Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s letter to Senator Mitch McConnell. Thursday, Mar 26 2015 

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Mitch McConnell’s ‘despicable’ ad wins five magazine awards Monday, Feb 2 2015 

By BERRY CRAIG
AFT Local 1360

One of my union brothers could hardly believe that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s bogus “Election Violation Notice” collected a quintet of awards from Campaigns and Elections magazine, including “best direct mail piece for 2014.”

The mailer's purpose was to scare supporters of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell's opponent. It was a deliberate deception designed to make recipients think they were somehow breaking the law. Inside, it listed “fraudulent information” being spread by “the federal candidate” Grimes.
 
“Advertising is legalized lying,” H.G. Wells famously observed. That goes double for political advertising.

Of course, politicians pay campaign advertising firms handsomely for crafting hit pieces like Team Mitch’s mailer, which looked like it came from the government.
 
“It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” we dutifully tell our kids in little league.
 
In grownup politics, winning is all that counts. If you have to lie and cheat, so be it. If you’re a gun-for-hire in political advertising, the better you are at lying and cheating, the more awards you win.
 
The McConnell ad, a joint venture with the Kentucky Republican Party, claimed five Reed Awards. I gather they’re Oscars for political ads judged to be the most effective, campaigns, no matter how contemptible the ads are.

Virtue may be its own reward elsewhere. Gutter politics wins the prizes atCampaign and Elections. “Best mail piece for a bare-knuckled street fight” was one of the categories the McConnell mailer won. Just the category’s name speaks volumes about the state of American politics.

But why stop with honors for cheating and playing dirty in politics?

Why not hand out trophies for the best bean baller in baseball or, in football, for players who put the most opposing players out of the game with cheap shots?

But, hey, Kentucky is a basketball state. So how about giving trophies for shoving the most players into the seats while they go airborne for a layup?
 
Anyway, McConnell’s mailer came in an official-looking envelope with a Frankfort return address. The piece warned the recipient: “THE INFORMATION ENCLOSED CONTAINS FACTS RELATED TO A POSSIBLE FRAUD BEING PERPETRATED ON CITIZENS ACROSS KENTUCKY.”
 
Jonathan Hurst, Grimes’ campaign manager, called the mailer “despicable” and a blatant attempt at voter suppression.
 
That it was.
 
But I’d bet the farm that Hurst’s complaint – and Grimes’ vain attempt to stop the mailer in court -- triggered high fives and gales of laughter on Team Mitch, whose guy beat Grimes by more than 15 percentage points.
 
Okay, throughout American history, truth has often been the first casualty in political campaigns, no matter the era or the party.

Supporters of Federalist President John Adams shrieked that if the “infidel” Democratic Republican Thomas Jefferson were elected president in 1800, "murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.”
 
The Jeffersonians shot back that Adams sent a U.S. Navy ship to England to procure two prostitutes, one for himself and the other for his running mate.

However, as far as I can tell, there were no awards for such falsehoods spread by party hacks and by the partisan press in early America.
 
In any event, it is too bad that McConnell seems to have learned nothing about politics from his purported mentor, Sen. John Sherman Cooper. In his salad days, McConnell was a Cooper intern.
 
Cooper, a moderate to liberal Republican, eschewed “bare-knuckled street fight” politics, even in the 1954 senate race, probably the toughest battle of his political career. His foe was the formidable Alben Barkley, a former senate majority leader Harry Truman’s vice president.
 
In his campaign, the senator “…wouldn’t permit the use of rumored contract scandals against Barkley,” Robert Schulman quoted Cooper’s sister in John Sherman Cooper: The Global Kentuckian.

You can’t bet the farm McConnell would have blown a bundle on ads elevating even the most baseless of rumors to “fact.”
 
Cooper fought fairly and lost. I can almost hear the “nice guys finish last” sneer from Team Mitch.

Even so, Cooper bounced back. He won reelection in 1956 and stayed in the Senate until 1973. Dubbed “the Global Kentuckian,” Cooper was also a diplomat, serving as U.S. ambassador to India in 1955-1956 and to East Germany in 1974-1976.
 
Above all, Cooper was a principled politician. His refusal to demonize and smear his political foes is a big part of his legacy. He died in 1991 and went down in history as a statesman in the truest sense of the word.

