Mitch McConnell book excerpt: 'I usually play the villain'

The following is an excerpt from Mitch McConnell's just-published memoir, "The Long Game."

Over the three decades I have been a U.S. senator, I've been the subject of many profiles. I usually play the villain, according to the standard good guy/bad guy accounts favored by most Washington reporters. The more positive ones tend to focus on my ability to broker deals with supposed adversaries, keep my head when others don't, and win elections I'm not supposed to. Until now, though, no one has ever tried to write the story as I see it, which is really my doing. I only talk to the press if it's to my advantage, and I always discourage my staff from revealing details of my meetings with presidents and other public figures. It's rare that I attend the kind of social events where people tend to engage in the gossip and intrigue for which Washington is famous. I've only been to Nantucket a few times, and I didn't like it. My idea of a good time is a quiet evening at home with my wife, Elaine Chao, or—although I may hardly strike people as the tailgating type—gathered with friends in the parking lot of the University of Louisville's Papa John's stadium, before a Cardinals football game, a tradition I've enjoyed for decades.

Beyond that, the place I feel most at ease is the Senate, an institution that rewards patience and confounds those who lack it. Every serious student of the institution, from Tocqueville to my late colleague Robert Byrd, has viewed the Senate as uniquely important to America's stability and flourishing. In their view, as well as in mine, it has made all the difference. Why? Because during the most contentious and impor­tant battles throughout our nation's history-from the fierce early fights over the shape and scope of the federal government, to those that preceded and followed a nation-rending Civil War, to those surround­ing the great wars of the twentieth century, or a decades-long Cold War, or the war on terror-the Senate is the tool that has enabled us to find our footing almost every time.

At its best, the Senate exists to keep the government from swinging between extremes as one party loses power and another gains it. The Senate is the only legislative body on earth where a majority is not enough-most things require sixty votes to pass. Without this moder­ ating effect, today's majority passes something and tomorrow's major­ ity repeals it; today's majority proposes something, tomorrow's majority opposes it. We see that in the House of Representatives all the time. But when the Senate is allowed to work the way it was designed to-meaning a place where nothing is decided without a good dose of deliberation and debate, as well as input from both the majority and minority parties-it arrives at a result that is acceptable to people all along the political spectrum.

In recent years, however, we've lost our sense for the value of slow and steady deliberation, for the type of work that depends more on patient diplomacy than on power plays and media manipulation. Under Demo­cratic leader Harry Reid, the Senate Chamber frequently became little more than a Democratic campaign studio. Many of the bills that Reid allowed for consideration were bills his party did not intend to pass. And none of us-no senator, no American-should be at peace with that. Because if America is to face up to the challenges we face in the decades ahead, she'll need the Senate the Founders in their wisdom intended, not the hollow shell of the Senate created in recent years under Reid.

No better example exists of this than the story behind the passage of Obamacare. When Democrats in the Senate couldn't convince even one Republican that this bill was worth supporting as written, they decided to do it on their own and pass it on a party line vote. And now we're seeing the result. The chaos this law has visited on our country isn't just deeply tragic, it was entirely predictable. That will always be the case if you approach legislation without regard for the views of the other side. Without some meaningful buy-in, you guarantee a food fight. You guarantee instability and strife. It may very well have been the case that on Obamacare, the will of the country was not to pass the bill at all. That's what I would have concluded if Republicans couldn't get a single Democratic vote for legislation of this magnitude. But Democrats plowed forward anyway. They didn't want to hear it and the results are clear. It's a mess.

The problem, admittedly, originates not solely from the Left alone, but also, disappointingly, from a very few on the Right. Just as the Democrats have used every gimmick to push through radically liberal policies, some on the Right have demanded that if they don't get every single thing they want, we may as well burn the place down, even if it means scorching the reputation and future success of our own party. People are not elected to the Senate to get everything they want. This is not an all-or-nothing place. And these are not the type of people we want to be the leaders in the Senate, or of anything else.

A big part of the problem with the Senate today is the way many politicians on both sides of the aisle style themselves as saviors. It's not only self-serving nonsense in most cases, it's exploitative of the voters. And it reflects a fundamentally un-American view of how our political institutions were meant to function. The proper basis of government, James Madison believed, was human frailty. That's why it was just as important to Madison, in devising the government we have, not only to protect the people from their own worst impulses, but also to protect them from the worst impulses of those they put in office. And that's also why the moment we conclude that our political institutions are no longer up to the task of resolving the challenges we face is the moment we give up on the American project altogether. Why? Because in the end it's the institutions, not the flawed men and women who pass through them, that will save us from ourselves and from the politicians we're all so fond of criticizing.

All these things have always seemed obvious to me, to the point that I never felt the need to unburden myself of any of it in a book, let alone tell my own story. But I've come to realize that those ideas-and many other constitutional principles-are anything but obvious to most peo­ple today. And when I was reelected in 2014, winning by a fifteen-point landslide against all odds and attracting a level of attention I could only find amusing, I realized it was time for me to write this book.

From the moment I made that decision, I was determined to make it true to who I am. So much of politics today is about artifice and obfus­ cation, and that extends to the standard political memoir, many of which seem artificial to me. They're either cloyingly grandiose, or dis­ honest about what usually motivates people in my business. I didn't want my book to be either. The truth is that very few of us expect to be at the center of world-changing events when we first file for office, and personal ambition usually has a lot more to do with it than most of us are willing to admit. That was certainly true for me, and I never saw the point in pretending otherwise. It doesn't mean we don't bring deep and abiding concerns to the job. It does mean that the standard story of the humble idealist who unexpectedly finds him- or herself in Washington, carried by a wave of encouraging friends in a selfless pursuit of justice and truth, is largely a fable. We're all the flawed politicians Madison worried about, and the hero pose isn't a good look for anyone.

I'm free to say all this because, unlike so many other senators, I've never had an interest in running for president. And since trashing the Sen­ ate seems to be a prerequisite for a presidential run these days, it falls on people like me to write books like this, defending this precious institution and telling the true story of what politics in America is actually like.

Anybody can enter politics, but I believe that being good at it—meaning winning elections so that you can impact policy—comes only as a result of an extraordinary amount of preparation. My ascension as leader of a new Republican majority was years in the making. Depending on how you look at it, preparation like the kind I've practiced seems either admirable or overly calculating. But it happens to be the new real- ity of politics in America. Unless you are blessed with extraordinary gifts of charisma or step into the national spotlight at a particularly oppor- tune moment, making it in the world of politics today frequently involves incredible feats of preparation and endurance. Fortunately for me, that's the only way I have ever approached life. Maybe that's because I learned at an early age that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Maybe it's because I've had to work hard to overcome obstacles of birth and circumstance. What- ever the reason, I have never had to quarrel with the realities of life as a senator. Success in politics is a lot of work, and pretending otherwise isn't just pointless, it never seemed right to me.

This is a big, boisterous, complex country. Getting to the top in any field should be tough. The reward for that effort is the knowledge that you have truly earned your place at the table, and that, in politics at least, the privilege of serving your fellow citizens is something that's been hard-won, and for that reason, worth the effort, before and after the votes are counted. This book is the story not of one particular campaign, but a lifetime of campaigns. It is the story of how patience and perseverance have been the keystone of my four decades in public life, and why I think both qualities are needed now more than ever if we are to meet our greatest challenges as a nation. It is the story of how a little kid from Alabama found his purpose in life and pursued it with everything he had.

It's the story of the long game, and it begins in a small hospital room in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The Long Game: A Memoir is written by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It was published on May 31, by Sentinel.

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