Alright, class. Imagine you're a reporter in the mainstream media and you want to write a formulaic profile of a conservative legislator but don't know how.
It's easy if you follow the simple steps I've written down below. For our purposes today, I'm illustrating from the March 6 Politico profile of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
First, start with some praise about said leader's legislative prowess:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell returned to the Senate in January with a conference slashed in size and chastened by voters. Neither the Republican president nor the Democratic-controlled Congress had much use for him. Colleagues whispered that the senator, with all the pizzazz of plain oatmeal, was terrible on television.
Two months later, though, McConnell has managed to make the Republican stance on Iraq -- oppose a rebuke of the president while pressing for continued war funding -- look downright vogue. In the process, even skeptics have acknowledged that McConnell knows how to work a chamber.
"His stock is very high right now," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Now let your readers know that he drives his opponents crazy:
Not with everyone.
"McConnell is in fact a combination of the worst of all worlds -- the arrogance of Bush, the social conservatism and lunacy of Rick Santorum, the hypocrisy of Mark Foley, the corruption of Tom DeLay," Matt Stoller, a Washington-based Democratic consultant, wrote on the liberal blog MyDD.
Now, and this is really important, bring in an ostensibly conservative or "nonpartisan" pundit to agree with aforementioned opponent that said legislator needs to tone it down a bit:
As the Kentucky Republican defends his party -- and President Bush -- like a Cub Scout den mother, he's threading the needle between a conference in need of an opposition identity and a public mood divided on the position he has staked out. Insiders admire his tactical maneuvers on Iraq, but could he lose the broader public relations battle outside of Washington?
"They have a potential double whammy," said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "They could ultimately be portrayed as obstructionists, and obstructionists in favor of a policy that deteriorates anyhow."
And finally, focus solely on mechanical aspects of legislative leadership: the ebb and flow of political support, the sausage making of the political process, etc.
By all means avoid larger questions of the merits of the public policy said leader advocates.
Voila, you have your standard MSM portrait of a conservative legislative leader.