Chao, the secretary of transportation and McConnell’s wife, takes a roasting in this book as well. Together they are portrayed as chthonic ringmasters, the Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé of contemptuous partisanship and thoroughgoing bad faith.
Despite the fact that Jones is in a car, this book is not a drive-by shooting. He stops and talks to farmers, coal-town residents, family doctors and many others as prelude to criticizing McConnell’s policies. “When the final history of coal mining in eastern Kentucky is written, McConnell will be one of its chief villains,” he writes.
This book was completed before the spread of the coronavirus. But there are many pages about how McConnell’s health care ideas — “there’s no campaign money in fighting for people’s lives but a lot of money in siding with insurance providers,” Jones writes — could get people killed.
What is “Mitch, Please!” like to read? Here the news is mostly thorns. This is really two books, as if its author were walking a pair of dogs on a bifurcated leash. One of these dogs is dead. This somewhat slows things down.
The live dog, its tail wagging, is the story of Jones’s own life (his single mother is a trailblazing state prosecutor) and his acute, good-natured and often funny impressions about life, culture and politics in his home state. Reading Jones and his co-writer, Chris Tomlin, on Kentucky can be like reading Larry McMurtry on Texas, albeit with more talk about professional wrestling.
The dead dog is the road trip conceit. Once you realize that Jones really is going to drag you through all 120 counties, one at a time, the heart sinks. The trivia piles up; it’s a lawn sale of irrelevancies. He visits a cat-themed used bookstore, the world’s only life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, historical centers, “one of the world’s finest miniatures collections” and a theme park called Dinosaur World.
I was reminded of the scene in one of John Updike’s Henry Bech novels in which Bech, a Jewish writer, is invited on a cultural good-will tour and realizes with horror the sheer number of display cases that his hosts will force him to stare into and murmur politely over.