Mitch McConnell, Ashley Judd and the ironies of politics

Politics is full of irony.

As I understand it, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is in trouble because someone secretly recorded him and his campaign advisers discussing ways they could attack actress Ashley Judd, should she decide to run against him next year.

The tape makes McConnell and his folks look mean and nasty because, hey, it’s not nice to make fun of someone’s problems with depression or the way they freaked out after seeing pink fuzzy socks on a rack after returning from an overseas trip. Apparently, the socks symbolized this nation’s prepackaged consumerist obsessions.

But here’s the ironic part: If Judd had decided to run (she chose not to) and McConnell’s campaign meeting never had been taped, the campaign strategies discussed probably would have worked well.

A history of struggles against depression may be worthy of public sympathy and support, but it’s not generally seen as a resume builder for political office.

The secret recording was published by Mother Jones, which decided it was OK to let the person who did the recording remain anonymous. (Read a CBSnews.com story on the matter here.)

And don’t think this kind of backroom strategizing goes on only with Republicans. Finding dirt on your opponent — or, as McConnell calls it on the tape, the “the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out” — is as old as the republic, or perhaps even democracy itself.

It works, too.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson called John Adams, “blind, bald, crippled and toothless” and accused him of wanting to start a war with France. Adams, for his part, said a Jefferson victory would mean “murder, adultery, rape, incest and robbery” would be openly taught and practiced.

They didn’t actually say those things. They had surrogates say them, kind of like what Super PACs do today.

Of course, if we had a secret tape recording of either of them sitting around a table laughing about how they were going to pursue that strategy, we might have a different image of those esteemed Founding Fathers.

Here’s a video based on those 1800 allegations:

Here’s a commercial from the 1956 presidential campaign, trying to scare people away from Dwight Eisenhower because of his running mate, Richard Nixon. Come to think of it, sometimes negative ads are worth listening to.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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