Today's New York Times has a softball front-page story on Mitch McConnell and his wife, Elaine Chao. I learned from this story that McConnell and Chao were introduced by the kind of guy who'd probably be considered a suspect subversive if he'd introduced Bill to Hillary or Barack to Michelle:
Mr. McConnell had come to Washington in the 1960s as an intern, and later was an aide in the Senate. He befriended Stuart Bloch, a public interest lobbyist against the Vietnam War who wore a cape and Borsalino hat. ("You have to distinguish yourself," he explained in a phone interview.) The conservative and liberal young men hit it off, sharing dinners and celebrating each other's birthday.It's true -- the former antiwar lobbyist who became McConnell's close friend and introduced him to his wife really does like to flash the peace sign:
In the early 1990s, Mr. Bloch, who was married to Julia Chang Bloch, herself a Chinese immigrant and a future ambassador to Nepal, decided to fix up Mr. McConnell, a bachelor at the time.
Mr. Bloch, now a peace-sign flashing Washington lawyer partial to American flag cummerbunds, oversized sunglasses and the nickname "the Blochbuster," invited the senator to a candlelight dinner with Ms. Chao, a protegee of his wife's.
And Chao is also surprisingly chummy with The Enemy:
But Ms. Chao is less partisan in her socializing. This year, she was a host of a dinner to welcome Penny Pritzker, Mr. Obama's top donor, to the administration as commerce secretary. She spent the evening next to Valerie Jarrett, the president’s closest adviser. "I remember looking across the table and seeing the two of them just laughing," said Catherine Reynolds, a philanthropist and event co-host.And did I mention that McConnell's previous wife, Sherrill Redmon, "went on to become a feminist scholar and collaborate with Gloria Steinem at Smith College"?
On a personal level, McConnell and Chao treat non-conservatives as human beings. But in his day job, McConnell takes a scorched-earth approach to Democrats, liberals, even moderates. The Obama agenda must be crushed. Every bill must be passed with a 60-vote supermajority -- a filibuster is imposed or implied in all cases.
Apart from that blocking-everything-they-want thing, McConnell and Chao are just fine with people who aren't right-wing.
I bring this up because Ana Maria Cox wrote an angry column yesterday in response to the news that Karl Rove had insinuated that Hillary Clinton has brain damage. Rove dropped this stinkbomb in a joint appearance with former Obama advisor Robert Gibbs. Rove and Gibbs have made several such joint appearances (for a $100,000 shared fee); they're like a left/right vaudeville team.
What offends Cox is the chumminess of it all:
I'm not sure which is worse: the idea that Rove and Gibbs might be imparting valuable insider information to these paying audiences at largely closed-door events; or that they've willingly emptied out whatever convictions they have about politics and agreed to play-act as partisans for sheer entertainment value.But, see, the two parties are looking at this differently. Republicans are sociopathic enough to engage in total war with Democrats while maintaining a facade of civility. It's as if Republicans seem to regard it all as pro wrestling, yet they're still trying to send their opponents to the hospital.
It's not a news flash that political debate has morphed into entertainment, but there's something unseemly about the format being commercialized so blatantly. Their glad-handing we're-all-really-friends"appearances – and Gibbs and Roves are far from the only culprits – cheapens any debate about issues or real ideological differences, and gives Americans yet more evidence that party divides are largely for show (and that the real divide in American politics is between the powerful and the powerless). It's not so much that they're friendly with each other -- I'm for being friends! -- it's that they've chosen to link arms and walk on a treadmill of pointless conflict.
What's more, however skillfully Gibbs might argue his ideology and policy with Rove, his convictions are undermined by continued presence on the stage -- especially in this instance, given Rove's outrageous "brain damage" hypothesis. Gibbs refused to comment on the quote, which seems to confirm that Rove did make the accusation, and absolutely makes Gibbs ... complicit in legitimizing it.
Meanwhile, Democrats are in denial of a fact that's hiding in plain sight: because Rove, McConnell, et al., appear to be friendly combatants, Democrats ignore the fact that they're treating politics as a blood sport.
The denial extends to the media -- as I noted yesterday, the press just can't seem to grasp the climate-change nihilism of the GOP, presumably because nice, mainstream-seeming people obviously wouldn't all believe in superstitious nonsense that could permanently harm the planet, would they?
A facade of decency, rationality, and conviviality shouldn't blind the rest of D.C. to the fact that Republicans are nonsense-spewing take-no-prisoners extremists. But it does.