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June 13, 2011, 5:18 p.m.

Ex-WWE CEO Linda McMa­hon (R) and AG Dick Blu­menth­al (D) “at­tacked each oth­er” in their second de­bate 10/7 “over Blu­menth­al’s tax votes and law­suits and McMa­hon’s lob­by­ing Con­gress against broad­cast rules to pro­tect chil­dren from sex and vi­ol­ence.”

They “en­gaged more dir­ectly than dur­ing their” first de­bate, “of­ten ig­nor­ing the ques­tions posed” by the mod­er­at­ors. “McMa­hon did not an­swer a ques­tion about wheth­er she would weak­en the Amer­ic­ans with Dis­ab­il­it­ies Act or the Fam­ily and Med­ic­al Leave Act.” Blu­menth­al “did not dir­ectly re­spond to a poin­ted ques­tion about al­leg­a­tions he has over­reached” as AG.

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

McMa­hon por­trayed Blu­menth­al’s re­cord “as in­dif­fer­ent to busi­ness in­terests,” while Blu­menth­al char­ac­ter­ized McMa­hon’s lead­er­ship of WWE “as counter to the in­terests of her wrest­lers and pub­lic.” Blu­menth­al: “She claims to be dif­fer­ent. There is noth­ing dif­fer­ent about hir­ing lob­by­ists to strong-arm Wash­ing­ton.”

McMa­hon char­ac­ter­ized the WWE’s lob­by­ing against an adult-con­tent law as a mat­ter of “free speech.” After “be­ing on the de­fens­ive for much of the first de­bate, McMa­hon seemed more com­fort­able and bet­ter-pre­pared today. She used hu­mor to needle Blu­menth­al as a ca­reer politi­cian with a his­tory of mis­state­ments.”

“And for the first time, Blu­menth­al dir­ectly con­fron­ted McMa­hon about a pre­vi­ously re­por­ted memo in which she dir­ec­ted a WWE sub­or­din­ate to tip off a doc­tor about a fed­er­al in­vest­ig­a­tion of ster­oid use by wrest­lers. He dropped whatever re­ser­va­tions he had about per­son­ally ar­guing that McMa­hon was ac­count­able for the WWE’s more con­tro­ver­sial his­tory, in­clud­ing its im­plic­a­tion in the ab­use of ster­oids by its wrest­lers.” McMa­hon: “Mr. Blu­menth­al, I think you want to con­stantly fo­cus on WWE, be­cause it’s really dif­fi­cult for you to fo­cus on the eco­nomy and cre­at­ing jobs. WWE is cer­tainly a com­pany of which I am very proud.”

“McMa­hon pressed the case that Blu­menth­al’s over­looked re­cord as a le­gis­lat­or covered a vote for one of the state’s biggest tax in­creases.” McMa­hon: “We con­tin­ue to pay for that today.”

“Blu­menth­al countered that while he was strug­gling with the state budget, she was spend­ing her time try­ing to thwart a fed­er­al in­vest­ig­a­tion of ster­oid use in the WWE by tip­ping off a WWE doc­tor.” McMa­hon “did not re­spond dur­ing the de­bate about in­form­ing the doc­tor of the fed­er­al in­vest­ig­a­tion. After the ses­sion, she called it the memo old news. She de­clined to say if she re­gret­ted in­form­ing the doc­tor of the fed­er­al probe.”

“Blu­menth­al said after the de­bate that he did not re­gret any of the law­suits filed dur­ing his ten­ure.” Blu­menth­al: “I am proud of my re­cord of zeal­ously and vig­or­ously pro­tect­ing the people of Con­necti­c­ut and us­ing the law to re­cov­er hun­dreds of mil­lions for them, put­ting money back in their pock­et… I am very proud of our re­cord. No lit­ig­at­or wins 100 per­cent of the time.”

McMa­hon told re­port­ers “she had no prob­lem with the Fam­ily and Med­ic­al Leave Act.” McMa­hon: “I know at WWE, Fam­ily and Med­ic­al Leave Act has come up sev­er­al times, and I think it’s been be­ne­fi­cial for those em­ploy­ees. I’ve had no reas­on to look at it and roll it back at this time.”

