Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ashley Judd

The Media Can’t Bury McConnellgate

Is it ever okay to bug an opponent’s political headquarters? Even those who are too young to remember what happened when officials connected with Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign unleashed an incompetent band of dirty tricksters on the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate complex, one would think the answer to that question is an emphatic no. While the Watergate scandal may have been more about the cover up than the crime, the line crossed by Nixon’s henchmen has always appeared to be a bright line that no one—not even liberals who can generally count on favorable media treatment—dare cross in this country. Yet someone or some group may have done so in Kentucky, and if that explanation of what happened at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office holds up what follows will be an interesting test of the media’s integrity.

The provenance of the tape of a discussion during a meeting between the senator and his campaign aides at his office is currently unknown. Since this was not a fundraiser held at someone’s home where guests or waiters could have taped the remarks—as was the case when President Obama was taped talking about Americans clinging to their bibles and guns or when Mitt Romney dropped his “47 percent” bomb on his own campaign—there are only two possible explanations for the tape. One is that one of the senator’s high-level aides made the tape and sent it to Mother Jones magazine. The other is that one of the senator’s political opponents was running their own version of Watergate and found a way to bug his private conversations. While one cannot exclude the possibility that the former is the case, it seems unlikely. If the latter is true, then we’re going to find out whether liberals can get away with the sort of thing for which they once took down Tricky Dick.

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Is it ever okay to bug an opponent’s political headquarters? Even those who are too young to remember what happened when officials connected with Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign unleashed an incompetent band of dirty tricksters on the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate complex, one would think the answer to that question is an emphatic no. While the Watergate scandal may have been more about the cover up than the crime, the line crossed by Nixon’s henchmen has always appeared to be a bright line that no one—not even liberals who can generally count on favorable media treatment—dare cross in this country. Yet someone or some group may have done so in Kentucky, and if that explanation of what happened at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office holds up what follows will be an interesting test of the media’s integrity.

The provenance of the tape of a discussion during a meeting between the senator and his campaign aides at his office is currently unknown. Since this was not a fundraiser held at someone’s home where guests or waiters could have taped the remarks—as was the case when President Obama was taped talking about Americans clinging to their bibles and guns or when Mitt Romney dropped his “47 percent” bomb on his own campaign—there are only two possible explanations for the tape. One is that one of the senator’s high-level aides made the tape and sent it to Mother Jones magazine. The other is that one of the senator’s political opponents was running their own version of Watergate and found a way to bug his private conversations. While one cannot exclude the possibility that the former is the case, it seems unlikely. If the latter is true, then we’re going to find out whether liberals can get away with the sort of thing for which they once took down Tricky Dick.

Liberal talking heads are trying to pooh-pooh Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s complaint that the left has engaged in dirty tricks against him and are instead trying to divert public attention to whether it was appropriate for a politician and his advisors to discuss in private whether a potential opponent’s record could be against her. The opponent was, of course, actress Ashley Judd, who at the time of the conversation was actively considering challenging McConnell.

According to this view of the incident, we are supposed to be shocked and outraged that a senior legislator would sit and listen as his aides happily contemplated doing opposition research against a rival. To say that McConnell’s people were confident they could take down Judd is an understatement. The phrase that one person in the conversation uses to describe how easy it would be to find foolish statements by Judd—“a haystack of needles”—will, no doubt, enter the country’s political lexicon regardless of the source of the tape. However, liberals seem to be saying that the only decent thing for McConnell to do was to leave the room or perhaps even fire those chuckling about Judd’s personal foibles.

This is, of course, hypocrisy on an Olympian scale. After a year in which Barack Obama’s campaign spent much of its time trying to falsely portray Mitt Romney as a heartless murderer and tax cheat, Democrats are in no position to cry foul about Republicans discussing the possibility of working over Judd.

But the real question here is not liberal hypocrisy about McConnell. The issue is the practice of taping private political conferences between a candidate and his staff. Unless one of McConnell’s aides went rogue and gave up his boss to, of all publications, the far-left San Francisco-based Mother Jones, what happened in Louisville was a criminal act of the sort that American politicians were supposed to understand had been conclusively placed beyond the pale by Nixon.

McConnell has earned the resentment of liberals both for his skillful leadership of Senate Republicans and by being an unabashed advocate of conservative principles. But since when does that give opponents the right to tape his private conversations? Had a similar incident happened to Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or any prominent Democrat, the mainstream liberal media would be leading with this topic in every broadcast and front page with each story drenched in Watergate analogies instead of the focus on a candidate “plotting” against a rival, as has been the case with accounts of McConnell’s tape.

No matter what turns out to be the true story behind this tape—if indeed we ever do find out the truth—liberals and conservatives should both be condemning the taping of private political conferences in this manner. A consensus that these sorts of tactics could never again be tolerated followed Watergate. But if McConnell’s enemies can get away with it, no party and no individual will be safe from political espionage.

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Ashley Judd and the Will Rogers Democrats

As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

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As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

Some Democrats started encouraging Judd to run for the Senate from Kentucky. GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat is up in 2014, and liberals think he’s more vulnerable than in past cycles. Following their old Will Rogers instincts, some Democrats saw an entertaining way to blow their chances by nominating a classic Hollywood liberal instead of a conservative Democrat. McConnell’s campaign was giddy at the prospect.

At some point the story went from being “hey, wouldn’t it be fun if Ashley Judd ran for Senate” to “Ashley Judd is seriously considering running for Senate” and the Dean Democrats panicked. They called in party elders to do something, and party elders called in Bill Clinton to run Judd’s budding campaign off the road, which Clinton gladly did. It soon became clear why Democrats feared nominating Judd. “I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell,” Judd said about the race last month.

Then on Wednesday came the moment national Democrats were waiting for: ABC News reported that Judd announced—“in a series of tweets,” naturally—that they could rest easy:

After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family. Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate…. Thanks for even considering me as that person & know how much I love our Commonwealth. Thank you!

Judd’s decision not to run—which, it seems from the ABC report, was made for her by Bill Clinton—represents the new Democratic Party, in which discipline is enforced from the top along with a willingness to completely get in line and have party leaders make the decisions. (Witness my earlier post about Democrats who voted for Obamacare expressing shock and disbelief at discovering over the course of three years what was actually in the bill.)

Democrats don’t even seem to want a primary fight for the 2016 presidential nomination, preparing instead to pave the way for Hillary Clinton, wife of the previous Democratic president and secretary of state in the current Democratic president’s first term. The other plausible challenger for the nomination is the current vice president.

Republicans, on the other hand, tried to nominate anyone but the next in line last time and have no next in line for 2016 unless Paul Ryan runs. And as far as congressional races are concerned, Republicans are the minority in the Senate in large part because the so-called establishment is unable to pick and choose its candidates around the country, ending up with Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and the like to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In fact, these days the lack of establishment money and support is more likely than not to win you the nomination; call yourself a “Tea Party” candidate and watch the primary votes roll in.

That phenomenon of course often yields far better candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Ted Cruz. It connects the party agenda with the zeitgeist of the grassroots, and thus makes a candidate’s principles more valuable than his campaign war chest. (This concept is unimaginable to Democrats, as is the idea that political principles can have any intrinsic value beyond their immediate utility in any given election cycle.)

The post-Dean era Democrats have neither the benefits nor the drawbacks of such a state. For 2014, that means no Ashley Judd.

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