No one following this blog should have any doubts about my opinion of Linda McMahon’s proud brand, World Wrestling Entertainment, or of her WWE-funded campaign for the United States Senate.
From a public-interest perspective, McMahonism seems ghastly. But at the same time, from a anthropological perspective, we should bear in mind that this is all just anthropology.
In business, Linda and her husband Vince benefited from adversaries who either were exceptionally inept (mossbacked regional wrestling promoters) or exhibited exceptional ineptitude at opportune moments (otherwise impressive television and sports moguls Eddie Einhorn and Ted Turner).
In politics in 2010, the same thing may be happening. Whether Linda or Richard Blumenthal wins the Senate race may now turn on luck – e.g., whether a WWE “soap opera” performer croaks on live TV a week before the election. To the everlasting shame of both the Republican and Democratic parties, it is no longer implausible (if it ever was) that Linda Edwards McMahon will be the junior senator from Connecticut in the 112th Congress.
And if that happens, for the sake of the state and the country, we will need hope as well as fear. To be sure, Linda is corrupt and unscrupulous, and represents nothing except herself and the cascades of cash fueling her material desires and image. To give the scrappy woman her due, however, she is also disciplined. I would imagine people said many of the same nasty things a century and a half ago about Phineas Taylor Barnum, and once in public office Barnum proved a surprisingly progressive state legislator and then an effectively technocratic mayor of Bridgeport.
Another saving grace of a McMahon victory, proving anew that there’s a sucker born every minute, is that Linda would not – at least not yet – be wielding executive power; she would merely be occupying one of 100 desks at The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Though this was before my own time in California, in 1976 a Senate Democratic golden boy there, John Tunney (who, by the way, was the son of boxing champion Gene Tunney and his Connecticut socialite wife Polly Lauder), got his head handed to him by S.I. Hayakawa, the president of San Francisco State University. Hayakawa’s main claim to fame was the photo of him clutching a megaphone as he got overwhelmed by student protesters on campus in the late sixties. While in the Senate, he wrote an article for Harper’s discussing, among other things, that he fell asleep during floor debates. Hayakawa left after one term and the Republic survived.
I honestly don’t know whether Richard Blumenthal has the stuff to take down Linda McMahon. For one thing, she has demonstrated the cool and forensic skills suggesting she will not be destroyed in a debate. And at this stage of the game, she may only need to hold her own and avoid a shot of spittle dribbling from the corner of her mouth.
Speaking of the word “game,” President Obama said at his recent Greenwich fundraiser that public service is not a game. He was only half-right. It is not only a game. But it is in part a game, and Linda has shown that she knows how to play it, and not totally devoid of joy and panache.
In the focus-group sense, McMahon’s vagueness on the issues is impeccable – the line about deferring to “the legislative arena” the debate over the future of middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare is inspired fluff. As my fellow St. Louis native Yogi Berra might have observed, “When you find the third rail – don’t take it!”
My biggest problem with Senator McMahon would be the same problem I have with Citizen McMahon: she is filthy rich, literally, from spearheading an old industry in a new direction, toward entertainment that doesn’t just entertain but that gratuitously kills people. The McMahon family doesn’t directly murder its employees, of course; but it profits, nonetheless and even gleefully, when the corpses are delivered, by accident or design.
If this turns out to be a sign of a larger sickness in the American body politic … well, at least it will be a deadly accurate one.