As He Moves Into Majority Leadership, McConnell Should Remember Kentucky's Great Past Leaders
November is a month when many of us feel a certain melancholy. The year is winding rapidly to an end, and so much of what we planned to do in 2014 will go undone. The sun sets earlier and the winds blow colder. The pageant of red, orange, brown and yellow that greeted the final days of October begins to fade and fall to the ground.
Inevitably there is a letdown after Election Day. I find this to be true whether my candidates have won or not. If I’m with the losers, as generally happened this year, there’s even more cause for feeling a bit gloomy. Count me among those who voted twice for President Obama and still cannot fathom why he has become so unpopular.
It would be easy to say that it was historically inevitable. Since World War II, all of the presidents who were elected to second terms saw their party experience serious reversals in the midterms six years into their tenure: It happened to Dwight Eisenhower, to Ronald Reagan, to Bill Clinton, to George W. Bush and now to Barack Obama. Even our beloved Franklin D. Roosevelt took it on his formidable chin in the off-year election of 1938.
As someone who knew Mitch McConnell in his earliest days in politics, I can say with certainty that if anyone has ever been historically prepared to become Senate majority leader, it is he. As a child battling polio (including a time at the Warm Springs Foundation in Georgia, founded by FDR), Mitch McConnell’s heroes were U.S. senators, and he dreamed of being majority leader in the way that others dream of being basketball stars, brain surgeons and so forth. (I can relate; I always dreamed of being editorial page editor of the Courier-Journal, and it happened for me.) So it appears to be happening for Mitch McConnell.
Mitch was fortunate to be taken under the wing of one of Kentucky’s greatest senators, John Sherman Cooper, who was among the great public figures of our commonwealth. Cooper made Kentuckians look good: he fought for civil rights, served on the Warren Commission, stood up for tobacco and opposed the War in Vietnam.
I hope that Mitch will give up on his lip service to the simple-minded foes of global warming and recall that Cooper supported the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, which led to President Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency a year later. And I hope that he will re-read Robert Remini’s brilliant biography of Henry Clay to be reminded of how a statesman from Kentucky could affect the course of the nation. Most of all, I hope that he can see that he is the heir of Abraham Lincoln, and as such find a way to lead the GOP out of the post-1964 Southern Strategy era. For the glorious party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller, it has been a disreputable time.
For Louisville, it cannot be anything but good. We are home to the leader of the Senate, the Kentucky Derby, Wendy Whelan, Modjeskas, The Courier-Journal, Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Lawrence and Old Forester whiskey. So much to be proud of, and such an important opportunity for us all.
Early November also brings us another sobering anniversary. In 1938, only weeks after the cancerous appeasement at Munich, Hitler Youth and Storm Troopers launched a pogrom across Germany and Austria, targeting Jewish homes, temples and businesses. It became known as “Kristallnacht,” or the night of shattered glass, because of all the shops fronts, temple windows and homes that were attacked. Over the nights of Nov. 9 and 10, it was akin to the first portentous wave of a hurricane. Roving gangs of German youth, poisoned by Nazi propaganda, followed by the whip and baton-wielding Storm Troopers, provided a kind of overture to the horror that would come in September 1939, with the invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II.
Kristallnacht was not that long ago. Just 76 years; only 12 years before I was born. There were many atrocities that occurred before that night of shattered glass, and more would occur later. But let us stand together with those who suffered and say with clarity, “Never Again.”
Keith Runyon is a longtime Louisville journalist and former editorial page editor for The Courier-Journal. He'll speak about this commentary Thursday afternoon on 89.3 WFPL during Here & Now.
Read his past WFPL commentaries here.