Time was, simulating the sexual assault of a scantily clad wrestler on TV might get you hauled before the U.S. Senate, not elected to it.
Welcome to the times we live in, when the further you are from doing anything in the public interest, the greater the chance you will win a Republican primary.
Yesterday we reached a low for this cycle. Between Rob Simmons, a respected, thoughtful former congressman with two Bronze Star medals, and Linda E. McMahon, the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, the latter won, handily. She will face Democrat Richard Blumenthal in November for the seat being vacated by Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed McMahon narrowing, to 10 points, what once was a larger gap enjoyed by Blumenthal. She’s vowed to spend $50 million of her stash from WWE to win.
When extreme candidates with Tea Party ties won nominations in Nevada (Sharron Angle) and Kentucky (Rand Paul), Republicans saw two once-probable pickups in the Senate become probable losses. If there is an ounce of reason left in the electorate, Connecticut will be the third.
It wouldn’t have been easy for a Republican to beat Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, under any circumstances. That remains true even after he exaggerated being in a Marine reserve unit during Vietnam as serving “in” Vietnam. (McMahon took credit for providing the New York Times with the goods.)
At least Simmons would have been fighting Blumenthal on substance. McMahon has conjured up a few positions -- she’s pro- choice, pro-Afghanistan troop buildup, pro-job creation -- but she’s largely sizzle, little steak. She’s running on her success building WWE from a 13-employee operation to a multimillion- dollar enterprise employing almost 600.
She did it on the simple principle that pro wrestling wasn’t vulgar enough already.
If professional wrestling conjures memories of Killer Kowalski, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan or “Macho Man” Randy Savage, trust me -- you might be shocked to see the level of savagery to which this form of entertainment has sunk. No storyline is too perverse.
Along with her husband, Vince, an oiled, pumped-up actor- wrestler, McMahon coarsened the brand with necrophilia and intra-family violence while getting it a PG rating to expand its reach to a younger audience.
When the show demanded McMahon leave the corporate backroom to rumble on stage, she got into the ring to kick a man in the groin and get pummeled by her own daughter, Stephanie, who was greeted by fans with the chant “slut, slut, slut.” Feigning a coma, McMahon sat in a wheelchair after supposedly being drugged by her husband, who wanted to go off with one of his “divas” for undisturbed sex.
To add to potential plots of family dysfunction, Stephanie got up from the mat to marry Triple H, a star of WWE, in real life.
If the tilt away from any semblance of sport -- McMahon, to get deregulated, admitted wrestling was an “act” -- and toward pornography isn’t enough to put off the GOP, you would think a cavalier attitude toward the use of steroids and employee well- being would. If WWE employees need anything, it’s health care. Yet WWE doesn’t provide its “independent contractors” with medical benefits.
Simmons tried to get the message across. His campaign produced an Internet video that showed photos of seven WWE wrestlers who died young. After the wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his family and hung himself in 2007, leaving behind a steroid stash, the WWE tightened its drug policy. But in 2009 a congressional investigation concluded that the WWE had “not taken adequate steps” to address steroid use in its ranks.
In his testimony, Vince McMahon made it clear he was not convinced that such performing-enhancing drugs were even dangerous. Linda McMahon shares his doubts.
While questioning the medical evidence that steroids can kill, she excuses the excesses of her craft. “To produce seven hours of fresh programming every single week, with no reruns for 52 weeks a year, you do some storylines, you know, better than others,” she told the Associated Press.
Granted, you have to hand it to McMahon for building a better mousetrap. She beat Ted Turner and his World Championship Wrestling, which didn’t realize that “Raw” was the wrestling wave of the future. But does that kind of business acumen belong in the Senate?
The answer from Connecticut Republicans is yes. In McMahon, they have found the candidate who captures their essence.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Margaret Carlson in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at firstname.lastname@example.org