A pyrrhic victory

On election night, Mitch betrayed no lingering malice against Alison. Recycling phrases following Bruce Lunsford’s “spirited campaign” against him six years ago, he said, “She earned a lot of votes. And she earned my respect.” Then the master of political arson issued the ultimate understatement: “Because of the business we’re in, it also meant that she would take some heat.” How gracious of Wicked Mitch to light a candle for Alison after burning her beyond recognition. Now that the mythical Alison Obama is history, long live Alison Grimes.

She met the fate of every challenger whose fairy tale threatened his. So it came as no surprise that her Cinderella story was reduced to cinders. Mitch outspent her by a ratio of almost 2-to-1 in a $50 million campaign, largely of guilt by association, that recalled the most infamous tactics of two dead Republicans: Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. While CBS News, led by Ed Murrow, finally shut down McCarthy’s sick, overreaching anticommunist witch hunt in the 1950s, Mitch used an unwittingly complicit news media in his hunt to taint Alison as an Obama sympathizer. The Courier-Journal’s endorsement of her was a foregone conclusion, but she, unlike Mitch, consented to an interview in which the newspaper stunningly sought to peek inside her ballot box.

The ideal answer would have been: “I’ll be damned if I’m going to give my opponent another kitchen sink to hurl at me. But thanks for playing ‘gotcha’ on his behalf — and don’t ask me again.” For her less eloquent evasion, NBC’s Chuck Todd told the nation, “I think she disqualified herself.” Team Mitch seized on the clip with a TV ad that featured WAVE-TV anchor Scott Reynolds reporting on “the non-answer heard ‘round the country.” The station protested, for whatever that was worth. Todd told MSNBC, “It’s sick to your stomach to be part of a campaign” but blamed the victim for inviting it.

The reviews were blistering. “One wonders how not answering an inconsequential and silly question ‘borders on disqualification,’” wrote Egberto Willies of Daily Kos. Todd “never said such on the various substantive lies and misstatements by Mitch McConnell (e.g., implying that Kynect is not Obamacare, etc.).”

Other pro-Mitch ads featured clips by other (mostly progressive) journalists — praising Mitch or disparaging Alison — without their consent. It was another polarizing McMilestone in the decline of democracy. Now there’s widespread panic among pundits that anything we say or write may be abused to create the illusion of an endorsement — in a Nixonian vengeance-fest against perceived political enemies.

Amid this unabated assault on journalists, Ben Bradlee, the iconic Washington Post editor who presided over the paper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, which ended Nixon’s presidency, died.

As negative ads fueled by dark money blanketed Kentucky like coal ash, a conservative editorialist told a truth too inconvenient for either campaign to countenance: “While President Obama may be working against coal’s interests, the real enemy is new energy technologies that are steadily making coal irrelevant by being cleaner, safer, more efficient or renewable,” said WDRB-TV’s Bill Lamb. “Nothing the government does or says will be able to change the fact that it’s far past its glory years. … Pandering to your constituents as simpleton children who don’t know better is no way to win their hearts and minds.”

But it won their votes. Mitch swept the coal counties — some in the east for the first time. Six years ago, he pledged “to [put] our state and our nation on the road to clean energy independence.”

Expert opinions are mixed on whether the GOP, with Mitch as Senate majority leader, will abuse their predominance in both chambers. In Monday’s C-J, Al Cross wrote, “With McConnell at the helm, Republicans are less likely to overreach as they did in 1994–95, the last time they rode a wave election into a governor’s race.” But The New York Times’ Timothy Egan wrote, “Republicans will overreach, because they always do, prompting much nostalgia for the days when Stuff Got Done.”

Mitch, in his victory speech last Tuesday, raised expectations of bipartisan cooperation. To meet them would be good for the country and good for his legacy, which frankly sucks at this juncture. In 2020, Mitch will be 78 — older than former Sen. Jim Bunning when Mitch declared him too old to run again. Back in Feburary, Salon’s Brian Beutler wrote that “inequality is a huge national challenge, and Republicans’ ideological commitments prevent them from addressing it in any concrete way.” Bring on 2014, bro.