Mitch McConnell: Racist — Or Longtime Civil Rights Ally

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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You might have heard about Rep. Bennie Thompson calling Clarence Thomas — the second African-American Supreme Court Justice — an “Uncle Tom.” Well, in similarly ridiculous fashion, the Mississippi Democrat doubled down on his outrageous remarks, suggesting to CNN that President Obama was mistreated Mitch McConnell, “because he is black.”

Say what you will about the Senate Minority Leader, but the racism charge — while timely (this comes in the wake of the Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling scandals) — is especially absurd. Seriously, of all the politicians one might accuse of racism, Mitch McConnell should be at the bottom of the list.

McConnell was present during Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As the Huffington Post noted, McConnell interned for Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper, and

Cooper had also been an ardent supporter of one of Lyndon Johnson’s signature achievements, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and helped defeat the filibuster against it. The summer after his internship, “Cooper grabbed a visiting McConnell by the arm and spontaneously took him to the Capitol” where the two watched Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to John David Dyche’s Republican Leader, a biography of McConnell.

This wasn’t just a matter of McConnell being dragged along to a bill signing. As The New Republic recalls:

In 1964, an ambitious young student at the University of Louisville made an impassioned plea to his classmates, urging them to march in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. At the time, Kentucky was no haven for race reformers—it was dominated by some of the same elements of the Democratic Party that vehemently rejected the very notion of civil rights. Nevertheless, this 20-year-old activist called for strong statutes, state and federal, to protect the dignity of minorities … The student’s name was Mitch McConnell.

His stand continued as a U.S. Senator, when — as the Daily Beast noted — McConnell “defied Reagan on apartheid“:

The young Republican saw injustice in South Africa. He thought Reagan was wrong, so he joined the 31 Republican senators who sided with Democrats in voting to override Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.

… “In the 1960s, when I was in college, civil rights issues were clear,” McConnell said of his vote. “After that, it became complicated with questions of quotas and other matters that split people of good will. When the apartheid issues came along, it made civil rights black and white again. It was not complicated.”

Pretty impressive resume, don’t you think? But it doesn’t end there. As Karen Tumulty noted, “McConnell’s father had served on the board of the Louisville Urban League” — and McConnell still routinely addresses the National Urban League’s annual meetings in Washington, DC.

Which brings us to the present: Just this morning, on the Senate floor, McConnell offered a glowing tribute to Daryl Chappelle, an African American man who’s manned the Senate subway for decades.

Harry Reid did, too.

Interestingly, though, of the two Senate leaders, only one of them — as far as I know — has made racial remarks about President Obama.

So I think it’s pretty clear that McConnell has a pretty solid civil rights record. But before I conclude, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the fundamental flaw to Bennie Thompson’s argument — the false assumption that McConnell’s opposition to Obama was somehow reflexive and race-based.

As I’ve noted before, while liberals are quick to recall McConnell’s comments about wanting to make Obama a “one-term president,” as the Washington Post fact checker noted, “McConnell made his remarks in an interview that appeared in the National Journal on Oct. 23, 2010 — nearly two years after Obama was elected president.”

This, of course, implies that it was Obama’s actions or policies during his first two years — not his skin color — that yielded McConnell’s staunch opposition.

Look, I get what they’re doing. With Bundy and Sterling in the news, it’s hard to blame Democrats for not wanting to let this crisis go to waste. Scoring points is part of the game, I suppose. They just picked on the wrong cowboy this time.

*This post has been updated.