Forty years ago this week, Ed Ryan, as chief of the Courier-Journal Frankfort Bureau, began the annual tradition of bestowing pretend Christmas gifts on Kentucky political figures, in gratitude for all the material they had given journalists to work with in the year about to end.
Today we live in a political world much different from the one Ed left when he died much too young in 1984. There’s more material than ever to work with, but precious little good humor and good faith. And with a super-contagious virus re-surging a pandemic, and people in each major party seeing the other as a threat to democracy, humor might seem out of place at this point. But at times like these, we could use a smile or a chuckle, Christmas is a time to return to tradition, and we do have plenty of material. So here goes.
There is never a shortage of gift ideas for Kentucky’s biggest newsmaker for years, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
First, a symbol of the largest legacy he is likely to leave: A model of the U.S. Supreme Court building, occupied by the McConnell Court as much as the Roberts Court. He kept Merrick Garland off the high court, creating an issue that helped Donald Trump get elected; he held firm when Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh was in danger; and he helped make Amy Coney Barrett a justice even as Trump was in the process of losing the presidential election.
The model sits in a box of sand, because The Leader’s over-politicization of the court, and its resulting bend to the right, has weakened the foundation that our highest court needs for public support of its authority. That’s an essential element of our democracy, which is already under threat from over-politicization of the vote-counting process in some states — something McConnell seems unconcerned about, probably because it’s being done mainly by Republicans.
The senator also gets a piñata, since Trump, his allies and some Republican Senate candidates are trying to make him one. After rejecting Trump’s false election claims and blaming him for the Jan. 6 riot, McConnell stopped trying to lead his party in a direction it didn’t want to go, and helped block a bipartisan, independent probe of the riot. But as a House committee’s investigation got closer to Trump this month, McConnell endorsed it.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville: A display case for those pens President Biden is using to sign those bills that have moved through the House Budget Committee that Yarmuth chairs. But Yarmuth’s biggest job of his final term may remain ahead of him: building back better Biden’s Build Back Better bill, torpedoed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa.
The rest of Kentucky’s congressional delegation: Copies of the U.S. Constitution, with this passage from Article 6 highlighted in yellow: “The Senators and Representatives . . . shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” They all opposed an independent investigation of the anti-constitutional riot Trump incited.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul: The doctor gets an extra gift, for the quackery he has applied to the pandemic, most recently his assertion that masks don’t work against the coronavirus. The Washington Post Fact Checker gave him four Pinocchios; in this space, he gets a rubber duckie.
Gov. Andy Beshear: A few sessions with a speech coach, to help him be more coherent in public presentations; those of us who write them up often feel compelled to use paraphrases, ellipses and other devices to convey concisely what he’s saying. And to repeat a point, an audiobook version of a 2020 gift: Lou Cannon’s Governor Reagan, about succeeding with a legislature controlled by the other party. He didn’t view them as enemies.
The General Assembly: For every member, a printed copy of the redistricting maps prepared by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky. Yes, the nicely compact districts completely ignore political realities, but as the legislature prepares to perform that most political of functions – likely with the ruling Republicans increasing their advantages, much like Democrats did when they ran the show – they need to have some sense of what ideal maps would look like.
Every Kentuckian: A vaccination for COVID-19, and a booster shot to ward off the Omicron variant and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. An N-95 mask to protect yourself and others from the virus. For your smartphones, the app of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so you can get the facts instead of the flim-flam circulated by people trying to make money or gain political influence. And finally, our wishes to each of you for a year in which the virus and COVID-19 misinformation both subside. We can only hope and pray.