When Blu­menth­al men­tioned that the WWE was the tar­get of a state in­vest­ig­a­tion, McMa­hon “turned the is­sue on Blu­menth­al.” She “said he mis­char­ac­ter­ized the in­vest­ig­a­tion as a crim­in­al probe dur­ing their pre­vi­ous de­bate.” McMa­hon: “Let’s give you the be­ne­fit of the doubt. Maybe you just mis­s­poke again. like the time you talked about how you had served in Vi­et­nam, like the time when you talked about, you were not go­ing to Van­couver for the tri­al law­yers for a fun­draiser.”

“The jibe promp­ted Blu­menth­al to once again apo­lo­gize for mis­state­ments” on Vi­et­nam. Blu­menth­al: “It was un­in­ten­tion­al. That’s no ex­cuse. I take full re­spons­ib­il­ity. I apo­lo­gize, as I have done be­fore to the people of Con­necti­c­ut, most par­tic­u­larly to our vet­er­ans” (Pazniokas, CT Mir­ror, 10/8).

Two Sides Of The Coin

The New York Post en­dorsed McMa­hon (10/8). Ex-AK Gov. Sarah Pal­in (R) pro­nounced McMa­hon one of her “mama grizz­lies” 10/7, “a de­vel­op­ment quickly pub­li­cized” by Blu­menth­al’s camp.

McMa­hon’s camp “re­acted coolly to the un­so­li­cited video em­brace by Pal­in.” McMa­hon spokes­per­son Ed Patru: “Pal­in’s cer­tainly en­titled to make any opin­ion on any race that she would like. Linda is run­ning her own race, and she’ll con­tin­ue to do that through elec­tion day” (Pazniokas, CT Mir­ror, 10/8).

Wa­ter­bury Re­pub­lic­an Amer­ic­an’s eds say McMa­hon was “un­fairly pil­lor­ied” over her min­im­um wage state­ments (10/8).

In the Wash­ing­ton of the early 1960s that Robert Caro so vividly re­cre­ates in his latest volume on Lyn­don John­son, polit­ic­al sci­ent­ists’ greatest con­cern was not too much dif­fer­ence between the two parties but too little. It’s worth re­call­ing the flaws — and ad­vant­ages — of that era as we con­front a polit­ic­al or­der whose greatest chal­lenge is very much the op­pos­ite: too much dis­tance between the parties.

Polit­ic­al ana­lysts in that earli­er time talked about “four-party” con­gres­sion­al polit­ics, with each side splintered in­to two fac­tions: con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats primar­ily from the South and mod­er­ate-to-lib­er­al Demo­crats from every­where else; “old guard” con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans, mostly from the Mid­w­est, and more-mod­er­ate-to-lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans con­cen­trated in the North­east and along the West Coast. This align­ment pro­duced a kal­eido­scop­ic shift­ing of loy­al­ties worthy of Game of Thrones. Pres­id­ents con­stantly had to nav­ig­ate between fac­tions to build evan­es­cent le­gis­lat­ive ma­jor­it­ies, when they could build ma­jor­it­ies at all. “The four great groups in Wash­ing­ton moved like plan­ets that traveled along dis­tinct or­bits: They would briefly align, then drift apart,” as I wrote in my 2007 book The Second Civil War.

The most for­mid­able force was the con­gres­sion­al al­li­ance of South­ern Demo­crats and con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans. As Caro notes in The Pas­sage of Power, pub­lished this week, that al­li­ance co­alesced in res­ist­ance to Pres­id­ent Roosevelt’s 1938 Court-pack­ing scheme and then sty­mied the next three pres­id­ents’ ef­forts to ex­pand gov­ern­ment’s role in provid­ing se­cur­ity (such as health care for the aged), pro­mot­ing op­por­tun­ity (fed­er­al aid to edu­ca­tion), and pro­tect­ing civil rights. “The iden­tity of the party in power didn’t mat­ter,” Caro writes. “It was the South­ern-con­ser­vat­ive co­ali­tion that mattered — and the South­ern-con­ser­vat­ive co­ali­tion held firm.”

