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“African American voters cast ballots at similar rates to Americans.”

– Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

You may have momentarily frozen in shock when you heard the above statement. Not so much because he thinks that way, but that the reliably cagey McConnell would have such a lapse in judgment as to say it out loud.

Nobody does the mightily offended shtick like Mitch McConnell. After the speech in Louisville caused a firestorm of outrage, he defended his revealing remark by saying that he attended Rev. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963, as if that alone should convince the most hardened skeptic that he couldn’t possibly harbor bigoted notions.

McConnell hails from Kentucky, deep in the heart of the land of cotton fields and cavaliers, where the thought of African Americans attaining the same privileges white people have enjoyed all these years puts a sour taste in the mint juleps.

This is the same guy who can sound positively wounded when anyone exhibits partisanship after he refused to even allow a debate on a Democratic president’s nominee for the Supreme Court when McConnell held domain over the Senate. Better to keep the slots open for the coterie of second-string jurists installed by the next administration. Mitch swept off the welcome mats and progressives in America preparing for the worst.

There really are two groups who check the little Republican boxes on voting ballots today. One of these groups can boast that Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan were once standard bearers. I never agreed with much of anything that Reagan stood for, but he was an affable reflection of the extent of cruelty that conservative policies can inflict on the less fortunate among us.

If it isn’t a particularly admirable trait, it is, at least, a deeply felt one among those whose field of vision doesn’t extent too far beyond their own front door. Despite the fact that over 860,000 Americans have died of coronavirus, they don’t want their freedom interfered with. A woman in Page County, Virginia threatened to bring guns to school if her children were required to wear masks.

Maybe it’s a vision problem in the broadest sense of the term. Peter Navarro, a dedicated lackey to our previous president saw “nothing but peaceful people” on Jan. 6.

Whatever the cause, I think it is probably fair to say that both Ike and The Gipper would draw back in horror at what GOP politics have devolved to today. The decline is probably as evident as it is distasteful to people like Mitch McConnell, but the old political warhorse is savvy enough not to object too strongly.

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After all, it is easier to adjust standards than it is to lose your job.

The word “cult” is constantly being used to describe the avid supporters of the nation’s last president, who comprise the other, much louder segment of the Republican Party. The damage that this one man did to both the ethical and moral fabric of this country still resonates in America, as evidenced by the Mt. Everest-size uphill battle that President Biden has had to scale since he took office a year ago.

If our previous president did nothing else, he exposed the fact that many of the things that politicians thought they could never get away with saying or doing were perfectly permissible if your appeal touched upon the worst aspects and impulses of a large enough segment of American society. Who said you couldn’t do a shameful imitation of a man with a physical disability and survive politically? Who said that you couldn’t tell the grieving widow of a fallen serviceman that her husband “knew what he was getting into”? Cavorting with porn stars? Calling American service people “suckers”? No problem!

He kicked open the door to a subbasement of politics that is going to be very hard to bar again.

There is one aspect of politics that both groups that comprise the GOP today can agree upon and that is the potential threat to the party’s future viability that is posed by minority voters. The problem the Republicans face is how to curtail those votes without seeming to cast themselves as bigots. There are, to be sure, blatantly racist embarrassments like Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo), who recently asked a group of Jewish visitors to the Capitol if they were “doing reconnaissance.” And Florida governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t want to upset white kids by teaching them about the country’s racist history. His directive presents teachers with the considerable problem of how to put a good spin on lynching.

But deliberately alienating large segments of the electorate isn’t generally a wise move politically.

What has become known as The Big Lie provided the GOP with the opportunity to exploit the nonexistent threat of voter fraud and thus avoid the onus of the bigotry mantle, at least superficially. The Republican hierarchy knows that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election fair and square. Most of them have said so publicly. That hasn’t stopped Republican led legislatures in a number of states to promote and pass legislation that severely restricts and/or complicates voting rights that have a particular impact upon minority voters. It is hardly coincidental.

Mr. McConnell might detest the hateful divisiveness spewed from the likes of Boebert and DeSantis. He probably does, but the inclusion of one word in that damming sentence in his speech would have spared him the need to reaffirm his own commitment to racial justice, however tenuous it might be. That word is “other”: “African American voters cast ballots at similar rates to [other] Americans.”

It is a relatively simple word and, in this case, its absence spoke volumes about the man who didn’t use it.

Alden Graves is a regular columnist for Vermont News & Media. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.


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