As photographs go, this otherwise unremarkable example from Timothy D. Easley offers two brief amusements. To the first—
Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell, left, and Rand Paul address the media during a press conference, May 23, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo)
—someone botched the caption; that is, of course, Sen. McConnell on the right, although one might understand how, compared to his junior colleague from Kentucky, the Senate Minority Leader might be seen as being to the left.
To the second, though, is a simple evaluation of the aesthetics. Sens. Paul and McConnell are wearing those weird matching expressions, like a May-September couple that simultaneously spied a dashing young potential third for the evening’s enjoyment.
Seriously: Kentucky come-hither.
In substantive terms, though, more than the Bluegrass State, Sens. Paul and McConnell presently share a scandal named Jesse Benton; to that end, Steve Benen, whose reporting on the story was interrupted by the weekend and that miserably inconvenient fact of being human, brings his readers up to speed with a brief summary:
In the short term, how does this affect Team McConnell? It’s never good news when a senator in a tough race loses his campaign manager nine weeks before Election Day, though by all appearances, the Kentucky Republican’s operation is already established.
That said, if voters are inclined to believe that McConnell is part of a rotten political system in need of change, developments like these won’t help. Indeed, even though there’s no connection between the senator and the Iowa bribery scandal, when the NBC affiliated in Louisville called McConnell’s spokesperson on Friday for comment about Benton, the campaign literally hung up on the reporter.
Looking ahead, the impact on Paul World is likely to be even greater. Benton, who’s married to one of Ron Paul’s granddaughters, helped leader Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign, led Ron Paul’s Iowa operation in 2012, and was expected to play a very prominent role in Rand Paul’s national campaign in 2016.
As for Benton himself, we don’t yet know exactly what role, if any, he played in the bribery scandal. That said, we know the Ron Paul campaign paid bribes to at least one Iowa politician, Benton was the Ron Paul campaign’s political director at the time, and there are emails that indicate Benton “was involved in efforts to get [Sorenson] to defect from the Bachmann campaign” in early 2012.
So here’s the tinfoil fun: There really is an appearance of bottom-shelf morbid comedy here. Consider Benton’s departure from Rand Paul: “Between you and me,” he explained to a colleague, “I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in Sixteen, so that’s my long vision.”
But stop and think about the cast of characters involved here:
• Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN06). Lady Belfry, herself, the Minnesota Moonbat kicked off this scandal as Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R-37) switched his endorsement and moved his campaign efforts from Camp Bachmann to the Ron Paul Revolution. Mrs. Bachmann stood in front of the press, barely able to use her iPad in order to read the statement, accusing Sen. Sorenson of accepting a bribe to abandon her in favor of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX14).
• Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who resigned his seat after a state Senate ethics investigation found that he had broken rules by accepting money from the Bachmann campaign.
• Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the perpetual curmudgeon and presidential faux-revolutionary conservative in libertarian wool. His role in this is a strange one, and will either be acquitted by history or else simply stain his already foetid reputation in a way that few of his starry-eyed devotees will actually care about. Much like the racist newsletters scandal, Dr. Paul has a perfect excuse; it’s everybody else’s fault. After all, Dr. Paul is a brilliant man of integrity, right? It’s just that the good people he chooses to surround himself with happen to write racist newsletters and put his name on them, or find themselves embroiled in felonious scandals, or tell him that his medical training empowers him to doubt rape survivors.
• U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the wunderkind of fake libertarianism in our fair lands. The self-certifying opthalmologist, abducting cultist of the Aqua Buddha, serial plagiarizer who apparently does not know what plagiarism is†, managed to be politically estranged from family that got caught up in this scandal while attached to Paul’s senior colleague from Kentucky, who also happens to be the Senate Minority Leader, and also happens to be the object of ire among many of the GOP’s fake libertarian wing.
• Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate. It would appear that the great error of Lord Wattle-on-Potomac‡ was simply to trust other Republicans. Or else, well, he just wasn’t paying attention.
• Dennis Fusaro, an apparently embittered former aide to the Ron Paul campaign whose secret recording of Jesse Benton seems to be a key bit of evidence in the scandal. So far, it would appear that vengeance is his.
• Jesse Benton. Former campaign aide for Rep. Ron Paul, who left the services of Sen. Rand Paul in order to work for Sen. Mitch McConnell on the pretense that holding his nose while he did so would advance the younger Paul’s presidential ambitions.
So here’s the thing: What did Jesse Benton know, and when did he know it? And on this occasion, it would help to be precise: Kent Sorenson was still a state senator when Benton left Paul to work for McConnell, but the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee was already investigating Sorenson’s story. Was Benton somehow unaware of this? Did he think the investigation wouldn’t come back to him? Was he getting clear of Rand Paul before the scandal hit? Or perhaps he is innocent, or simply believes himself innocent. But there is some manner of convenience about the outcome that what Benton did to help Rand in 2016 is sit in Mitch’s lap when the scandal splatters all over the place.
And, come on, in a year when Tea Partiers are so angry at Republicans that they are threatening to vote for Democrats, this isn’t a worthless bauble; the Senate Minority Leader, a traditional icon of establishment politics, is now caught up in this.
