The young folks might not believe it, but way back in the ‘70s illegal electronic eavesdropping on a political office was considered a very big deal. When some men were caught doing it on behalf of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign it was all anybody could talk about. The television networks ran the congressional hearings on the matter instead of soap operas and game shows, and in the dark days before cable that meant everyone had to watch, minor players became major celebrities, books were published, a Hollywood movie with big-name stars was made, and Nixon wound up resigning in disgrace with his party was so tarnished that Jimmy Carter wound up as president.
This largely forgotten episode was brought to mind Tuesday by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s allegation that his political office has been “bugged,” as the ‘70s-era lingo would have it. A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe has reportedly just been launched and as of yet there is no officially sanctioned truth to the allegation, but neither is there any other apparent explanation for how an audio tape of a campaign strategy session conducted in McConnell’s office wound up in the hands of the far-left Mother Jones magazine. Even if the worst-case scenario is proved true it is unlikely to become such an all-consuming story as the Watergate scandal once was, but given the past standards that inspired so many of today’s press one would expect some attention to be paid to even the most innocuous possibilities.
Mother Jones and much of the rest of the press seem more scandalized by what’s on the tape, however, instead of how it was acquired. The tape captures McConnell and his staff discussing how they might respond to a potential challenge by the motion picture actress Ashley Judd, which is apparently shocking conduct at a campaign strategy session, and they even compound the horror by considering pointing out flaws in her character and political positions. One aide goes so far as to suggest they make an issue of her past mental breakdowns and other psychiatric problems, information he acquired by reading her autobiography. Judd eventually decided to not run for Senate in her long-abandoned home state, presumably on the advice of more seasoned Democrats who advised her that a far-left Hollywood with outspoken views against guns and coal and other beloved Kentucky values who brings a “psychological support dog” to interviews was unlikely to win in a staunchly conservative state that had recently elected the likes of McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, no matter how memorable her many nude scenes, but it was still outrageous to the refined sensibilities of Mother Jones that McConnell would ever even contemplate saying anything unfavorable about her.
Certainly the people at that “bugged” Democratic National Committee headquarters back in the ‘70s would have never been caught uttering an unkind word about Nixon, or at least that was the impression one got from all that wall-to-wall Watergate coverage back in the day. The only story then was that political operatives had illegally eavesdropped on an opponent’s conversations, and it was considered so abhorrent that even such stalwart Republicans as McConnell now use the term “Nixonian” to disparage the practice. This time around the outrage will probably be relatively muted, and McConnell’s stalwart Republicanism is likely the reason why.
– Bud Norman