Al­though the co­ali­tion was first among equals in this era, it could not im­pose its will on all is­sues. No single fac­tion could. The sys­tem was much more flu­id and un­pre­dict­able than today’s. Pres­id­ents could count on the re­li­able sup­port of few­er le­gis­lat­ors than now, but few­er were en­tirely bey­ond their reach. As Caro demon­strates in his com­pel­ling ac­counts of John­son’s ini­tial le­gis­lat­ive thrusts after Pres­id­ent Kennedy’s as­sas­sin­a­tion, that re­quired the chief ex­ec­ut­ive to man­age and re­spond to di­verse view­points (and in­terest groups) in both parties’ co­ali­tions.

The most com­mon com­plaint about this peri­od’s polit­ics was that it pro­moted too much con­sensus. Polit­ic­al ana­lysts ar­gued that the frac­tures in each party denied Amer­ic­ans a clear choice in elec­tions and made it im­possible for either side to im­ple­ment “co­her­ent pro­grams,” as a cel­eb­rated 1950 com­mis­sion lamen­ted. In a 1963 book, polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist James Mac­Gregor Burns warned that the ne­ces­sity to gov­ern by “con­sensus and co­ali­tion” had left the na­tion in­cap­able of bold ac­tion at home or abroad.

All of those com­plaints had mer­it. This four-party sys­tem (what I’ve called the Age of Bar­gain­ing) muffled too many voices and ec­lipsed too many is­sues, from the en­vir­on­ment to poverty to civil rights. But this world had one great vir­tue: It re­quired polit­ic­al lead­ers to court and bar­gain with oth­er lead­ers of very dif­fer­ent views, not only in the oth­er party but also in their own.

Al­most all im­port­ant polit­ic­al de­bates dur­ing these years oc­curred not only between the parties but with­in them as well. That marked a crit­ic­al dif­fer­ence from today’s polit­ics. In most ma­jor le­gis­lat­ive fights in re­cent years, Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats march in lock­step against each oth­er. Most sub­stant­ive ob­jec­tions to any policy come from the oth­er party, which make them easy to dis­miss as par­tis­an grand­stand­ing. In John­son’s era, politi­cians could not so eas­ily ig­nore dis­sent­ing opin­ions, be­cause those dis­sents of­ten came from their al­lies. As a res­ult, policy usu­ally re­flec­ted a broad­er range of views and tried to bal­ance more in­terests than today.

Since then, the range of opin­ion has nar­rowed in both parties but es­pe­cially in the GOP, where con­ser­vat­ives ex­ert much great­er in­flu­ence than lib­er­als do among Demo­crats. At a Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter pan­el this week, Geof­frey Ka­baser­vice, au­thor of Rule and Ru­in, a new book on the de­cline of mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, noted that even dur­ing Pres­id­ent Re­agan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, the need to bar­gain with GOP cent­rists re­strained con­ser­vat­ives from some ideo­lo­gic­al cru­sades that could ali­en­ate swing voters. But with mod­er­ates mar­gin­al­ized, Ka­baser­vice says, GOP con­ser­vat­ives routinely push ideo­logy to the point “that they can’t sell their pro­gram any­more” on is­sues such as trans­form­ing Medi­care. Demo­crats haven’t faced as great an im­bal­ance, but they could if the ranks of their con­gres­sion­al cent­rists di­min­ish fur­ther.

Each party is more ideo­lo­gic­ally mono­lith­ic than it was in the peri­od that Caro re­counts, mak­ing polit­ics more ri­gid and ab­so­lut­ist. Once in power, Re­pub­lic­ans, in par­tic­u­lar, but also Demo­crats, con­cede much less to op­pos­ing views than in John­son’s day. Yet the na­tion is likely to di­vide al­most evenly between the two sides in 2012. Against that back­drop, all-or-noth­ing polit­ics in 2013 will pro­duce either stale­mate or ex­plos­ive po­lar­iz­a­tion (if one side tries to im­pose its agenda with a slim ma­jor­ity). Build­ing in­clus­ive co­ali­tions that har­mon­ize di­verse views is more dif­fi­cult now than in John­son’s time. But it’s no less es­sen­tial. 

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