W&L’s Mock Convention got a polite but firm “No, thank you,” on Tuesday from Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who gave a good reason for turning down the University’s signature political event.
Here’s the story: The senator was the featured interviewee on the “Playbook Breakfast,” during which W&L alumnus Mike Allen, a member of the Class of 1986 and author of “Mike Allen’s Playbook” for Politico, conducts a one-on-one session with a newsmaker. In fact, this was the very first edition of the new “Playbook Breakfast,” and it was held at the W Hotel in D.C. Allen conducts the interview before a live audience, and it is filmed for the Politico website. As it happened, a group of Washington and Lee students was in the audience. So Mike offered them the chance to ask McConnell a question.
And they did: Would McConnell consider an invitation to speak at the 2012 Mock Convention? Harmless enough, right?
Ah, but McConnell clearly knows his history. He replied: “You know, one of my predecessors did that. Alben Barkley. And right in the middle of his speech at your Mock Convention in 1956, he had a heart attack and died. And so the answer, my friend, is no.” And in case that wasn’t clear enough, McConnell added emphatically: “There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell.”
Barkley was, like McConnell, a senator from Kentucky, and the story of his death is a staple of Mock Convention lore. Here’s the official version from the Mock Convention website:
The guest of honor that year (1956) was Senator and former Vice President Alben Barkley of Kentucky. Barkley delivered a rousing keynote speech exhibiting his genuine love for politics and political conventions. In 90 degree heat, he told students he had not intended to go to the real Democratic convention that summer. However, after participating in the W&L event, he had changed his mind, felling “like an old firehorse when he hears the bell.” In his excitement, he accidentally knocked over a microphone. Thinking quickly, he enthusiastically told the audience, “That’s nothing to what’ll happen to the Republicans in November!” Explaining why he had settled for becoming Kentucky’s junior Senator after occupying the second highest job in the land, he said: “I would rather be a servant in the house of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty.” As the crowd roared its approval, Barkley stepped back from the podium and collapsed. Within minutes he was pronounced dead of a heart attack. Only Barkley’s widow could make the student delegates resume their task; “You have unfinished business,” she told convention officials. A week later the convention reconvened, correctly predicting that Adlai Stevenson would once again be the Democratic nominee.
Here is the video from the “Playbook Breakfast” with McConnell. To see his response to the Mock Convention invitation, go to the 38:23 mark.