With her win in yesterday’s Republican primary, World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Linda McMahon officially tests Democratic state attorney general Richard Blumenthal in the November general election to succeed Connecticut’s senior U.S. senator, Chris Dodd.
So far examination of the McMahon mystique has focused on her $50 million war chest, shattering records for self-funded races at the state level. On a per-vote basis, this outlay in tiny Connecticut makes California’s Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina look like public-spirited tightwads. But like Whitman’s and Fiorina’s (and like Michael Huffington and Michael Bloomberg and Jon Corzine, and even Connecticut’s other mega-millionaires seeking political power this year), McMahon’s narcissistic “investment” in herself, no matter how grim its implications for civic hygiene, will either succeed or fail.
The other main obsession of McMahon watchers – the grossly lowbrow and misogynist programming content of WWE – is a proven populist loser, and the pointy-heads and cultural warriors really should get a life and move on to weightier matters. At this bread-and-circuses juncture in American Empire history, pro wrestling is the last honest pizza, one of the few remaining bastions of irony. I have described the creative genius of Vince McMahon, Linda’s husband, as that of cutting out the middle man, ending any pretense of dignity, and giving the people exactly what they want: homophobia locked in mortal combat with homoeroticism.
Serious campaign commentary needs to start talking, instead, about Linda McMahon’s vulnerabilities on bread-and-butter issues. I offer three off the top of my head.
First, health-care reform. The vast majority of Connecticutans (and Americans) favor it; Linda McMahon opposes it. Even former Connecticut senator and governor Lowell Weicker, a WWE board member, calls this a fatal flaw. Worse than the position itself is McMahon’s obvious inability to imagine, must less articulate, a meaningful public health vision. Earlier this year, on the television program Face the State
, McMahon mumbled something about how one solution to the health-care crisis might be for people to practice healthier lifestyles. This was a revealing moment of plutocracy for a bean-counter at a billion-dollar corporation that has transformed junk entertainment into a global marketing force by presiding over a business in which scores of performers have died young, for no good reason, from drug abuse, serial concussions, and laissez faire occupational health and safety standards.
A second and closely related issue is independent-contractor reform, which President Obama has identified as, among other things, a key component of federal government deficit reduction. For decades, armed with the best lawyers money can buy, WWE has gotten away with the fiction that its wrestlers are not employees – not only cheating these sweat-of-the-brow assets out of basic protections and benefits, but also stiffing governments out of payroll taxes. If, as seems to be the case, no one gives a crap about dead wrestlers because they are mere “soap opera characters,” maybe voters can still be prodded to summon their own inner wrestlers and ponder whether the faux job-creation machine McMahon touts in her TV commercials is a pretty picture of America’s future.
Which leads to the third and maybe most fundamental critique of McMahon: For all her blather about being an “outsider” who wants to revive the economy by “incentivizing” small business, she is nothing more than a cookie-cutter retro-Bush Republican corporatist. Production of WWE licensed merchandise is aggressively outsourced. As one of Connecticut’s best enterprise reporters, Don Michak of the Manchester Journal Inquirer
, has noted, “step one” of McMahon’s jobs plan is reversing the reversal of the 2003 Bush dividend tax cut. The McMahon family has exploited that measure to the tune of nearly $200 million of their personal fortune. And despite receiving $3 million in state tax credits, plus millions more from the backwash of federal bailout provisions, WWE in early 2009 laid off 10 percent of its office staff in Stamford.
Now, if the politicos continue to insist on scandal to grease the wheels of their coverage, I suggest they abandon who-screwed-whom, both on and off TV, and turn to these nuggets:
Obstruction of justice and goon tactics.
A newspaper in New London, The Day
, dug up Linda McMahon’s 1989 memo instructing a company executive to tip off a ring doctor – who was also the illegal steroid connection for husband Vince, and many other wrestlers – that he was under federal criminal investigation. Linda said the tip came from the U.S. attorney in central Pennsylvania; if true, that noble public servant belongs behind bars. Several years later, after the doctor went to prison and Vince and company were themselves fighting drug-conspiracy charges in federal court, the McMahons’ lead defense lawyer’s husband, a notorious “fixer” and a crony of Rudy Giuliani, tampered with a star prosecution witness, a former Playboy
model who had been Vince’s secretary. And throughout their various ordeals, WWE “risk mitigation” efforts have included Fairfax Group private eyes and ex-FBI agents who tail and intimidate unfriendly witnesses and journalists.
Who pulled the plug on the Congressional investigation of WWE?
In 2007, in the wake of the double murder/suicide of WWE star Chris Benoit, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, then chaired by Henry Waxman, investigated the drug and safety practices of the pro wrestling industry. Waxman, who had held televised public hearings on whether baseball pitcher Roger Clemens’ records were enabled by growth hormone jabbed into his ass by his personal trainer, abandoned the wrestling investigation with a letter to an obscure White House office – adroitly buried on a Friday afternoon over the holidays in January 2009 when Bush was effectively checked out and Obama had yet to take office.
Oh yeah – lying to Congress.
Former Oakland A’s hero Miguel Tejada had to plea-bargain a federal criminal rap for fibbing to Congressional investigators about steroids. So how does Linda and Vince McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon Levesque (a top WWE executive and the wife of wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque) get away with lying to Waxman Committee staffers in her own December 2007 testimony? Stephanie said on the record that she had never seen a wrestler sustain a concussion! (Shortly beforehand, Vince had told CNN that the company had banned chair shots to the head – this change wasn’t implemented until January of this year, after Linda’s Senate campaign was well under way.)
For full coverage of all these topics, see my blog, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com. Beyond Chron contributor Irvin Muchnick (@irvmuch on Twitter) is the author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death.