I doubt history will be as kind to McConnell, and rightly so.
 
“John Sherman Cooper would be appalled at Mitch McConnell,” said Dr. Duane Bolin, a Murray State University historian and author. “McConnell’s bottom line is simply to stay in office and enrich himself and the billionaires who support him. I don’t think he believes in anything.”
 
Shortly before I talked to my union brother, I got an email from another one of my friends, a university librarian-historian. He had seen the KET interview with McConnell at Ashland, Sen. Henry Clay’s preserved Lexington home.

A 19th century state legislator, congressman, senator, secretary of state, three time presidential candidate and broker of three compromises to save the Union, Clay is Kentucky’s greatest ever statesman. (President Abraham Lincoln is our greatest native son, but he made his political splash in Illinois.)
 
“Mitch was bragging about his historical knowledge of Henry Clay and the great respect he had for the man and his politics,” my buddy wrote. “I could only chuckle - the Great Divider commenting on the Great Compromiser.”

In Other News… Runaway teens caught, Wendell Ford dies, senators on climate change, ‘Mockingjay’ tops 2014 Friday, Jan 23 2015 

Dalton HayesCorrection Appended Born to Run: Dalton Hayes and Cheyenne Phillips of Kentucky were apprehended in Panama City, Fla., in the early morning hours this past Sunday, says CNN and USA Today. Dubbed the teen “Bonnie and Clyde,” the 18-year-old Hayes … Continue reading

In Other News…McConnell takes over, Ali back home, prestigious Louisvillians, Lawrence and Martin reunited Friday, Jan 9 2015 

Senator Mitch McConnellSuper Ego: And so it came to pass, Mitch McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, officially ascended to the position of his dreams: Senate Majority Leader. And on Wednesday, he gave his first speech as the man with the plan … Continue reading

The Mighty In Other News … 2014 Year in Review Friday, Jan 2 2015 

ION 2014 YIRAnd Happy New Year to you! By now, you’ve had a solid day to recover from all the hijinks and shenanigans and man, you were there to hold my hair back at the end of the night. I owe you … Continue reading

The elephant is still there. Monday, Dec 1 2014 

“Some black political leaders think Democratic candidates who distanced themselves from President Barack Obama sapped enthusiasm among African-Americans in states where they anchor the party's base,” writes Bill Barrow of the Associated Press.

He cited Sen. Kay Hagan’s narrow defeat in North Carolina, Michelle Nunn’s near-landslide loss in Georgia, and the plight of Mary Landrieu, who faces a tough runoff election in Louisiana next month.

In Kentucky, Democratic hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes also fled from the president. Sen. Mitch McConnell handily defeated her.
 
Barrow added that a larger turnout among African Americans by itself wouldn’t have added up to Democratic triumphs in Georgia or Louisiana because 3 out of 4 white Georgians voted against Nunn and more than 4 out of 5 Louisiana whites voted against Landrieu.

Grimes likely would have come up short, too. But I’ve heard some Kentucky Democrats wonder if Grimes depressed the African America turnout to some extent by keeping the president at arm’s length and especially by refusing to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

In any event, Linda Wilkins-Daniels, an officer in the North Carolina Democratic Party's Black Caucus, told Barrow that Democratic candidates missed an opportunity to use the president to tell a success story and to make political hay off differences with Republicans on issues like the minimum wage, financial regulation, student loans and health care.
"Unemployment is down, gas prices have dropped below $3 a gallon, the stock market is higher than it's ever been, they've cut the deficit, and the health care law is helping people, no matter what Republicans say," Wilkins-Daniels said. "If a Republican president had that record, their candidates wouldn't shut up about it.”

Indeed.

Though Kynect, the Bluegrass State’s adaptation of the Affordable Care Act, has been a big success -- more than 413,000 Kentuckians have received health insurance under the program – Grimes hesitated to embrace it at first. When she finally did, the Democrat commonly called the program "Kynect," not "Obamacare," Zach Carter and Jason Cherkis wrote in Huffington Post.

Jeanie Embry of Paducah, a member of the McCracken County Democratic executive committee, agrees that her party has many positives that Democratic candidates should have accentuated. “Instead, a lot of Democrats continue to think and talk like Republicans and run from progressive ideas that set the party apart from the Republicans.”

