, 72, seems increasingly detached from ordinary Kentuckians and hardships. Despite a rocky federal rollout, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act last summer won critical praise from reliable sources. Paul Krugman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, wrote, “While it has been funny watching the right-wing line to its delusions about health reform, it’s also scary. After all, these people retain considerable ability to engage in policy mischief.”
I’m not in the habit of paraphrasing Charleton Heston, but if McConnell wants to kill Obamacare, he’ll have to pry my policy out of my cold, live hands. His stated willingness to spare Kynect, Kentucky’s online health exchange, is deceptive. In “How Kentucky Got Obamacare Right,” Time correspondent Steven Brill wrote: “When I asked McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore to clarify how people could keep Kynect if the subsidies and Medicaid expansion provided by Obamacare were repealed, she insisted that I put the question in writing.” He got a generic non-response.
McConnell peppers his pitch for another term with the prospect of more power — as Senate majority leader. Frankly, I don’t trust him not to abuse it. His obsession with dismantling the Affordable Care Act “root and branch” is hazardous to our health.
This surreal, wretchedly excessive campaign cycle underscores the necessity for meaningful campaign finance reform. But it seems satisfactory to Mitch.
The best reason to ditch Mitch is that we deserve better leadership. Our congress deserves a partner who puts people before power and acts in good faith, celebrating bipartisanship and “loyal opposition.” Grimes has sacrificed untold time and treasure in this extraordinary challenge. She’s earned the privilege of becoming Kentucky’s first woman U.S. senator. Her surviving grandmother, Elsie Case; Jennifer Moore of Emerge Kentucky; and First Grandlady Hilary Clinton, who graces our fair city today to campaign with Grimes, all deserve to see the Commonwealth transcend Mitch’s time warp and move forward.