Thursday, October 14, 2010

Disasters in waiting

Even for progressives and others of generally Democratic political leanings, it’s hard not to cough up a healthy shot of schadenfreude for the tragic and possibly doomed senatorial campaign of Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General, who is seeking the Senate seat of the retiring Christopher Dodd.

Blumenthal, the Democrat facing former World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder and current multimillionaire Linda McMahon, his challenger, has dealt his own campaign a maybe mortal blow by violating two of the rules — laws — of modern American politics: (1) Don’t pretend to be someone, something or somewhere you’re not; and (2) if you violate (1), don’t get caught.

Blumenthal has by most measures had a solid career as the Nutmeg State’s attorney general, but for years now he’s held fast to a biography that’s now his undoing. A former Marine Corps Reservist during the Vietnam War era, Blumenthal is now a victim of his own fabulist tendencies. These didn’t happen on the spur of the moment; they first began years ago, before he began his 19-year run as Connecticut AG, back when he told people, time and again, that he was a Vietnam veteran. When he never was.

For decades now Blumenthal has claimed to have borne the battle in the country’s longest war before the current quagmire in Afghanistan. He made his service there the stuff of campaign literature, stump speeches and the free-floating narrative of his résumé, when in truth he served as a Marine Corps Reserve administrator stateside, never getting closer to Vietnam than when he looked at a map of the country in a world atlas.

Who makes up shit like that? Such high-profile self-reinvention might be forgivable once or twice; we might have overlooked it as the imagined memory of somebody who saw “Platoon” or “Apocalypse Now” twice too often. For someone making a livelihood at the public trough? After almost 20 years? Not so much.

McMahon, the Republican in the contest, isn’t having it. The former WWE CEO has made Blumenthal’s fiction the focal point for much of her own campaign. It’s debatable whether McMahon, an absolute political neophyte more at home in the world of turnbuckles and tights, would have had any traction in this bizzarro political season at all, if not for Blumenthal. As it is now, she’s kept the senate race closer than it should be, considering Blumenthal's long incumbency. This race will hinge on how the people of Connecticut will look the other way: forgiving Blumenthal’s imaginary Rambo past, or forgiving McMahon’s improbable entry into politics and her lack of qualifications for this kind of wrestling. Two out of three falls wins.

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Carl Paladino would probably love to reinvent himself right about now. The flamboyantly idiotic Republican millionaire developer thug from Buffalo, N.Y., who decided to waste X millions of his own fortune on a disastrous run for the governorship of New York, apparently has a future in adult entertainment. The WNY Media Web site has discovered, and dutifully released, several sexually graphic e-mails disseminated by Paladino to close friends and advisers. See them here; just make sure the kids are asleep.

This is just the latest embarrassment for Paladino, whose blustery, streetwise style made him until recently a darling of the Tea Party. His love of communicating by e-mail has yielded some other gems: an e-mail titled "Proof the Irish discovered Africa" with a video of monkeys dancing a jig that would give Michael Flatley pause; an e-mailed video of an African tribesman dancing entitled "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal"; an adult video involving a woman and a horse; and other videos depicting various forms of sexual hydraulics.

And who can forget Mad Carl’s foray into pugilism? Last week, of course, Paladino was filmed in a rhetorical dustup with Fred Decker, state editor and political reporter for The New York Post, telling Decker he would “take you out,” adopting the cheap pulp-novel argot of a wannabe Soprano.

The people of New York are not likely to be amused. Paladino’s challenger, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, enjoys a very comfortable double-digit lead two weeks and change before the election. At this point, Cuomo would have to be discovered selling crack in Times Square at high noon to lose this race. Start spreading the news: Son Follows Father to Governor’s Chair in Albany.

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She’s got a good grasp of the soundbite esthetic, the telling rhetorical jab delivered in 20 seconds or less. She knows the medium of television and, by extension, the power of publicity. But foolishness past and present — typified by a lackluster debate performance on Wednesday night — has revealed the telegenic Christine O’Donnell to be, finally, utterly, clueless. To call her dumb as a bag of rocks is to invite a lawsuit from the Bag of Rocks Anti-Defamation League.

Wednesday night may have been the capstone of her less than brilliant career in the public eye. In her third try for a Senate seat in the state of Delaware, the Repubican O’Donnell has underwhelmed, never more so than in the debate with challenger, Democrat Chris Coons.

O'Donnell adopted the GOP/Tea Party line in her opposition to activist judges, citing the recent decision by a U.S. District Court judge in California to suspend enforcement of the Don't Ask Don't Tell, which bars gays and lesbians from serving this country in the military. But when the moderators pressed her for answers requiring her to think on her feet, there was trouble.

The deer-in-the-headlights moment occurred when Nancy Karibjanian of Delaware First Media asked O’Donnell to name a recent Supreme Court decision she disagreed with — just one — and Old Christine couldn’t answer the bell:

KARIBJANIAN: What opinions, of late, that have come from our high court, do you most object to?

O'DONNELL: Oh, gosh. Um, give me a specific one. I'm sorry.

KARIBJANIAN: Actually, I can't, because I need you to tell me which ones you object to.

O'DONNELL: Um, I'm very sorry, right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I'll put it up on my website, I promise you.

It got worse for Sarah Palin 1.5. When co-moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN pressed O’Donnell on her toweringly original 1998 observation that evolution “is a myth,” O’Donnell went all states’ rights on us. "That should be decided on the local community," she said.

Then O’Donnell belched up a soundbite for the ages, one likely to stay with her until the election. In the one pre-election forum where a candidate’s opinion absolutely matters, O’Donnell said, "What I believe is irrelevant, because what I will support in Washington, D.C. is the ability for the local school system to decide what is taught in their classrooms."

What I believe is irrelevant. Priceless. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised given what Greg Sargent at The Plum Line reported Thursday. Seems that O’Donnell is being advised by Randy Scheunemann, former foreign policy adviser for the McCain-Palin 2008 presidential campaign. “Blind leading the blind” doesn’t quite do that tandem any justice.

Some in the media have shorthanded the almost-daily cratering of O’Donnell’s campaign with the “-gate” suffix, and she’s provided them with plenty of ammunition: Witchgate begat Weird Sciencegate (O’Donnell asserting that scientists have implanted human brains in mice) begat Résumégate (with O’Donnell forced to defend autobiographical cockups on the LinkedIn and ZoomInfo professional-profile Web sites).

It’s just a matter of time before the good people of Delaware realize what they’re truly dealing with, what they’re likely to end on Nov. 2: Christinegate.

That’s when the likely political demise of these three stooges bears out the wisdom of David Corn of Mother Jones: “Politicians tend to get the scandals they deserve.”

Image credits: Blumenthal: Sage Ross, republished under GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2 or later. Paladino: Via The Huffington Post. O'Donnell: The Associated Press.

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