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.
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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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