For the second time in the past two years, Linda McMahon – the wife of World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman, CEO and Chairman of the Executive Committee Vince McMahon, and former President and CEO herself – won the Republican primary in her home state of Connecticut, and is prepared to mount another run at the Senate.
I can still remember watching WWE (then known as the WWF) on Monday and Friday evenings throughout the late 1990s. And while my younger self certainly wasn’t wondering, “could anyone involved in this enterprise ever manage to attempt a career in politics,” I doubt, if I watched it now, I would have asked that. Because the obvious answer would have been “no way.”
Yes, McMahon’s involvement with the WWE is not necessarily reflective of her political philosophy. But at the same time, the WWE possessed such a startling lack of ethics that it merits acknowledgment. I’m not a big fan of “Mothers Against [insert hyperbolized moral cause here],” but Mothers Opposing McMahon raise a legitimate point about the rampant misogyny that exists within the context of WWE programming.
While the male character in the video – her husband – is obviously intended to be the embodiment of the corporate, sexist, degrading authority figure and the villain of the segment, the WWE tries to have its cake and eat it too. When you attempt to fictionally portray sexism and misogyny, you either get it right or you engage in the practices that you seek to critique. Needless to say, this didn’t get it right.
Then there’s the issue of what other practices the WWE encouraged under Mrs. McMahon’s tenure. Wrestlers engaged in steroid abuse – allegedly facilitated by her husband – and painkiller abuse from the toll the profession took on their bodies, worked for years without breaks, and engaged in actions that caused substantial damage to their bodies and their brains. Chris Benoit, the wrestler who killed himself, his wife and his 7 year-old son in 2007, had a brain that “was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient.” His is an extreme case, but it’s still the product of the organization McMahon ran.
Why am I talking about brain-damaged men in tights and institutional misogyny? Because they are the reason Linda McMahon stands a chance of getting elected. Her campaigns have been funded with $61 million she made profiting off of pro wrestling, with all of its egregious ethical violations. You can’t separate Linda McMahon the politician from Linda McMahon the businesswoman. Even if you could, she wouldn’t want you to; the first slogan that pops up when you visit her website flaunts her status as a “proven job creator.” Which she absolutely is – she’d just prefer voters not bother to consider the type of jobs she created.
McMahon has opted to focus on her personal story this election and has placed her experience as WWE’s CEO on the backburner. I’m not sure why, because her resume embodies the virtues of business that she currently champions as a politician. McMahon wants the private sector deregulated, so not to hinder “job creators.” She wants to cut government spending on social programs and she doesn’t approve of the PPACA, because her business experience tells her that the cost isn’t worth the benefits.
In other words, she’s a typical Republican in today’s political climate. She believes businesses should be allowed to do what they want, so long as it’s profitable and they can afford it, ethics is damned. And if there’s some collateral damage – like if your husband is indicted for distributing steroids to his own wrestlers, or you cultivate a work environment that tolerates or even encourages sexual harassment, drug abuse, self-destructive behavior that leads to your employees being physically and mentally crippled (while your company refuses to cover their health insurance) – then hopefully no one will notice. The free market, not the government should dictate how a business is run, and what the free market doesn’t know – or doesn’t care about – doesn’t hurt the business. It just hurts the employees.
So until something really bad happens – like the Chris Benoit incident – you’ve got no obligation to inconvenience your business or your politics. Then again, politics has a different definition of what constitutes really bad. It "only" took three deaths for McMahon’s WWE to implement changes to how it treated its employees, but after the Aurora shooting, the Sikh shooting and the recent Family Research Council shooting, Republicans refuse to consider implementing any gun control measures -- and Democrats are too timid to push the issue.
No wonder McMahon wants to be in politics. If the recent recession wasn’t enough to convince anyone that deregulation isn’t a viable economic policy or that 50 million uninsured Americans isn’t a sign that the private sector has failed to adequately provide healthcare, then she won’t have to worry about having a Chris Benoit moment. Because for the Republican Party, there isn’t such a thing.