, Corbin, KY


April 15, 2013

At the very least, McConnell is entertaining


So you think Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator, Mitch McConnell, is just a dour, owlish and unexciting legislative master? Well this week McConnell, proved he is as entertaining as he is said by his critics to be ruthless.

Lord knows, he had help from some Keystone Cops types at Progress Kentucky. Two men associated with the PAC apparently secretly taped a Feb. 2 McConnell campaign strategy meeting from an outside hallway. Who needs opposition research on potential opponents or an outside Super Pac like American Crossroads when you have enemies like Progress Kentucky?

Now the argument seems to be which is the greater story and greater outrage: the allegedly illegal recording of a private meeting or the substance of the discussions recorded?

If Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison are guilty of what appears to be an illegal taping, everyone should be offended. Whether it’s Nixon bugging the Watergate headquarters of the Chairman of the Democratic Party 40 years ago or two inept “political operatives” surreptitiously taping McConnell, it’s just plain wrong.

Some of the things discussed by McConnell’s campaign staff on the recording demonstrate the unattractive and downright mean side of American politics. But they are neither illegal nor unusual. All high level campaigns engage in “opposition research,” and as some of McConnell’s apologists pointed out, the discussion of Ashley Judd’s treatment for depression doesn’t necessarily mean the campaign will use that specific information in ads.

The press and most political activists have long understood how McConnell campaigns and so for the most part do casual observers. But for the average voter seeing those harsh words in print or hearing them on a recording is different. Regardless of one’s partisan allegiances, it just sounds unseemly.

Still for all the unseemliness on both sides, it’s hard not to enjoy the spectacle just a little.

I suspect “whack-a-mole” will be with us a long time. It’s so quintessentially McConnell. Remember the “hound dog” ad, one of the most recognizable campaign ads of all time? McConnell ran it in 1984 to highlight the voting and attendance records of incumbent Democratic Sen. Dee Huddleston.

Isn’t it rich to listen to McConnell criticize the other side as “Nixonian,” to decry a surreptitious taping when McConnell’s staff tried to secretly tape Bruce Lunsford during the 2008 Senate race? Yes, the comments recorded back then were made in a public forum, but the forum’s rules prohibited such taping and the McConnell staffers deliberately tried to hide the recorder.

McConnell justifiably and rightly complained about a comment on Twitter by someone at Progress Kentucky about the ethnic background of his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, was way over the line and tasteless. It smacked of racism.

But McConnell’s campaign manager said McConnell’s campaign would willingly attack the past of Jerry Lundergan in order to undermine a potential candidacy by Lundergan’s daughter Alison Lundergan Grimes. It lacks the ugliness of the racial tone of the Twitter comment, but it still hits a family member who isn’t on the ballot.

It’s also amusing to watch McConnell co-sponsor a bill which would encourage states to return “unwanted” federal money to lower the federal deficit, another bow to the tea party. But in 2008 McConnell urged Kentucky voters to choose him over Lunsford because he could bring federal funding back to Kentucky.

That deficit, by the way, ballooned under a Republican president who passed two major tax cuts, waged two unfunded wars and passed a costly entitlement program with Senate votes rounded up by McConnell.

You can say lots of things about McConnell, but don’t say he’s not entertaining.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

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