Tinfoil, to be certain, but this is a crowd that specializes in tinfoil. And there is a nasty human coincidence between behavior one expects and behavior one displays. That is to say, if one swims in enough cheap conspiracy theories, the weight of evidence would suggest that this is how conspiracies are played out, resulting in the Sennet-style slapstick playing out in Senate electoral politics.
(Hint: In this case, it is called the “slow return of the repressed”, and is, functionally speaking, much similar to the neurotic processes tearing apart the sexually-obsessed prudes, puritans, and traditionalists who scream about propriety, force their way into other people’s sex lives, and turn out to be just as scandalously perverse as anyone else. You know, like Ted Haggard, the former Colorado megachurch pastor who fell from grace following the revelation that, despite his almost comedically overplayed anti-gay preaching, turned out to be snorting meth from his gay hooker’s crack. Or George Rekers, emeritus professor of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, and also an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention. The professor psychologist also helped found the virulently homophobic Family Research Council, and used his behavioral science credentials to aid and abet the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a crack team of quacks appealing to the authority of their degrees and certifications in order to promote pseudoscience, crackpottery, and bigotry. And then, in 2010, he hired a male prostitute to “lift his luggage” on a two-week European vacation. Congressman Sanford? Well, in truth that was just a simple adultery scandal escalated to laughably tragic proportions by the stench of public corruption on top of it all. And, yet, the former governor, having worked to impeach President Clinton for adultery during his first stint in the House of Representatives, has been forgiven by the good folk of South Carolina’s First Congressional District, because, well, he’s a Republican, so they’re just fine with that. Lying, adultery, hypocrisy? That’s all good with voters in Charleston and environs; being a Democrat, apparently, is unforgivable. And can we please skip the sordid tale of Sen. David “Diaper” Vitter?)
The bottom line is that there is a reason these sexual soldiers keep falling from grace. Whether it’s just visiting a strip club, or hiring a gay hooker, or trying to troll underage boys, or whatever else, look to the one we’re human. To the other, this is what happens when people deliberately engage in neurotic conflict.
The slow return of the repressed is, indeed, predictable.
And, to be certain, bribery certainly isn’t as sexy as, well, say a sex scadal, but the underlying device is the same.
And it doesn’t even need to be that sort of scandal. Just attend, closely, the actual political discourse.
To the one, we’re all human, and nobody is perfect. To the other, there is a difference between acknowledging human frailty and deliberately exploiting it.
One of the differences between left and right, a source of constant conflict ‘twixt Democrats and Republicans, is how people view and describe each other. And it is true that Democrats are hardly a virtuous bunch when it comes to the day-to-day comings and goings of public service. But we see in much Republican rhetoric a juvenile turnabout that divorces circumstance from rhetoric; it might be true that one was just caught in a lie, and thus some would call him a liar. But it does not work that, simply because one is insulted by the prospect of being called a liar, one can simply turn around and fling the accusation back as if “turnabout is fair play”. Watch Republicans struggle with their “war on women” rhetoric, trying to convice Americans that real empowerment for women is staying home, barefoot and pregnant, serving her husband’s every need and whim.
And it’s true that the preceding sentence can be argued to be something of an overstatement, but conservatives seem more than happy to wallow in misogyny, even when that bigotry becomes a caricature unto itself.
(Hint: Putting lipstick on piggy chauvinism, sending out women like Reps. Foxx (R-NC05) and Blackburn (R-TN07) to tell other women that real empowerment comes from letting men make their health care decisions for them, and being paid less for equal work, is so blatantly dissonant unto itself that people really do start wondering if mental competence is an appropriate consideration in our political discourse. No, really, what the hell is wrong with these people?)
Yet we digress; look at the rhetoric, compare the behavior. The idea of a silly tinfoil conspiracy among a bunch of tinfoil conspiracy theorists suddenly doesn’t sound so extraordinary.
In fairness, though, lex parsimonae prefers the simple explanation that this conservative troupe really is that inept. That is to say, there is no conspiracy of stupidity; they’re just stupid.
And, no, that is not a conclusion from which we might take any real comfort.
† And who, by some feat of circumstance, managed to hire a staff that he would eventually blame—and far too late in the scandal, at that—in such a manner as to suggest that none of his assembled political hands had any clue what plagiarism is, either.
‡ Some jokes should simply be abandoned; this is an excellent example. When it didn’t work out because it is the Ohio River running through Louisville—Lord Wattle-on-Ohio (from Kentucky)—yes, the joke probably should have been returned to the shelf to await a more appropriate application. Especially since it is nearly so flaccid as McConnell’s political integrity.
Benen, Steve. “Scandal forces ouster of McConnell campaign manager”. msnbc. 2 September 2014.
Titus, Elizabeth. “Blog: Mitch McConnell campaign chief ‘holding my nose'”. Politico. 8 August 2013.
Noble, Jason and Jennifer Jacobs. “Kent Sorenson resigns after report finds he received money from Bachmann campaign”. The Des Moines Register. 2 October 2013.