Mitch please

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barney
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Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Mitch please

Post by barney » Tue Mar 24, 2020 5:33 pm

Fascinating article in NYT about a new book that lashes Mitch McConnell, but also has quite a few slaps for the Democrats.

‘Mitch, Please!’ Tours Kentucky and Roasts a Senator

By Dwight Garner

March 23, 2020

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In times of national crisis, it’s important to put past differences behind us. On the other hand, here’s a new book that trolls Mitch McConnell for 500 pages. Can’t a person have a look?

Let’s be sure we’re talking about the same Mitch McConnell. I’m speaking of that most impartial of important American leaders, that great-souled friend of the common man, that subtle thinker and embodiment of joie de vivre whose visage is easy to imagine on Mount Rushmore. I think we have the same guy in mind.

The author of “Mitch, Please!: How Mitch McConnell Sold Out Kentucky (and America, Too)” is Matt Jones, the young founder of a popular sports radio show in Kentucky. On the air, he mixes basketball talk with a salting of news and his upbeat brand of progressive politics. Jones is so popular in Kentucky that he has been encouraged by some Democratic leaders to run for office. He even considered competing for the United States Senate, with the hope of unseating McConnell in 2020.

While considering this race, and to take the temperature of his home state, Jones decided to drive through each of Kentucky’s 120 counties. (Kentucky, why so many counties?) He wanted to understand why McConnell polls so poorly in Kentucky yet is serving his sixth full term in the Senate. “Mitch, Please!” is an account of that road trip.

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You can open to nearly any page of this book and find potent anti-Mitch contumely. “If you are a rational human being with some degree of care for your fellow man,” Jones writes, “then you have to dislike Mitch McConnell and everything he represents.”

He calls McConnell “the most destructive force in American democracy,” a conniver at personal destruction and a night porter furiously intent on making the rich richer. He calls him “America’s most reptilian politician.” He writes that McConnell “will say anything, do anything or take any position if it means helping him gain more political power.”

He notes the ways in which the senator is in thrall to the current president. You get the sense that you would need the Jaws of Life to pry McConnell’s countenance from Donald J. Trump’s fundament.

Some of Jones’s commentary verges on the personal. He calls McConnell a “human sleep aid.” He writes: “To call Mitch a ‘people person’ would be like calling Jared Kushner a ‘self-made man.’” Taking a sip of Ski, a sweet citrus soda popular in Kentucky, “will make your heart beat faster than Mitch McConnell’s when Elaine Chao reads him ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ over his nightly bath,” Jones writes.

Chao, the secretary of transportation and McConnell’s wife, takes a roasting in this book as well. Together they are portrayed as chthonic ringmasters, the Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé of contemptuous partisanship and thoroughgoing bad faith.

Despite the fact that Jones is in a car, this book is not a drive-by shooting. He stops and talks to farmers, coal-town residents, family doctors and many others as prelude to criticizing McConnell’s policies. “When the final history of coal mining in eastern Kentucky is written, McConnell will be one of its chief villains,” he writes.

This book was completed before the spread of the coronavirus. But there are many pages about how McConnell’s health care ideas — “there’s no campaign money in fighting for people’s lives but a lot of money in siding with insurance providers,” Jones writes — could get people killed.

What is “Mitch, Please!” like to read? Here the news is mostly thorns. This is really two books, as if its author were walking a pair of dogs on a bifurcated leash. One of these dogs is dead. This somewhat slows things down.

The live dog, its tail wagging, is the story of Jones’s own life (his single mother is a trailblazing state prosecutor) and his acute, good-natured and often funny impressions about life, culture and politics in his home state. Reading Jones and his co-writer, Chris Tomlin, on Kentucky can be like reading Larry McMurtry on Texas, albeit with more talk about professional wrestling.

The dead dog is the road trip conceit. Once you realize that Jones really is going to drag you through all 120 counties, one at a time, the heart sinks. The trivia piles up; it’s a lawn sale of irrelevancies. He visits a cat-themed used bookstore, the world’s only life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, historical centers, “one of the world’s finest miniatures collections” and a theme park called Dinosaur World.

I was reminded of the scene in one of John Updike’s Henry Bech novels in which Bech, a Jewish writer, is invited on a cultural good-will tour and realizes with horror the sheer number of display cases that his hosts will force him to stare into and murmur politely over.

Jones struggles, terribly, trying to find things to say about each new location. Sample zombie sentences: “I love Whitesburg because it represents the best of America. The people here have very diverse backgrounds and viewpoints yet they work together peacefully and happily for the greater good of the community.” This book, at less than half its size, might have been a minor classic.

Some important things get said. Democrats will always have a hard time in Kentucky, Jones writes, because of the abiding anti-gun control and anti-abortion sentiment. But he fears that his party is abandoning its working-class roots, and that blue-collar Democrats are a vanishing breed.

He writes, in three crucial sentences: “Name me one Democratic national political figure or media member who currently represents rural America. Can you think of one who lives in a small town? Can you think of a notable Democrat with a Southern accent?”

He is just as good on why he decided not to run for office himself. He was disillusioned by the sheer amount of money he would have to raise, and he doesn’t like asking people for money. McConnell is largely responsible, he argues, for the massive amounts of money that now flood elections.

Can Kentucky’s politics change? Can America’s? Jones visits Jackson County, where in 2016 Trump took 89 percent of the vote. In a comment that may presage our national moment, an older woman says to Jones about her county’s Republican bent: “I don’t think it’ll ever change unless something big and crazy happens.”

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