Connecticut Has Dodged a Bullet. Now, Can We Defeat “Linda McMahonism”?

by Irvin Muchnick on October 18, 2010

World Wrestling Entertainment, the company of the Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut, Linda McMahon, and her monomaniacal husband Vince, has been known to use ex-FBI agents and Fairfax Group goons in its “risk mitigation” department. So all bets are off if, between the publication of this piece and Election Day, they come up with video of Linda’s Democratic opponent – state attorney general Richard Blumenthal – humping Eliot Spitzer’s call girl.

Short of that, one of Campaign 2010’s wackiest races is over – and President Obama can exhale again, confident that his party at least will retain a majority in the Senate on November 2.

In a summer of inchoate voter rage, McMahon had seemed to be capitalizing on her $50 million of “self-funding” and a mendacious outsider message. (Vince and Linda had declared bankruptcy in 1976, defaulting on a million dollars in debts because of bad business decisions and tax shelters. But Linda tried to paint herself as some kind of former welfare mom, and organs like Tina Brown’s Daily Beast enabled the lie.)

Perhaps it was fool’s gold all along, as it turns out that Linda’s supposed Kryptonite, the women’s vote, is breaking 2-to-1 against her. Nutmeg Staters became sick and tired of her dumb, saccharine TV commercials and her near-daily mailers labeling Blumenthal a congenital liar because he hallucinated a few times about serving “in” Vietnam rather than in the Marine Reserves “during” the Vietnam War.

McMahon’s tightly scripted campaign was doomed as soon as she held a press conference to announce her endorsement by a business trade group and, in answer to the most obvious questions, rambled in a way that suggested she would consider advocating a reduction in the minimum wage. During the same medium scrum, she called her WWE – a New York Stock Exchange-traded multinational with a billion-dollar market cap, where last year she and Vince took home $46 million in compensation and Bushie low-taxed dividends, while laying off 10 percent of the office staff – a “small business.”

I don’t know whether the mysteriously passive Blumenthal knew what he was doing by sitting back and letting the summer’s stories of WWE death and scandal percolate on their own, and I don’t care. For once, the sheer length of American campaigns proved a godsend. Our short national nightmare is about over.

At last Tuesday’s third and final debate, Blumenthal finally attacked McMahon on such issues as WWE’s abuse of independent contractor classification for the wrestlers it employs. (The state is now investigating the company for this – probably an unintended consequence of this pop-culture juggernaut’s overreach for temporal power.)

It was music to my ears when Blumenthal said, “I can’t believe that I just heard Ms. McMahon brag about this ‘wellness policy’ at WWE. She requires all wrestlers to sign a death clause that absolves WWE of all responsibility if wrestlers are killed in the ring and if the company is at fault … There have been seven dead wrestlers since she started campaigning …”

Linda’s rejoinder was that WWE does all it can for the “soap opera” performers who have turned her into a near-billionaire while croaking by the bushel. She added, both callously and ungrammatically, “[T]he consequences of death is a very sad thing when that happens …”

What remains to be seen is whether American politics and society, having pinned Linda McMahon, can prevail over Linda McMahonism. Unlike some others, I don’t see the problem as primarily partisan. Lowell Weicker, the former Republican senator and governor from Connecticut who is now on the WWE board of directors, to his credit refused to endorse McMahon because of her opposition to health care reform; and in a recent article about the Senate race in the New York Times Magazine, Weicker rightly dismissed the state’s Republican Party, whose nomination McMahon all but literally bought, as a “non-entity.”

Linda and Vince’s political legacy is as bipartisan money-grubbers who have spent more than a million dollars in Washington lobbying, and contributed widely to Democratic as well as Republican candidates for office. They even donated to Connecticut’s other senator and the McMahons’ flip-side “family values” head case, Joe Lieberman.

My celebration of a Blumenthal victory, assuming it’s not premature, therefore will be short-lived; the factors that will have gotten him elected hit deceptively deep themes in our public life. The independent contractor scam – which Obama himself has identified as something that both gyps the tax rolls and lowers the quality of life of American workers – is only one of them.

Another is the new consciousness surrounding health and safety in all of sports. The McMahons have complained that pro wrestling is being unfairly picked on when it comes to eradicating steroid and painkiller abuse, as well as occupational concussions; they may have a point, though it’s not one that speaks particularly well of them. WWE’s own medical director, Dr. Joseph Maroon, heads the team of mostly University of Pittsburgh Medical Center docs who give PR cover to the company’s joke of a “wellness policy.” Maroon and at least one other WWE doctor from UPMC also have other shaky outside business interests, including with the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL’s concussion policy committee.

Linda and Vince McMahon’s gift to civic dialogue was in finally putting their seedy business practices squarely on the radar screen. Have Democratic politicians been hypocritical this season in jumping on the anti-WWE bandwagon – as Vince started whining last week with the self-pity of a loser? You bet your life. But at least, for once, power and money fumbled in a phony populist’s disfavor.

Once Blumenthal completes the task of blocking Linda’s move from Titan Tower in Stamford to Capitol Hill in Washington, one of his first obligations will be to pick up the ball of Congressional investigations of WWE occupational health and safety, which Democratic legislators made noises about but dropped in the wake of the sensational 2007 double murder/suicide of star wrestler Chris Benoit.

Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, blogs at and is @irvmuch at Twitter.

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