For a while I've been wondering how the Senate race in Connecticut could stay so remarkably close for so long. Isn't this a deep-blue state? Wasn't Attorney General Richard Blumenthal supposed to be a popular Democrat? And his conservative opponent, Linda McMahon, isn't she the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment? Seriously? Political scientists would no doubt point to economic fundamentals: Unemployment in Connecticut is 9.4 percent, and voters are pissed off about it. But after watching tonight's Senate debate, it's worth considering another possibility—both candidates are truly wretched.
For most of the night, spittle flecks were flying as the two candidates savaged each other over, well, trivial nonsense. The audience was reminded, once again, that Blumenthal has misspoken a few times about his military service—he served during Vietnam, but has said a few times that he served in Vietnam. Scandalous. So he apologized. We then heard how McMahon's firm was guilty of laying people off during a recession and purchasing foreign products. Shocking.
Blumenthal, it should be said, doesn't seem like he'll be a particularly articulate voice on behalf of liberalism. Yes, he did half-heartedly defend the health care bill—a rarity for Democrats this cycle—while adding that he would've preferred to give Medicare the power to bargain down drug prices, a fairly boilerplate idea. But he then went on to bash the stimulus for being too large and not "accountable enough" (whatever that means), and insisted that he would have voted against TARP. It fell to McMahon to remind people that the financial system really was on the verge of collapse back in 2008, and drastic government intervention was necessary to save it.
McMahon, for her part, doesn't seem to have the courage of her convictions either. When she was asked—twice—what government programs she'd cut to reduce the deficit, she very noticeably wiggled out of the question both times. (Blumenthal at least ventured that Congress could cut agricultural subsidies and "end tax breaks to corporations that send jobs overseas.") And she backpedaled furiously away from her earlier ruminations about cutting the minimum wage. Instead, McMahon bashed health care reform on the grounds that it cut Medicare Advantage by $500 billion—not exactly the fiercest of small-government positions. She'd repeal Obamacare and replace it with… what, exactly? "Tort reform."
One of the few moments of actual substance came when the discussion turned toward the Bush tax cuts: Blumenthal wants to repeal tax breaks for income over $250,000 and keep the rest; McMahon wants to keep them all. But the candidates seemed to sense they were dwelling for too long on critical policy questions and went back to bickering about each other's records. McMahon accused Blumenthal of having no private-sector experience and hence not knowing how to create jobs. (Blumenthal had to protest that he's not actually running to be an entrepreneur.) When the moderator asked McMahon if there were areas in which she could work with Democrats, she just babbled on about how CEOs have to know how to negotiate deals—again, without answering the question. In turn, Blumenthal revealed the stunning truth that the WWE has hired lobbyists before, and took time in his closing statement to point out that McMahon "refuses to recognize that steroids cause long-term health consequences."
Toward the end of the night, one of the moderators decided to just phone it in and start asking questions like, "Yankees or Red Sox?" "Thin crust or thick crust?" To be fair, he can be forgiven for being confused as to whether anything important was actually at stake in this race.