It’s not exactly Lincoln-Douglas, but the defining moment of the current American condition may be the first of the debates between the candidates for the U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut that is being vacated by Chris Dodd.
On October 4, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, Dodd’s successor-in-waiting and the longtime state attorney general, and Republican Linda McMahon, the co-founder and erstwhile chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, will square off in Hartford. The atmospherics heavily favor the latter: McMahon supporters snapped up almost all the public tickets for the live audience at the Bushnell Theater, and the debate moderator is Bret Baier of Fox News.
Thirty years ago there was a really bad movie, All the Marbles, starring Peter Falk as the manager of a tag team of women wrestlers called the California Dolls. (Great stunt work, though, by the Japanese ladies who body-doubled the wrestling scenes.) Today all the marbles in Connecticut – as well as, arguably, for the Democrats’ prospects to retain majority control of the Senate in nationwide elections – rest on the Blumenthal-McMahon debate.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for how we came to this pass. To be sure, the voters of Connecticut will be suckers of Barnumesque proportion if they swallow McMahon’s job-creation pablum; she is the person who laid off ten percent of the WWE office staff even while enriching herself to the tune of scores of millions of dollars with Bushie breaks on both corporate and personal-dividend taxes.
But the truly sad news is that the Democratic Party has helped along this phony insurgent with its own series of pratfalls. The conventional decline experienced by any majority party in mid-terms elections this time took on a snowball effect during a persistent recession. Inexplicably, the Obama Administration put all its eggs in the basket of a watered-down and as yet unimplemented health-care reform bill.
In the Connecticut race itself, Blumenthal and his proxies so far have failed miserably to make the slam-dunk case against Linda McMahon’s “self-funded” candidacy. They seem to think their most potent issue is not the dozens upon dozens of unnecessary deaths in McMahon’s industry on her watch (plus a handful more in real time during the campaign itself). In lieu of hard questions about piles of corpses, we’ve been treated to replays of a YouTube clip of Linda pretending to kick a TV announcer in the testicles.
Two weeks ago, at a fundraiser on Millionaires’ Row in Fairfield County, Obama recycled a tired joke about McMahon’s threatened “smackdown” and added, “Public service is not a joke.”
Well, speak for yourself, Mr. President. It is you who has sat down for exponentially more TV interviews than any of your White House predecessors – including one devoted to pushing the urgent need for a genuine college football championship playoff system. It is you who disgracefully lent the Oval Office imprimatur to WWE’s Tribute to the Troops holiday special on NBC. It is you whose chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is among the many Democrats as well as Republicans who have cashed Linda McMahon campaign contributions over the years.
Last week the vain and pompous nephew of John F. Kennedy went after the McMahon campaign for co-opting the late president’s nearly half-century-old tax cut to make Republican corporatists’ long-discredited argument for supply-side economics redux in 2010. The only thing Ted Kennedy Jr. accomplished was a round of “Camelot vs. Slamalot” headlines, further and artificially elevating Linda’s profile.
McMahon is spending $50 million of pro wrestling profits (or, who knows, maybe a few mil more) on television ads and mass mailings that ludicrously try to label as lies every single thing Richard Blumenthal ever said. No one is that dumb. On a few occasions Blumenthal did hype his Vietnam-era service in the Marine Reserves, in a faux scandal McMahon successfully peddled to the New York Times. But in order to be as serious as McMahon’s howlers about her own past, Blumenthal would have had to have claimed a Purple Heart at the Battle of Khe Sahn.
Blumenthal also has accepted Political Action Committee donations in this race, for the first time in his political career. He never pledged otherwise for the current cycle, and considering the vanity operation he’s up against, and the shameless industrial might behind it, you can’t blame him. The source of Linda McMahon’s wealth (enabled by decades of lookaway passes and proactive support from everyone on down from former Connecticut senator and governor Lowell Weicker, a member of the WWE board of directors) is about as independent as the “contract” employees of the company, who waive health benefits, pensions, vacations, and even the rights of their survivors to sue if they die as a result of the promoter’s negligence. (The state is now investigating WWE for its alleged abuse of independent contractor classifications.)
After the Blumenthal-McMahon debates, there will likely be a flurry of last-minute media stories on the pandemic of deaths in pro wrestling, on McMahon’s tall tales about her 1976 bankruptcy, and on her and husband Vince’s obstructions of justice during federal investigations of their company in the 1990s. (These included Vince’s acquittal at a 1994 trial on steroid-trafficking charges – after lead defense lawyer Laura Brevetti’s husband, a Rudy Giuliani crony named Martin Bergman, dangled cash for a TV interview in front of a key prosecution witness, Vince’s former Playboy model secretary, Emily Feinberg.)
To date, all of these stories, reported exhaustively on my blog, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com, have been either haphazardly covered or altogether ignored elsewhere.
The gold medal for campaign journalism stupidity goes to Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, to whom Linda McMahon retailed a carny account of her bankruptcy. In this Version 2.0, dutifully transcribed by writer Lloyd Grove, Linda managed to confuse around a million dollars of defaulted obligations with anecdotes about being “married at 17 and soon pregnant” years earlier – a period when, depending on how you interpret the passage, she was either on government food stamps or reduced to the humiliation of redeeming S&H Green Stamps for her first child’s baby formula.
If Blumenthal steps up in the debate and accomplishes more than prattling on about his crusades against Big Pharma and the sexual predators of Craigslist, then McMahon’s voluminous scandals could acquire some bite. If not, they are doomed to the dustbin of W.’s drunk-driving arrest and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s girl-groping: desperation canyon cries of losers.
The golden boy of Connecticut’s liberal establishment has enjoyed a generation of one-sided press conferences while he prosecuted bad guys. Next Monday – for everyone else’s sake, if not his own – let’s hope Richard Blumenthal shows that he can think and talk on his feet.
Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, is @irvmuch on Twitter.Filed under: Archive