Added Embry, president of the Alben Barkley Democratic Women’s Club of Paducah: “As usual, the Republicans staged and defined the narrative. Why didn’t Democratic candidates tout all the accomplishments over the past six years?  Even that bastion of conservative thought, Forbes, rated President Obama a better president than Ronald Reagan for growth, investing, and the economy.”
    
At any rate, Barrow’s story, like almost every such election post mortem piece, failed to address the larger question: why do so many white people vote Republican, especially in Dixie and in border states like Kentucky?

Before the election, Landrieu said that “the South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans. It's been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader. It's not always been a good place for women to present ourselves.”

John Hennen, a history professor at Morehead, Ky., State University, was impressed with Landrieu’s forthrightness. “In addition to long-internalized suspicions many whites have about blacks, especially a powerful African American such as a president, is the fact that Obama's self-identity is more tied into his blackness than his whiteness. White supremacists just cannot accept that -- someone choosing to be black.”

Embry said that the election proved that “Nixon's 'Southern Strategy' is still alive and well particularly in Southern states, including Kentucky.”

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow also referred to the “Southern Strategy” in a recent column about the election. He quoted Kevin Phillips, Nixon’s political strategist, who confided to The New York Times Magazine in 1970: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

Blow wrote, “That’s right: Republicans wanted the Democrats’ ‘Negrophobes.’”

In another column, Blow recalled what one of his brothers told him about being transferred to Mississippi along with a white co-worker:
 
“He and the co-worker were shopping for homes at the same time. The co-worker was aghast at what he saw as redlining on the part of the real estate agent, who never explicitly mentioned race. When the co-worker had inquired about a neighborhood that included black homeowners, the agent responded, ‘You don’t want to live there. That’s where the Democrats live.’ The co-worker was convinced that ‘Democrats’ was code for ‘black.’”

“Race has been a factor in how this president, and even the Democratic Party since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has been viewed,” said Brian Clardy, a history professor at Murray, Ky., State University.

"Anyone who believes there is not a racial component to Barack Obama's unpopularity in Kentucky is not looking at things through a realistic lens," said David Ramey of Murray, who chairs the Calloway County Democratic party. "Clearly, there are some policy differences in some areas, but there is still a significant part of the population that was raised in a different era and, unfortunately, they are uncomfortable with an African American president."

Of course, Republicans hotly deny any suggestion that even the most vicious attacks on the president from their side are at all racially-motivated or amount to pandering to white prejudice.
   
I’m not for a minute saying every white person who voted against Obama is a racist. The president wouldn’t either.

But there is no denying the Republicans have largely become what the Democrats used to be: the white folks’ party.

Historically, the GOP of “Lincoln and Liberty,” based in the North, was the party of federal civil rights activism: the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery; the 14th Amendment which made the newly freed slaves citizens; and the 15th Amendment which extended the franchise to African American men.

Rooted in the South, the Democrats were the party of civil rights obstructionism.

Southern Democrats cried “states’ rights!” meaning the right of states to have slavery and later to force African Americans into second-class citizenship status by segregating them from white society and by denying them the vote.

As a result, most African Americans who could vote supported Republicans, which is why Southern Democratic state legislatures passed laws denying them the ballot.
 
In the 1960s, northern and western Democrats in Congress – led by a President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan, and helped by moderate and liberal Republicans beyond Dixie – passed landmark civil rights bills designed to overturn Dixie’s Jim Crow segregation and voter suppression laws. Consequently, many African Americans switched to the Democrats – a shift that began as a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-fighting New Deal programs in the 1930s and 1940s.

In the ‘60s, the white South started turning Republican Red, though it took border state Kentucky a while longer.
    
Today, it’s the Republicans – and not just Southern ones -- who yell “states’ rights!,”  eschew federal civil rights activism and pass state laws coldly calculated to curb minority voting.

The change in the country’s two big parties is notably reflected in the Legislative Report Cards issued by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest civil rights group.

Time was, most Republicans received As and Bs and a lot of Democrats flunked, especially those from the old Confederate states.

But on the current report card, every GOP senator got an F, except Susan Collins of Maine. Her grade was a D.

