Let me first say that Mitch McConnell is exceptionally deserving of every second of dissection that he’s getting after his second seize-up in front of TV cameras. The Senate minority leader is as responsible for America’s fascist turn as Donald Trump is. The more humiliation for him, the better.
That said, his second seize-up, which seems related to a recent concussion for which he was hospitalized, has sparked another round of debate over age – and it’s just tedious. There seems to be a bipartisan consensus among the opinionhavers of Washington that when an elected official is no longer transparent about the consequences of aging, then it’s probably time to retire. The idea seems to be that if they aren’t being transparent, they are staying in office for themselves, and not for the people whom they serve.
Here’s National Review’s Jim Geraghty:
I realize no politician wants to leave office because of health problems. But they’re not in those jobs to make themselves feel good and important in old age; they’re in those jobs to serve the public. McConnell, [Joe] Biden, [US Senator Dianne] Feinstein — they have all been in public office for decades. And if they want to stay in office, the absolute minimum they can do is provide the public with full and unvarnished information — no minimizing, no begrudging the legitimacy of these questions — about their health.
This seems like a principled position, and maybe it is. But there seems to be something that the opinionhavers forget. So what if McConnell isn’t being transparent about his cognitive decline? Is it preventing him from voting the way a majority of the residents of Kentucky want him to? I doubt it. I doubt, too, that poor health is preventing him from fulfilling his obligations. He has an office full of staff prepared to do what needs doing. In the end, the most important thing a senator can do is vote – indeed, it’s the only thing of consequence. If he must be wheeled onto the Senate floor, so be it.
These are not normal people. This, too, seems to be forgotten. Senators, presidents, representatives, justices, senior officials – these are the country’s elites. They get the best of everything, including health care. We like to say that they serve democracy but we know that democracy serves them. Normal people struggle to find health care for Grandma and Grandpa. Not so the country’s elites. Health care struggles to find them.
Yet there seems to be something like a desire in Washington to portray these elites as if they were normal people in order to hold them to a fake standard according to which their intentions are impure once they start hiding or, in McConnell’s or Dianne Feinstein’s case, denying their obvious infirmities.
So I guess it needs saying that normal people, if they are lucky enough, have families, and some forms of social insurance, to support them in their old age. That’s about it, though. They do not have state and national political organizations that are propping them up. They do not have billionaire-class backers. (They are not millionaires themselves.) Normal people deserve sympathy. Elites do not. If they want to work themselves to death, let them.
Normal people, moreover, do not represent the political interests of hundreds of thousands of voters, or, in Biden’s case, hundreds of millions of voters. Normal people are not being counted on, for reasons good and bad, to stay in power to represent those interests. You could say that McConnell is staying only to serve himself (his ego, presumably), not the people whom he’s supposed to serve. But you could also say that that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s staying in power for as long as possible on account of so many people counting him – on account of so many billionaires being invested in him – such that stepping down before his last dying breath might be considered selfish or irresponsible. He made his bed. He must lie in it.
I can’t account for this apparent desire to portray elites as if they were normal people. Maybe it’s a consequence of these same elites trying hard to convince the opinionhavers that they are normal people. But it could also be the simple discomfort that comes with watching someone grow old and decline. It didn’t used to be this way. Politicians died younger back in the day. They also died in office more frequently. There wasn’t the time that we now have in which to debate whether they were too old to stay in office.
What I do know, however, is that Mitch McConnell is exceptionally deserving of the public humiliation that he’s putting himself through. He looked away when the Russians attacked our democracy in 2016. He aided and abetted Donald Trump’s serial presidential crimes. He led the hijacking of the United States Supreme Court. All I can say, on seeing that he’s voluntarily subjecting himself to this public humiliation, is chef’s kiss.