Monday, March 31, 2014

Collins and the McMahons

According to the filings at, one couple gave Sen. Susan Collins more than any other--the legal maximum of $10,400--during the most recent filing period. And there's a good chance you've heard of them: Linda and Vince McMahon, the duo behind World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Let me say at the top: I'm not a huge fan of judging politicians by who supports them. It was unfair and offensive when, in 2008, Collins smeared Rep. Tom Allen as an ally of flag burners and other nefarious miscreants (including rich Jews) simply because had encouraged supporters to donate to his campaign.

That the group endorsed Allen didn't mean he endorsed everything it had ever done. And it didn't mean that he ought to be held responsible for the political views of every one of his small dollar donors (let alone the Collins camp's ghoulish and hysterical caricature of those donors and their views.)

That distinction--between a candidate endorsing his donors and being endorsed by them--seems pretty elemental and easy to grasp. Unless, of course, you're committed to playing a political "gotcha" game.

That said, there are obviously limits to what a pol can fairly disassociate herself from: Some actions are so egregious--some actors on the world stage so odious--that we expect candidates to explicitly reject them.

Contributors who are under investigation for political bribery is one category that comes to mind. Notorious bigots is another--which is why I've been critical of Collins's decision to take $5000 from the PAC of strident homophobe Sen. Tom Coburn R-OK: When you say things like "The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country...That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today" you put yourself outside the bounds of civilized discourse in a way that demands to be called out.

But Collins's relationship with the McMahons raises different questions: Specifically, in this case the usual dichotomy between endorsing and endorsed by doesn't apply. Why?

Because in this case the endorsing does actually go both ways:

Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski...were the featured speakers at a "Women for Linda" rally McMahon held Saturday afternoon at a Norwalk hotel...

Both Collins and Murkowski said McMahon would bring a woman's common sense touch to the dysfunction of Washington...

Collins said she and the 16 other women Senators gather for dinner every six weeks or so. One day, a male colleague asked what those dinners were all about. Collins said she smiled sweetly and responded that the women were planning a coup. "And I can't think of a better person to help us execute that coup than Linda McMahon," she said as the crowd cheered. (Emphasis added.)

At issue for Maine voters in the mutual support between Collins and the McMahons is (among other things) the WWE's history of virulent homophobia and misogyny: While Collins fancies herself a champion of civilty, McMahon has made her fortune trafficking in ugly sterotypes and sexually-tinged violence--up to an including a mock gay wedding played for laughs and storylines about (NSFW) sexually predatory lesbians.

To put it simply, something's got to give.

Either Collins is truly concerned about the coarsening of the culture or she's comfortable aligning herself with folks who have a history of feeding on--and fueling--bigotry.

Either she cares deeply about changing the tone of our politics or she can further entrench her relationship with the McMahons.

But it's time to abandon the pretense that she can do both simultaneously.

(WWE photo by Simon Q.)

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