Someone ought to pull aside some of television’s talking heads and magpies of the left and explain how babies are made.
They’re very, very upset that Mitch McConnell, the senator from Kentucky who is the leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, is openly practicing politics, like an actress coming out of the closet as a thespian, or a shopkeeper shamelessly committing nepotism with his daughter.
This is so far mostly of interest to a small but noisy conventicle of magpies, perched on telephone wires in Washington and Manhattan, chattering to each other about the day the senator sat down with his aides to talk about a prospective challenge from Ashley Judd, the movie starlet.
They were discussing Miss Judd’s strengths, such as there may be, and her weaknesses, and how a McConnell campaign could exploit the weaknesses if in fact she ran against him in November. You might think this is just what all successful politicians do, but somebody made a tape recording of the conversation and leaked it to David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, and overnight the incident became Son of Watergate (though the cliché-mongers of the media are trying to christen it “McConnellgate”). A McConnell campaign aide, equally bereft of imagination, likened the leak to something the Gestapo of Nazi Germany might have done, and the FBI was called in to see whether partisan evil-doers had planted a bug in the wall.
Soon everybody was trying to get an oar in while the water was lukewarm. The National Jewish Democratic Council demanded an apology, or something, for the reference to the Gestapo — the brutal Nazi secret police — “just days after Holocaust Remembrance Day.” The hapless McConnell aide probably should have cited the KGB, though reference rights to the Holocaust do not necessarily include rights to the Gestapo, an equal opportunity terrorizer. World War II belongs to everybody, though comparisons to Hitler by anyone who gets a parking ticket are getting tedious and going out of style in the better capital salons.
What was actually said at the meeting of Mr. McConnell and his good ol’ boys was more like a coffee-shop conversation than a conclave of the illuminati. “I assume most of you have played the game Whac-a-Mole,” the senator is heard saying. “This is the Whac-a-Mole period of the campaign … when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.”
One aide describes Miss Judd’s life as “a haystack of needles,” a wealth of exploitable material, much of it lifted from her 2011 memoir, “All That is Bitter & Sweet.” In it, Miss Judd discusses her emotional troubles, suicidal tendencies and how she was once hospitalized for treatment. The conversation goes on about some of the things Miss Judd herself said in her book and in interviews promoting her book – churlish criticism of Christianity, patriarchy, men, and her beliefs that “breeding” is bad and having children is selfish, that weddings and the ancient custom of fathers giving their daughters in marriage is rooted in male domination of a woman’s reproductive gifts. These are silly but perfectly legal things to say at a dinner party of Hollywood airheads in Malibu and will win applause on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But they’re not very smart things to say or write down if you intend to return to Kentucky to run for office.
Politicians and even pundits once understood these as the facts of life – and survival. Politics was a game as well as a calling, and a senator or a governor would occasionally acknowledge an opponent’s well-placed shot. But not now. “Opposition research,” or learning as much as you can about an opponent and his background, is OK if it’s about your opponent, but not OK if the opponent does it about you. Barack Obama used to great advantage the contents of an earlier tape leaked to David Corn and Mother Jones, of Mitt Romney declaring to a group of contributors that “47 percent” of Americans were drawing government checks. The FBI was not called in, nor should it have been, and Mr. Romney learned that he sometimes appeared to need a brain transplant.
Ashley Judd was the opponent Mitch McConnell should have been praying for, and perhaps he was. The conversation on the tape sounds celebratory, not mean. The only media folk who imagined Miss Judd a credible candidate were the authors of breathless portraits in the New Republic, The New York Times and Salon. Who needs Gallup or Rasmussen when everybody the authors know thought she was a winner? This “scandal” is hardly Son of Watergate. It’s not even a nephew.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.