Keeling: Hard to accept: Mitch as victim, Miller as ex-pol

Herald-leader columnistApril 21, 2013 

FRANKFORT — This and that while I try to conjure up an image of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell actually playing Whac-A-Mole:

In the days since Mother Jones released the now infamous tape of McConnell discussing campaign strategy with his staff, other folks with a platform for spouting off as I do on a regular basis have fully discussed the "dumb factor" involved in Progress Kentucky's two recent potshots at the state's senior senator and how the bumblers who leaked the tape and sent the tweet regarding Elaine Chao achieved something heretofore deemed impossible: making the godfather of mean-spirited campaigning look worthy of a little sympathy.

I won't plow this ground again, except to say describing Progress Kentucky as a "super" PAC is akin to describing the Edsel as the greatest automotive idea of the 20th century.

However, McConnell's performance in the role of victim has struck me as a bit over the top, as if he might be channeling his inner William Shatner. But years of watching the viciousness of his attacks on campaign opponents may have desensitized me to the point I can't shed a sympathetic tear when it's deserved.

So, maybe this leaked tape is the outrage McConnell says it is. Maybe it's as comparable to Watergate as he claims. (Which means this episode deserves its own name. Since Dumb and Dumber has already been taken, I'm open to suggestions.) And maybe I've been wrong in expecting an overacting McConnell, at any moment during the last 10 days or so, to break into a chorus of Linda Ronstadt's version of Warren Zevon's Poor Poor Pitiful Me:

Poor, poor pitiful me

Poor, poor pitiful me

Oh, these boys won't let me be

Lord, have mercy on me

Woe, woe is me

Maybe. Or maybe not.

For someone who claims to be "The Recovering Politician," Jonathan Miller sure has been active on the political scene lately. The former state treasurer and cabinet official in Gov. Steve Beshear's administration publically talked up the industrial hemp bill in the recent General Assembly session (Miller is a member of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission). He touted actress Ashley Judd as a worthy Democratic candidate to take on McConnell in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

And in a couple of recent pieces written for The Daily Beast, Miller got a bit in-your-face with some of his fellow Kentucky Democrats, accusing them (mostly without naming names) of elbowing Judd out of the Senate race and of botching their response to the leaked tape by focusing on the mistakes of the leakers instead of responding to what Miller termed a "vicious smear," the tape's revelations about the McConnell camp's plan to exploit Judd's past mental health issues.

In the latter piece, Miller wrote, "The circular firing squad Democrats have assembled comes as no surprise to observers of the state, who have watched for decades as McConnell's national rise has been aided by his utterly inept opposition" before going on to chronicle the infighting within the Democratic Party that at times has resulted in McConnell facing weakened challengers.

Miller is right. Kentucky Democrats have been their own worst enemies for decades. It's a "me first" party, a party still living in the era when winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning office and, consequently, a party more interested in settling internal grudges than it is in choosing the best candidate for the fall. Also, consequently, a party destined to future irrelevancy if it doesn't wake up.

But according to its mission statement on its Web site, "The Recovering Politician provides a civilized forum as an antidote to our nation's toxic addiction to vitriol and demonization. Here is a place for debating and discussing the issues of the day ... without the finger-pointing and blame-assigning that's all too typical on the Web and among our more crass media."

With all due respect, I would suggest to Miller that some of his recent writings might border on the "finger-pointing and blame-assigning" The Recovering Politician's mission statement deplores. To put it bluntly (and with more than a dollop of good fun), he's getting close to invading my space as a vitriolic and demonizing member of the "crass media."

A federal grand jury? Richie Farmer's descent from "Unforgettable" status continues.

Sorry, while I can easily imagine McConnell pounding on the heads of political opponents (figuratively in ads, at least), my aged mind lacks the creativity needed to picture him playing an arcade game. Way too much fun for him.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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