Sunday, July 02, 2017
Mitch McConnell is the Boies Penrose of Today
I recently read a claim that we will look back on Senator Mitch McConnell, the current majority leader and power broker of the Republican Party, the way we now look back on John C. Calhoun. I do not think this is the right comparison. Calhoun was a committed ideologue from beginning to end. Senator McConnell, by contrast, has no real commitments except staying in power. This is why his signal achievements have all been obstruction.
I think we will look back on Mitch McConnell the way we now look back on Boies Penrose. This means:
a) We will think of him primarily as a skilled manipulator of the machinery of politics - a politician, in the pure form; but
b) No one but politics nerds will remember him.
I would guess that very few of my readers will have have ever heard of Boies Penrose. He was a powerful U.S. Senator of a century ago, the head of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. In the words of The American Heritage, he was a "boss" of the gilded age kind, who, "having acquired power, wanted simply to hold on to it instead of parlaying it into something else. ... Among these Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania stood out. ... he was the biggest boss of his day."
What was notable about Penrose was his cynicism about politics, politicians, and, especially, ordinary voters. "Their tastes are very simple;" he said, "they dearly love hokum." And he supplied it to derail reformers and good government leaders. He stayed in power for more than a quarter of a century, spiting his enemies until death took him.