Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was mad. Not the kind of mad you get when your favorite team blows a big lead and loses its eighth straight game, but Red-Faced-Exploding-Blood-Pressure Mad.
“This is what you get from the political Left in America,” McConnell bellowed to the media. “That is what the political Left does these days.”
McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, added his opinion—“We’ve always said the Left would stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell.” They demanded the FBI launch a criminal investigation. The FBI response to the media was, “[W]e are looking into the matter.” Not long after, McConnell approved a campaign slogan, exhorting voters to “Stand with McConnell against the liberal media’s illegal and underhanded tactics.”
What McConnell and Benton were furious about was a leaked tape that revealed possible tactics they would use against movie star Ashley Judd if she were to oppose McConnell in the 2014 Senate race.
McConnell had no evidence there was any liberal plot or that the tape was the result of a bug deliberately planted in campaign headquarters, but tried to spin in circles to make people believe it was a liberal invasion of his soul.
David Corn of Mother Jones, which this week published a transcript of the tape that was made Feb. 2, said the tape was not the result of any bugging operation. It is entirely possible that the tape was made by someone in that room, not unlike the videotape of Mitt Romney who told a fundraising meeting of wealthy supporters that 47 percent of Americans were takers. However, unlike McConnell’s fury, Romney took the high road and tried to dance around his words rather than blame the liberals for leaking the tape that may have been the turning point in the campaign.
But the tactics of a five-term senator and his senior staff may be just as damaging to their campaign as the “47 percent tape” was to Romney’s. McConnell said he and his campaign should launch a “whack-a-mole” campaign—“when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.” In this case, McConnell’s team planned to attack Judd’s mental health, her political activism, her loyalty to President Obama, and that she is an “out of touch” Hollywood liberal.
“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” said one of the staff, emphasizing the campaign could go after Judd for past bouts of depression that led to her being hospitalized. Laughter about her depression could be heard on the tape. Judd readily acknowledged that time in her life, even including it in her autobiography, All That is Bitter and Sweet.
A staff aide called Judd “critical . . . of traditional Christianity [and] anti-sort-of-traditional American family.” What the aide meant was that Judd opposes sexism in the Christian church, supports the Affordable Care Act, is pro-choice, believes in the rights of gays to marry, is an animal rights advocate who spoke against Sarah Palin’s campaign to eradicate wolves by shooting them in their dens, and opposes the use of coal and other fossil fuels to try to avoid climate change that could destroy the earth’s ozone layer.
McConnell and the staff also didn’t say that while McConnell has led the “Party of No” into blocking almost all major appointments and meaningful legislation, Judd is a recognized humanitarian who has worked vigorously to expose the wrongs committed against society’s most vulnerable. They also didn’t mention she is a Phi Beta Kappa honors graduate of the University of Kentucky, and earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard. They seemed more focused upon sliming her personal life and the fact her cell phone has a San Francisco area code.
In a subsequent story, Mother Jones revealed that some of the staff in the room when the recording was made, and that others who did the research about Judd, were Senate staffers. If they did the work on their own time, did not use any federal resources (including telephones and other communications devices), and did not do their work in any federal office they would not have violated the Senate’s own ethics standards. However, as Mother Jones reported, the three senior McConnell staffers they contacted “did not respond.”
Bound in a political black hole from which truth never escapes, McConnell and his staff launched a “scorched-earth” attack to divert the public from the facts on the leaked tape was the far greater sin than what was said.
Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth analysis of the effects of fracking upon public health, the environment, worker safety, and agriculture. Dr. Brasch also investigates the history of energy policies in the U.S. and the relationships between the energy companies and politicians at local, state, and federal levels.