Probably no one cares anymore, but early this month, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell claimed “the Left” bugged his office in Louisville and whistleblew the recordings to Mother Jones, a butcher-block political news journal named after Mary Harris Jones, the turn-of-the-century labor provocateuse born in Cork, Ireland. In 1913, while on trial for organizing coal miners in the Kanawha Valley, Mother Jones was deemed the “grandmother of all agitators” by West Virginia Senator Nathan Goff. It was the sort of quip that might have been caught on tape in the McConnell recordings, which detail the Senator and his camp making fun of potential opponent Ashley Judd, the Hollywood actress and Kentucky Wildcats front-row basketball fan.
Judd is painted by the McConnellies as a new-age loon and limousine liberal. Indeed, Judd’s latest role, in the box office limper Olympus Has Fallen, she plays the First Lady, when the White House is infiltrated by terrorists…
McConnell has described the tactics of “the Left” as “Nixonian,” which suggests paranoia, burglary, and a fear of the press. McConnell is heard planning to play “Whac-A-Mole” with the Louisville Courier-Journal. “When anybody sticks their head up, do them out…” A female voice chimes in, “We’re anxious for that.” [laughter.] The bugs are alleged to have been planted by Progress Kentucky, a liberal super PAC. Sen. McConnell demanded an investigation by the FBI, who are experts in the art of the black bag job. When Nixon ordered the 1972 break-in of the Watergate hotel, the President sought to exploit the masterly private file sabotage of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI since 1924, who would surely have opened a private file on Judd. In the short film Richard Nixon — Paranoia and Moral Panics, BBC monologue and mash-up journalist Adam Curtis demonstrates how the behaviors of power and pop culture have become “Nixonian.” Nixon cursed big business, political rivals, and the media, while Woodward and Bernstein confirmed that black-gloved figures lurked in the dark, rabid for information.
The song “My Way” had been recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1969 and by Sid Vicious in 1978. The faiths of self-determination, veering between civil rights and neoconservatism, convoked the 1980s and 1990s with self-actualization and less government, with Rambo and the Jedi myths of Star Wars.
If Judd had pursued a Senate seat, instead of deciding to withdraw her candidacy, it would not have been an advantage for McConnell to “highlight her past struggles with depression and her religious views” in order to character assassinate. Self-exalting misery inspires the voting individual. Judd has written a memoir of overcoming childhood abuse, that she has three times been the victim of rape. McConnell’s camp counsels that “she is emotionally unbalanced,” failing to realize that so is a majority of their target audience. They seize on Judd’s “linkage to the Volunteer State…. I mean clearly she’s a carpetbagger,” and guffaw at Judd’s “oddly syncretic approach to Christianity” when the Double Jeopardy actress cites St. Francis in expanding “my God concept… Brother Donkey, Sister Bird.”
America thrives on the mysticization of the cosmic common denominators in history. McConnell is disadvantaged by his own Nixonian jingo as a University of Louisville basketball fan, which team won the NCAA this month. The big win comes on the heels of last year’s champ, archrival University of Kentucky, who hailed a record 38-2 season. But it was a rough year for the Wildcats. They didn’t make the the tourney and fouled out early in the NEC. The U. of L. victory would have only cast McConnell as a gloater, while Ashley Judd surely would have expressed words of solace for Wildcats fans, and showed good form and non-carpetbagged hometown gumption by offering tacit support for the passing, ephemeral, and soon elegiac God Concept of the Cardinals’ victory. Such cast of light, for a politician or a sports fan, is the perfect halo. A Freedom of Information Act request in 2050 will reveal the true findings of the Mitch Sitch…. Meanwhile Judd directs a segment of the Lifetime network omnibus film Call Me Crazy, which explores female mental illness.
Nixon White House Tapes – Online, Nixon Presidential Library & Museum
Explore UK, University of Kentucky Special Collections
Modernist Journals Project
Curiosities & Wonders: News and interesting items from the University of Kentucky Archives and the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History