Welcome to Linda McMahon’s Wide World of XFL Politics

Anyone expecting me to take a frontal partisan shot at Kevin “Don’t Call Me Linda McMahon’s Mouthpiece” Rennie for his column in Sunday’s Hartford Courant will be disappointed. Rennie is just doing what he always does, and quite plausibly, in his column “Blumenthal, McMahon Approval Ratings Take A Beating,” http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-rennie-0530-20100530,0,2689091.column.

This veteran of Connecticut Republican circles, who has put all his eggs in the basket of McMahon’s faux-outsider credentials in a national political year of faux outsiders, actually makes a lot of sense at the retail level. Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal’s Vietnam gaffe is more damaging than the snap Quinnipiac poll suggests. Linda McMahon’s Republican opponent Rob Simmons did try to have it both ways by backing out of the race after losing at the convention without really backing out.

Above all, Rennie is right when he observes that Linda and Vince McMahon don’t give a flying FU what the chattering class thinks of their dignity, tactics, or World Wrestling Entertainment pedigree. The Rennie line, “There are no pretty ways to build a fortune,” echoes another I have been quoting a lot on this blog: “Popular culture has always been a bit coarser than political leaders like to acknowledge.”

I don’t know how the Senate race will turn out. But what’s pretty clear already is that it is the political echo of the XFL football league. In 2001 the McMahons, cash-rich after a public stock offering, decided to export their pro wrestling marketing operation to pro football. Challenging the hegemony of the National Football League, they got their Fairfield County buddy, NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol, to convince network brass that an alternative spring football league could do no worse than the recycled movies and standard crap that was being broadcast on Saturday, the week’s slowest ratings night.

The McMahons and Ebersol were spectacularly wrong. The XFL made the cover of Sports Illustrated and got big numbers for the first week of its novelty act. Then it fell to record low levels.

The XFL was farcical history after one season. But not so fast with that epitaph: the frank coarseness of the product pushed the established NFL, which was already barreling in that direction anyway, into new frontiers of coarseness. Vince and Linda usually don’t win when they venture outside their comfort zone of “sports entertainment,” but they always leave footprints. Their anthropological role is to stick style points in our faces, and up our asses.

The McMahon-manufactured New York Times hit on Blumenthal and the surprise win at the Republican convention were Linda’s Sports Illustrated cover and premiere ratings smash. What remains to be seen is whether the general election cycle will simply take the XFL’s second-rate football to a new platform.

Here’s what neither Kevin Rennie nor his ideological adversaries ever completely grasp: the larger meaning of WrestleWorld isn’t its size, but its ability to export values when we’re not looking. Those values are now on display in the political arena, and they make the Willie Horton ads of the 1988 George H.W. Bush presidential campaign look like the Lincoln-Douglas debates by comparison.

My guess is that Linda’s campaign will go the way of the XFL – that is, it will “lose,” not “win.” But like everyone else, I’m along for the ride to see what gruesome gimmick lies around the next corner. There are no pretty ways to find out if crudeness is just part of the package of statecraft, or has become its essence.

Irv Muchnick

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Irv’s Tweets

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