Two weeks before Tom Brady makes his 10th Super Bowl start, it is time to face facts. Even those of us who believe that Bill Belichick deserves most of the credit for the Patriots dynasty have to admit that the fifth best quarterback in Michigan football history played his part. Maybe Belichick could have done it with a different guy, but the fact of the matter is that he didn't. Meanwhile, despite his limited arm strength and athletic ability and his cult-like fad dieting, and with help from great defenses, Brady has accomplished more at the highest level than any signal caller in NFL history. At a certain point, you can't argue with the résumé.
What about Mitch McConnell, my own nominee for GOAT in his respective field? I think there is a good case to be made that Cocaine Mitch is the most accomplished Senate leader his party has had since the introduction of the modern majority and minority system roughly a century ago.
On one reading, McConnell won one of his greatest late-career victories — his Tampa Bay NFC championship, you might say — on Tuesday. Facing a de facto Democratic majority with Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, there was every reason to believe that the era of the filibuster would be over. Suddenly statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, court packing, and even an attempt at codifying Roe v. Wade would have become very real possibilities. Instead, with virtually zero concessions offered in return, two key Democrats joined with President Biden (who had made his feeling known last Friday) in agreeing that McConnell should have the power to obstruct any sweeping legislative action in the upper chamber. In response, McConnell graciously admitted that the GOP does not, in fact, have to share control of Senate committees with the party that is actually in charge. Very big of him!
Coming as it did following the defeat of his party's incumbent president and the loss of his narrow majority in two special elections in the Deep South, amid the atmosphere of recrimination in the weeks after the Capitol Hill riot, there is something beautiful about this: the old gunslinger rallying his boys at their own one yard line and driving them down the field to keep the team's hopes alive in overtime. Just as he played Donald Trump for three Supreme Court justices and a tax cut, here he is convincing Democrats to let him have veto power over what happens in the upper chamber for years to come. (Anyone who thinks the same scenario would have played out if Trump had been re-elected but Republicans still faced a 50-50 split in the Senate is delusional: The filibuster would have gone the way of the fullback dive.)
Still, there is another sense in which McConnell probably deserves less credit than some observers are inclined to give him. How many of his Democratic colleagues actually wanted a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate? How many wanted to face their constituents' questions about banning fracking or adding additional seats to the Supreme Court or any of the other absurd positions they committed themselves to during last year's election? More to the point, how many of them would prefer the solemn responsibility of governing to four years of theatrical impeachment hearings and complaints about Republican obstruction?
This is the horrifying truth about American partisanship, the reason that the National Football League is vastly more entertaining than what goes on in Washington, D.C: almost no one there actually cares about winning. Holding on to office, getting the paychecks and the perks, receiving all the attention and adulation their parents and classmates apparently failed to shower upon them in their youth — these are what motivates most of our elected officials.
Which is why at the end of the day I am not hesitant to call McConnell the most effective Senate leader of the last half century, for the not very complicated reason that he not only cares about winning but does win more consistently than anyone else, regardless of the position in which he finds himself.