A few words about the pious insincerity of Mitch McConnell.
As you are no doubt aware, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, announced on the very day that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died that he would refuse to hold hearings on any replacement nominated by President Barack Obama.
McConnell’s “reasoning,” if you want to grace it with that word, was that since the president has less than a year left in his term, the appointment should be made by whomever the American people choose as his successor.
Last week, after Obama fulfilled his constitutional duty by nominating respected federal judge Merrick Garland to the post, McConnell renewed his refusal. “The Biden rule,” he said, “reminds us that the decision the Senate announced weeks ago remains about a principle and not a person. It seems clear that President Barack Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.”
The American people, added McConnell, should have a say in this. “So let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide.”
There are four lies here, each more threadbare and cynical than the last:
▪ The Biden rule? There is no such thing. There is only an opinion Vice President Joe Biden expressed 24 years ago as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that if a vacancy opened on the top court during convention season – which is still several months off – the president should “consider” not nominating a replacement until after the election.
It bears repeating: Biden never said the president should not nominate or the Senate should not vote; he only suggested waiting until “after the election” to do so.
▪ It’s the president who’s politicizing this? In psychology, that’s known as “projecting.” Around the way, it’s known as the pot calling the kettle black.
▪ “A principle and not a person?” No, it’s about a person – the same person, the president – toward whom McConnell and his party have expressed such unremitting disrespect the last seven years.
▪ The voice of the people? The people have already spoken – twice – in elections that were not close. For that matter, they are still speaking. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll says 63 percent of us want the Senate to hold hearings and vote.
McConnell should just claim he’s too busy arranging his sock drawer. That would be more credible than the excuses he’s given.
The quality of a lie is a direct reflection of the respect the liar has for the person being lied to. That will seem counterintuitive, but consider: You put effort into a lie, work to make it plausible, credible, believable, when you have regard for the recipient, when his good opinion matters or his discovery of the truth would be disastrous.
That being the case, what does it suggest when you put as little effort into a lie as McConnell has?
Indeed, while he has been roundly condemned for disrespecting the president, let’s spare some outrage for the way he is also disrespecting us. Not just in failing to do his job, but also in offering such a transparently dishonest rationale for it.
He knows he’s lying; you know he’s lying; and he knows you know he’s lying. But you get the sense he doesn’t care. Why should he? Those who need to believe there’s a noble principle behind this obstructionism will be willingly gulled. As to the rest of us, so what?
That’s not statesmanship. It is not even politics. It’s just contempt – and not only for the president. If we cannot count on McConnell and his party to do the country’s business and behave in a manner befitting serious people in positions of responsibility, perhaps it’s not too much to ask that they at least spare us that.
Tell better lies next time.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91st Ave., Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.