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Published: Friday, 4/12/2013

Thug life

Many Americans have heard by now the tale of how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was taped (just like Mitt Romney) during a campaign strategy session in which he was not wearing his best public face.

The Kentucky Republican says the point of the story is that he was bugged without permission, which is illegal. That’s how most of us would feel if we were secretly taped.

Mother Jones magazine, which released the tape, says someone in the meeting made the recording. Mr. McConnell’s aides say that almost no politician would come off as noble if the walls had ears in a strategy meeting such as this.

True enough. Most politicians are competitive and earthy in private. This was a meeting to talk about how to win re-election and how to beat potential opponents — not a gentle business.

But most people will remember two things the tape shows: the way Senator McConnell tries to win, and his aides’ view of clinical depression.

Here is how Mr. McConnell practices politics: Look for the dirt. Call the opponent God-hating, un-American, or nutty, or all three. There is a long tradition of such candidates in America: Joe McCarthy, Spiro Agnew, and Michele Bachmann are recent examples.

But to view a history of depression in a potential opponent as a political opportunity is low. “She is emotionally unbalanced,” a McConnell aide said of actress Ashley Judd, who has since decided not to run for the Senate from Kentucky. “I mean it’s been documented … from her autobiography about, you know, she’s suffered some suicidal tendencies. She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the ’90s.”

Mr. McConnell is not just any member of Congress. His position enables him to hold up potential progress in Washington on just about any issue.

As soon as the latest compromise on gun legislation began to gain traction, he announced he would try to filibuster it. He is helping to delay the confirmation of scores of federal judges, severely compromising the judiciary.

He killed a centrist budget compromise in the Senate last year. And he announced his legislative goal as early as 2009: Block President Obama at every turn and prevent his re-election.

Mr. McConnell appears to have no aspirations for his country or hopes for his fellow citizens. His sole purpose is to obstruct. His strategy for re-election is character assassination. How does a man like this become his party’s leader in the U.S. Senate?

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