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January 13, 2014 11:52 AM Putting on the Bipartisan Mask

By Ed Kilgore

It’s really become hard for pundits to maintain the “both sides are equally to blame” position on partisan and ideological polarization these days. But it’s a lot easier than the “it’s all the fault of Democrats” pose.

Still, if I were required to make that case, the last person on earth I’d choose as my mouthpiece is Mitch McConnell, the man who fought tooth and nail against any Republican cooperation with Barack Obama from practically the moment of his inauguration. Yet here he is at Politico Magazine weeping big crocodile tears for the Senate of yore:

[W]hen you look at the vote tallies for some of the more far-reaching legislation over the past century, for example, the Senate was broadly in agreement. Medicare and Medicaid were both approved with the support of about half the members of the minority.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed with the votes of 30 out of 32 members of the Republican minority.
Only six senators voted against the Social Security Act.
Only eight voted against the Americans With Disabilities Act.
None of this happened by throwing these bills together in a back room, then sending them to the floor with a stopwatch running. It happened through a laborious process of persuasion and coalition-building. It took time and patience and hard work.

It also took a Republican Party very different from the one we have right now. Is there any doubt that if Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican Conference had been around, none of these bipartisan accomplishments would have seen the light of day (except via filibuster-proof Democratic majorities)? At a time when conservatives seek high and low for ways to block-grant Medicaid and voucherize Medicare (so that they can eventually “wither away”) and privatize Social Security; consider Voting Rights Act enforcement an invitation to “voter fraud;” and view regulations like ADA as job-killing burdens on American business and the main source of slow economic growth; it’s very strange for McConnell to tout them as the glories of the Senate. But it is another indicator that the senior senator from Kentucky is a breathtakingly cynical man.

UPDATE: In a piece on GOP opposition to a UI extension, Mike Tomasky notes that in a similar confrontation in 2010, another Kentucky senator, Jim Bunning, was a lonely voice against an extension. He was succeeded in the Senate by McConnell’s current colleague, Rand Paul, who was among the first to denounce the present extension as undermining the willingness of beneficiaries to work.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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