"I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky."
-- Abraham Lincoln
WASHINGTON -- Which is how discerning conservatives felt while waiting to see if, in Election Day's second-most important voting, Kentuckians would grant a fifth term to Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans. They did, making him Washington's most important Republican and second-most consequential elected official. This apotheosis has happened even though he is handicapped by, as National Review rather cruelly says, "an owlish, tight-lipped public demeanor reminiscent of George Will."
That disability is, however, a strength because it precludes an occupational hazard of senators -- presidential ambition. Besides, McConnell, 66, is completely a man of the Senate. At 22, he was an intern for Sen. John Sherman Cooper and went from law school to the staff of Sen. Marlow Cook. Because McConnell has been so thoroughly marinated in the institution's subtle mores and complex rules, he will wring maximum leverage from probably 43 Republican votes.
Which is why Democrats spared no expense in attempting to unhorse him, recruiting a rich opponent and supplementing his spending with $6 million from the national party. McConnell, to his great credit, had made himself vulnerable by opposing the "Millionaire's Amendment" to the McCain-Feingold law restricting political speech. That amendment punished wealthy, self-financing candidates by allowing their opponents to spend much more than the law otherwise allows. Last summer, the Supreme Court struck down the amendment for the reasons McConnell opposed it, including this one: Government has no business fine-tuning electoral competition by equalizing candidates' abilities to speak.
McConnell opposes public financing of presidential campaigns on Jeffersonian grounds ("To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is," said Jefferson, "sinful and tyrannical"). McConnell is a constitutionalist who has opposed McCain-Feingold and other abridgements of free speech, including the proposed constitutional amendment to ban the expressive act of flag burning.