On the other hand, most Democratic senators got As. There were six Bs and a D that went to Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Bottom line: Race is the elephant in the living room and not just in Dixie, and much of the supposedly liberal media chooses to ignore it or make little of it. At the same time, the Republicans plainly see the pachyderm and campaign accordingly among conservative white people. Chris Matthews of MNBC calls it “dog whistle politics.”

Dog Whistle Politics is also the title of a book by Ian Haney Lopez. “…Think about a term like ‘welfare queen’ [Ronald Reagan] or ‘food stamp president’ [Newt Gingrich], the author, a legal scholar, suggested to Bill Moyers on the host’s PBS TV show, Moyers & Company.

“On one level, like a dog whistle, it's silent. Silent about race. It seems race-neutral. But on another, it also has a shrill blast, like a dog whistle, that can be heard by certain folks. And what the blast is a warning about race and a warning, in particular about threatening minorities.”

In a long article he wrote about McConnell earlier this year, Politico’s Jason Zingerle quoted a Kentucky Republican strategist: “We are still a racist state, I hate to admit it. Anything you can connect to Barack Obama is a winning thing for us.”

McConnell and like-minded Republicans do nothing to disabuse conservative white folks of the notion that our Hawaii-born, Christian, Democratic president is a Kenyan-born, Muslim and a Socialist (any real Socialist will tell you in no uncertain terms that the president and his party are not Socialist.)

At a campaign stop in a nearly all-white western Kentucky county, McConnell claimed Obama was leading a “jihad” against coal. The senator unquestionably understood that the all-white crowd would hear his dog whistle.

To his credit, the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Joseph Gerth called McConnell’s hand. Gerth wrote that McConnell had linked “jihad” to Obama before.

Added Gerth: “It's also not the first time that McConnell has raised eyebrows when it comes to messaging about Obama and religion.


“In 2010, on NBC's ‘Meet the Press,’ host David Gregory asked McConnell if he believed Obama is a Christian. Instead of a simple, ‘Yes,’ here's what McConnell said at the time:

“‘The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word.’

“At the time, Mike Allen, of Politico, accused McConnell of ‘dog-whistle’ politics — that is, coding a message so the general audience hears one message but a smaller group hears something different, often sinister.”

McConnell knew that most Americans, maybe even most liberals, think “jihad” is an Arabic word that means Muslim holy war. It “means struggling or striving,” according to the Islamic Supreme Council of America. “Al-harb” is Arabic for war.
     
At any rate, Embry, a co-founder of the Bluegrass Rural political action committee (www.bluegrass-rural.com) is fond of quoting LBJ’s response to racist signs whites waved at him while he was campaigning for vice president in Tennessee in 1960: “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.”

Overtly race-baiting 19th century white supremacist Southern Democratic politicians, most of them well-heeled, created that scam to gull poor whites into voting for them during slavery and Jim Crow times. Late 20th and early 21st century conservative Republicans resurrected the old con job but with coded pandering to white prejudice.

“…The idea that I'm trying to get across here is, racism has evolved,” Lopez also told Moyers. “Or, in particular, public racism has evolved. The way in which racism, the way in which racial divisions are stoked in public discourse has changed. And now it operates on two levels. On one level, it allows plausible deniability. This isn't really about race, it's just about welfare. Just about food stamps. And on another, there's a subtext, an underground message which can be piercingly loud, and that is: minorities are threatening us.

“And so when people dog whistle about criminals, welfare cheats, terrorists, Islam, Sharia law, ostensibly they’re talking about culture, behavior, religion, but underneath are these old stereotypes of degraded minorities, but also, and this is important, implicitly of whites who are trustworthy, hard-working, decent.”   

In Other News… The divine Jennifer Lawrence, Bullitt fire chief, senators to work Fridays and Cardinal sports Friday, Nov 21 2014 

From November's Vanity Fair. She's naked in the water holding a bird. Don't question it; just go with it.Dumb and Dumber: The Washington Times, Gawker, Mic, Opposing Views and Fire Chief report that a Bullitt County Fire Chief landed in some hot water this week with two—count ‘em—two taped incidents of racism and one seemingly unnoticed incident of … Continue reading

Senator McConnell, you’re no Alben Barkley. Sunday, Nov 16 2014 

I asked Dorothy Barkley what she’d say if Sen. Mitch McConnell showed up at her door in Paducah. “I’d tell him, ‘Granddaddy was a yellow dog Democrat, and I can see right through what you are doing by using his name,’” the feisty septuagenarian replied.

