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Bill Straub: The Theater of the Absurd as poor Mitch keeps getting understood perfectly for plain-speaking


Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has spent so much time backing-and-filling over the past few days that he could have sailed halfway around the world by now.

Ask him how it tastes to eat crow and he’ll be obliged to tell you, “Tastes like chicken.”

The Louisville lawmaker caused an uproar on Monday, spilling over into Tuesday, after issuing a statement all but ordering his longtime ally and political sugar daddy corporate America to close its yap when it comes to politics or, as Ring Lardner once so eloquently put it:

“‘Shut up,’ he explained.”

The entire mishigas revolves around a law recently adopted by the Republican-controlled Georgia legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp that makes a hash out of the state’s election laws to the detriment of African-Americans who constitute a bit more than one-third of the state’s population.


The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Industry giants, including Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, two firms who are to the Georgia corporate community what Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are to the Atlanta Braves line-up, expressed their disdain. Firms from outside the state’s boundaries likewise called foul, including Major League Baseball, which announced as a result it is moving the All-Star game scheduled this summer for Truist Park in Cobb County to the friendlier confines of Denver.

So it appeared for all the world that Mitch’s closest and dearest friend, corporate America, one of the most reliable arrows in the GOP quiver, was snubbing the party for a new suitor, one that held the interests of African-Americans in higher esteem.

McConnell, it seems, was not amused with the turn of events. On Monday, he issued a statement threatening some unspecified means of retaliation if America’s companies refused to straighten up and fly right – and, yes, that can be taken as a Delta reference.

“We are witnessing a coordinated campaign by powerful and wealthy people to mislead and bully the American people,” McConnell asserted, maintaining that, “It’s jaw-dropping to see powerful American institutions not just permit themselves to be bullied, but join in the bullying themselves.”

“From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” McConnell said. “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”

Now Georgia, you may have heard, is a state that, as history tells us, has experienced some, well let’s call it “snags” accommodating its African-American residents when it comes to exercising their franchise. The new law was seen as keeping with that tradition and Black folks in the Peach State understandably maintained it was adopted to do them harm when it comes to the ballot box.

Without venturing too far into the tall grass, the new law limits the number of mail ballot drop boxes positioned throughout the state, reduces the time provided for residents requesting an absentee ballot, requires voters to provide a photo ID when casting a mail-in ballot (which sort of skews the purpose) and prohibits the distribution of food and drink to those waiting in line to vote, which, in Georgia, can constitute an extensive investment in time if you happen to reside in a Black precinct. Additionally, the law in some instances rejects provisional ballots submitted in the wrong precincts and allows anyone to challenge the voting eligibility of an unlimited number of voters.

This is all being done in the name of voter security in wake of erstwhile President Donald J. Trump’s counterfactual and ridiculous claims that he was cheated out of thousands of votes in the 2020 election, leading to his ignominious defeat, although what that has to do with handing a bottle of water to an elderly, wheelchair-bound Black lady while she maintains her spot in line for an hour or two is kind of hard to rationalize.

Now let’s be clear – Mitch McConnell demanding that American corporations should be seen and not heard is akin to the late Larry Flynt (a proud Kentuckian) leading an anti-pornography campaign. Mitch has literally been chumming up to corporations for decades, seeking their support for any number of initiatives that likely help them financially and benefit him politically.

No corporation has been more involved or vocal about politics than Koch Industries, led by the infamous Koch Brothers, Charles and David, the latter of whom died in 2019. Koch has bankrolled any number of conservative initiatives over the years with nary a peep of protest from McConnell.

A couple weeks ago Jane Mayer, the incomparable writer for The New Yorker, reported on efforts to kill election reform legislation passed by the House.

“A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups — including one run by the Koch brothers network – reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.”

Yet here was Mitch brazenly maintaining that corporate advocacy of a political nature is somehow “outside the constitutional order” and darkly warning those involved will “invite serious consequences.”

But it didn’t end there. McConnell felt compelled to expand and extend his remarks during an event at Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Louisville on Tuesday, where he emphasized that corporate America should “stay out of politics.”

At the same time, though he by God said he still wanted the captains of industry to continue shoveling political campaign cash in the direction of the Republican Party so he could retain the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed.

Political contributions, he said, are “appropriate.”

“They have a right to participate in the political process,” he said. “They do. But selecting how you do that, in a way that doesn’t completely alienate an awful lot of people who depend on your products, strikes me as not very smart.”

In his years battling any sort of campaign finance reform, McConnell insisted that financial political contributions are tantamount to free speech. In his appearances on Monday and Tuesday he essentially asserted that while providing money to a political campaign is free speech, free speech isn’t free speech.

Sounds like something straight out of the Marx Brothers.

Regardless, the madness came crashing down Wednesday afternoon when Mitch told reporters, you know, I may have misspoken. In other words, he offered a variation on the old “I didn’t mean it – can’t you guys take a joke” defense.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday,” McConnell told reporters. “They are certainly entitled to be involved in politics. My principle complaint is that they didn’t read the darn bill.”

Yeah, right. Read the man’s words. This was no incidence of misspeaking. The money folks came down on his head like the sword of Damocles and he melted, just like he did earlier this year when he all but said he wanted to impeach Trump for his egging on the Capitol insurrection and then reversing course to say he would vote for the man if he is the Republican Party’s presidential candidate in 2024.

It has not, thus far, been a particularly good 2021 for McConnell. Republicans lost the majority in the upper chamber after maintaining control for six years, essentially sending Mitch to the sidelines to jeer at his successors.

There was the attempted insurrection that embossed a black mark on the GOP body politic. His former BFF, the Trumpster, who somehow remains the party’s most popular figure, offered an assessment of his partner-in-crime that any decent human being wouldn’t say about a dog, further riling Trumpists who never clutched Mitch close to their collective bosom anyway. Democrats passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that McConnell and his gang vociferously opposed, even though it drew universal praise from the public, even amongst Republicans.

And it was revealed that his wife, Elaine Chao, was under scrutiny by the inspector general during her tenure as Trump’s transportation secretary for abuse of office. Trump’s Department of Justice refused to proceed but it was not a pretty sight.

And you thought 2020 was bad.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held since about 1886 that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause grants constitutional protections to corporations as well as to individuals. You can argue with that proposition – it’s stupid – but it’s the law of the land. Corporations are now thus exercising that constitutional right in a manner that upsets McConnell. They’re doing so because of ongoing cultural change.

Companies don’t see African-American voters or Latino voters like McConnell and his ilk do. They see potential customers. And as the nation’s skin shade grows darker, firms are going to follow what’s good for business.

There’s the Theater of the Absurd. Then there’s Mitch McConnell.


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