When George Washington was a schoolboy teenager, he composed more than 100 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior,” borrowing heavily from French Jesuits. Rules 21 and 22 go like this: “Reproach none for the infirmities of nature...Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another.”
That’s wise advice for those of us who’ve long loathed virtually everything that Mitch McConnell has said and done.
The Senate Republican leader had quite the medical moment this week. During a press briefing about a Pentagon bill, he started a sentence – “There’s been good bipartisan cooperation and a string of – ” but he never finished it. He stared at nothing for 20 long seconds as Republican colleagues hovered ever more restlessly, until Joni Ernst put her hand on his arm and said, “Are you, good, Mitch?”
He was not.
John Barrasso, who’s a doctor, coaxed him from the podium with the kind of query that many of us have said to aged loved ones who’ve lost their way in life. Barrasso soothed, “Let’s go back to your office. Do you want to say anything else to the press? Let’s go back.”
Now just imagine what the MAGA Republican reaction would’ve been if President Biden had zoned out at a podium for 20 seconds... especially after having recently fallen at a Washington hotel, suffering a concussion and landing in a rehab center (as McConnell did in March)... especially after having recently fallen at a Washington airport and done what sources called “a face plant” (as McConnell did earlier this month)... especially having frequently resorted to a wheelchair in airports (ditto McConnell).
If that had been Biden at that podium, with all those medical woes, MAGAts would be laughing hysterically. Heck, they’ve long been depicting him as half dead anyway.
Fox News would have that medical moment (a mini-stroke?) on a continuous loop. And we know from experience that the MAGAts are bullish on cruelty. Think back to all the jokes they made about Paul Pelosi after his skull was bashed in by a weapon-wielding MAGA lunatic. Think back to all the ridicule that Hillary Clinton endured (ridicule led by Donald Trump) when she suffered a bout of flu during the 2016 campaign.
By contrast – and in accordance with George Washington’s rules – Biden called McConnell to wish him good health. That’s what classy people do – they set aside fervent political disagreements and focus on the person. That’s how Biden rolls, like the time he was campaigning and encountered a kid who stuttered. He hit pause and comforted the kid.
Empathy should trump cruelty, although I suppose we’ll get another verdict on that in the next election.
For many of us, it’s tempting to play the world’s tiniest violin for McConnell – a scoundrel who said back in 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” (more important than any policies helping the American people); who refused to give Merrick Garland a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the first big step toward rigging a 6-3 conservative bench; who refused to convict Donald Trump in two impeachment trials, even after blaming Trump for the Jan. 6 insurrection; who votes with the NRA to boost the nation’s weapons arsenal...don’t get me started.
But we should stay out of the sewer – it’s overpopulated at the moment – and simply offer McConnell our sincerest thoughts and prayers. Focus on the person, not the politics. Let’s wish him a long life, in the hopes that, well into his 90s, he will witness the ultimate downfall of the fascist-infested party he once led.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org