“Dear Mitch McConnell,” wrote Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., last week. “Why don’t you just go ahead and call Barack Obama the n-word? You know you want to.”
What led to this over-the-top racial attack from Pitts? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had the audacity to disagree with an approach taken by former President Barack Obama, who leaked audio of himself critiquing the Trump administration after new revelations about his involvement spying on the incoming Trump administration. McConnell thought it an unwise deviation from norms.
The political media used to agree about the importance of this norm. In 2007, former President Jimmy Carter “incited a tsk-tsking tsunami in the capital,” wrote The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich, for the offense of “failing to observe the protocol that former presidents should speak respectfully of their successors, or at least with some measure of restraint.”
In 2013, CNN ran an article on President George W. Bush headlined, “Bush, like most predecessors, holds tongue on successor.” It’s a norm that most presidents have violated privately and several publicly, but a norm nonetheless. While it might seem a relic of a previous time, McConnell certainly wasn’t out of the ordinary in supporting this norm. And nothing McConnell said suggested he was racist in any way.