Her granddaddy was Alben W. Barkley of Paducah, Harry Truman’s vice president and the only Kentuckian to serve as senate majority leader. But McConnell, who often praises Barkley for his leadership, is almost certain to become the second one when the new GOP-majority senate convenes in a few weeks.
 
McConnell handily won another term, but not with Barkley's vote. She cast her ballot for “that nice young woman,” Alison Lundergan Grimes, Team Mitch's Democratic challenger.
 
Dubbed “The Veep,” Alben Barkley had been majority leader in the 1930s and 1940s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and The Man from Missouri, who became president when FDR died in 1945.
 
Truman tapped Barkley as his running mate in 1948. Barkley was reelected to the senate in 1954 but died in office in 1956. He was 78.

McConnell likes being compared to Barkley, who was a congressman before he was a senator.
 
No matter, a stint as majority leader would be the only thing McConnell would have in common with Barkley, according to The Veep's granddaughter. “I remember my granddaddy well. I was 13 when he died.”

Last summer, Barkley, 71, got so perturbed about McConnell gushing over her grandparent that she dashed off a letter to the editor of the Paducah Sun, her hometown newspaper. The Sun endorsed McConnell.

Barkley wrote that she appreciated “Sen. Mitch McConnell’s pleasant words about my grandfather.” But she cautioned that “Alben Barkley was a ‘yellow dog’ Democrat.”

“I don’t know how many people know what that means anymore,” she wondered. For the uninitiated, it translates as a Democrat so devout he would vote for a “yellow dog” if the pooch were on the Democratic ticket.

Anyway, Barkley said the Veep “would have seen right through” McConnell’s “kind words.” She urged Sun readers, “Let’s get a new face in Washington, D.C., a Democrat.”

Barkley’s record backs up what his descendant says about him.

McConnell is a conservative whose bane is “big government.” Barkley didn’t duck the liberal label. He ardently supported FDR’s Depression-fighting New Deal program of massive federal action to put people back to work and to boost the economy. Too, Barkley was on board with Truman's "Fair Deal," which the president hoped would continue New Deal liberalism.
 
McConnell is partial to filibusters but not to unions. Barkley disdained the former and championed the latter.

While their political perspectives are as different as chalk and cheese, so are their political styles.
 
McConnell is prone to bare-knucks politics. “His glower has usually been enough to dissuade those who consider crossing him,” Jason Zingerle wrote in Politico.

Barkley preferred winning hearts and minds through humor and charm. While McConnell routinely demonizes Democrats, Barkley didn't talk like Republicans were hell-bound heathens.
 
In addition, Barkley practiced the politics of give-and-take. He didn't think "compromise" was a dirty word.
 
“I have been a loyal, regular Democrat all during my career,” he wrote in That Reminds Me, his folksy 1954 autobiography. “….However, that has never precluded me from recognizing a lot of good things emanating from the opposition. In the period when I was in Congress and the Democrats were in the minority I supported measures I thought were beneficial for the people, regardless of which side of the aisle they came from.”

Also, McConnell is less than Barkley-like on the stump. The Veep was a master at homespun campaign oratory. His story bag was bottomless.

Though Barkley became a politician in Paducah, where “Angles,” his brick antebellum home, still stands, Dorothy Barkley credits her ancestor’s celebrated wit and bonhomie (probably not a word the down-to-earth Barkley frequently used) to his rural Graves County origins.

The Veep was born in 1877 in a long-since disappeared two-story log cabin in the long-gone farming community of Wheel, about 20 miles from Paducah. “Graves County is where he got his sense of humor and his savviness,” Barkley said.

Joee Conroy s Thumbs Down Gets a Thumbs Up Thursday, Nov 13 2014 

Ut Gret’s founder and longtime leader Joee Conroy, who gave a thumbs-down to Mitch McConnell at the polling place and made national news thereby, talks to Michael Jones at LEO about the reactions from the photobomb. Read it here.

Interview: Ut Gret Friday, Nov 7 2014 

Syd Bishop at Never Nervous has an interview with the ever-peculiar, ever-interesting Ut Gret, including Joee Conroy, who got more fame for photobombing Mitch McConnell with a thumbs-down than he has ever gotten for some band. Read it here.

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