Certain quotes take on a mythical quality. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell entered that pantheon when he said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
On “60 Minutes” Sunday, the president observed, “When I first came into office, the head of the Senate Republicans said, ‘my No. 1 priority is making sure president Obama’s a one-term president.’ ” It’s the Dems’ favorite talking point, that from Day 1, Republicans wouldn’t play fair.
At an editorial board meeting on Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein declared, “A decision was made early on after the election by Republicans that this president should not succeed. I happened to hear it on the floor of the Senate sitting in my office on the opening day, listening to (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid speak, and then McConnell.” She paraphrased the quote, then added, “I saw it happen.”
There is a problem with political mythology – like memory, I can attest, it can be fuzzy with the facts. McConnell said those words from Kentucky over the phone during an interview with the National Journal’s Major Garrett in October 2010. The interview was about the upcoming 2010 midterm elections that netted the GOP six Senate and 63 House seats.
McConnell also said that if Obama is “willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.” And: “I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change.”
And it happened for a time. In December 2010, the Senate voted 81-19 for a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years (to make Republicans happy ) and extend unemployment benefits and cut payroll taxes by 2 percent (to make Democrats happy). McConnell was one of 37 GOP yes votes. The president saluted the compromise package as “a win for American families.”
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave the Obama quote Two Pinochhios. “In the Democratic narrative, the top GOP senator signaled early on he had no intention of cooperating with the new president,” Kessler wrote. To the contrary, McConnell uttered that infamous sentence during an interview about elections “at the midpoint, after Obama had enacted many of his preferred policies.”
You’ve got to credit the White House for its ability to spin. Within a week of the National Journal story, Obama was lamenting the “troubling” nature of McConnell’s partisan remark.
“We’d like to have a Republican president,” countered unapologetic McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. “Shocker. Stop the presses.”
Over time, big Democrats started to change the timeline and the venue to make McConnell’s words appear not just overly partisan but downright unAmerican. Apparently they now are buying their own spin. You can hear the anguish in their voices. Poor Obama, he never had a chance with these guys.
Final point: Operatives usually practice political mythology to make a candidate seem stronger, better, truer. But in 2012, Democrats are distorting the facts to argue that their president never stood a chance against that evil genius, Mitch McConnell.
Saunders is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.