Joe Biden did a truly astonishing thing this week: he made Mitch McConnell look good!
It happened thus. On Tuesday in Atlanta Biden gave a speech at the Atlanta University Center about voting rights. The Center is in a part of Atlanta with a lot of “Historically Black” colleges.
The gist of the speech was that if Congress doesn't pass legislation to impose federal rules on voting—rules that loosen up voting procedures even more than they were loosened up in 2020 to make sure Donald Trump didn't get elected—if Congress didn't legislate thus, George Wallace would rise from the grave and stand in the schoolhouse door. There'd be an end of Civil Rights, and black Americans would be back where they were in 1952, if not 1852.
I've been struggling to find an adjective to describe the speech. To call it "hyperbolic" would be to understate the matter. It would in fact be an example of litotes, which as every rhetorician knows is the opposite of hyperbole. The most apt adjective for Biden's speech is, I think, "unhinged."
The usually mild-mannered Mitch McConnell took Biden to pieces on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
A President shouting that 52 Senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants is proving exactly why the Framers built the Senate to check his power. This whole display is the best possible argument for preserving the Senate rules that extend deliberation, force bipartisan compromise, and let cooler heads prevail. Nothing proves it better than this episode. It offers a perfect case study in why Senator Biden was right about the filibuster and President Biden is wrong.
“Profoundly Unpresidential,” January 12, 2022
I'm no fan of Mitch McConnell. He's been in the Senate for 37 years, been GOP leader in the Senate for six years, without much to show for it. There are some plain and obvious things that need doing at the federal level: most notably from the point of view of this website, things concerning immigration and citizenship. McConnell hasn't stirred himself to advance any of those things.
We live in wild times, though, with some wild people in power planning wild things, and a president who supports them, and wild destructive mobs to act as their enforcers. At such times there is something to be said for the old, complacent, rule-governed, transactional model of legislative power. That model doesn't get much done; but like ballast in a ship, it may stop the thing capsizing.
So yes: McConnell is a go-along, get-along milquetoast nonconfrontational seat-warmer who is never going to do anything to challenge birthright citizenship, or end our imperial adventures, or ban public-sector unions.
Still, set right up against Crazy Joe like that, McConnell sounds like Pericles by comparison. Well done there, Mitch.