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Republican U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell fell at a fundraising event this past Wednesday, suffering a concussion and requiring a hospital stay. Many of his colleagues in Congress, from both parties, quickly responded with well-wishes and hopes for a speedy recovery. As it should be.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, an almost constant rhetorical sparring partner of McConnell’s on the Senate floor, struck an appropriately supportive tone in floor remarks Thursday morning.
“This morning I offer a prayer of strength and healing for the leader and his family,” Schumer said.
Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who himself had been part of an intra-party dispute with McConnell, was also quick to wish the Kentucky senator well.
“Ann and I are keeping @LeaderMcConnell and Elaine in our prayers and wish him a speedy, full recovery,” Scott said on Twitter, referring to both his wife and McConnell’s wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat from New Mexico, who suffered a stroke in early 2022 and needed brain surgery, said McConnell “was one of the first people to reach out to me after my stroke. I’m wishing him a full and speedy recovery.”
This supportive tone, which President Joe Biden also used in his well-wishes for McConnell, should frankly be a given regardless of political differences and disagreements. McConnell himself has exuded this respectful approach repeatedly in the past. When a host of conservative voices responded to the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with conspiracy theories and even jokes, McConnell showed them what empathic leadership looked like.
Unfortunately, not everyone has afforded McConnell this same type of empathy. Jenna Ellis, one of the lawyers in former President Donald Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, mocked McConnell’s situation on Twitter by sharing a video of a turtle falling down stairs and shamelessly saying, “Breaking: Camera footage from last night’s McConnell dinner obtained.” Trump, for the record, has wished McConnell well after the fall.
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect much more from Ellis, who was just censured by a Colorado judge for misrepresentations she made about the 2020 election. But she was not alone in turning to mockery over empathy. Some liberals across social media gleefully shared memes about McConnell’s fall. Disagreeing with him or another politician is one thing; making light of a medical issue is something else entirely.
The reflex some have to mock political opponents in moments of pain or personal difficulty remains concerning. A person tripping and falling, whether it’s McConnell or Biden, doesn’t suddenly become funny depending on your political persuasions. At least it shouldn’t.
You don’t have to agree with someone politically to hope they don’t get hurt, or to wish them well after a health scare. We cannot allow political disagreements, even massive ones, to rob us of our shared sense of humanity. That is not to say we should avoid criticizing public figures — or doing so strongly — when we disagree with them, their policies and actions. But we need to be able to do so without losing perspective or basic dignity in the process.
Sadly, McConnell is no stranger to the comparison Ellis attempted in her tweet. He has for years faced mockery, particularly from the political left, about his appearance. We wonder how many of those would-be comedians realized they were making fun of someone who survived polio as a child.
Nobody’s health issues should be a punchline, not even those of political adversaries. We certainly aren’t laughing with those who have tried to make light of McConnell’s hospitalization, and appreciate the strong bipartisan chorus from his colleagues who have done the decent and obvious thing by wishing him well.