In olden times there was the concept of the whipping boy. If a young monarch-to-be misbehaved badly, punishment was necessary. But no one could lay violent hands on the Crown Prince. So another child, a servant of sorts, was whipped instead.
This business of punishing an innocent party when you cannot get at the guilty one carries over into politics today. Sen. Mitch McConnell has a campaign manager named Jesse Benton. But this is not Benton's first rodeo. He previously served as campaign manager for Ron Paul, and is accused of offering a bribe to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson in return for his endorsement of Paul. Kent Sorenson has already pleaded guilty to accepting the bribe. But who offered it?
Benton has not yet officially been found guilty of anything, but there are emails and a conversation with Sorenson that seem to point to his
involvement. In a court of law a person must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the court of public opinion is much less generous. Not only is Benton assumed guilty, but his guilt is somehow transferred to McConnell, his present employer.
In a close election having an alleged felon as your campaign manager may be enough to tip the balance in November. This is the whipping boy process in reverse, where the leader-to-be is punished for the sins of his subordinate. Is this fair? No. Is this a likely result? Yes.
It would be a savage irony indeed if the Republicans take over the Senate in November but their current party leader is not available to take over the job of majority leader. Alternatively, if McConnell is defeated, that may be the seat that saves Democratic control.
But there are political ironies on the other side as well. Cartoons often show President Barack Obama holding a golf club, even though historically the current president spends much less time on the golf course, and spends much less time on vacation altogether than his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
Obama, who certainly had no ambition to be remembered as a wartime president, is faced with two conflicts at once, one against the brutal ISIL extremists and one in the Ukraine.
Vladimur Putin, whose ego is larger than the Russian nation he leads, has gotten caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. First he took back from the Ukraine nation the province of Crimea, ceded to the Ukraine in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Emboldened by this successful grab, he fomented a revolt by the Russian speaking minority in the Eastern part of Ukraine. He deployed significant Russian forces along the eastern border of Ukraine, and more or less openly supplied the rebels with heavy arms. But he has been faced with a series of embarrassing events. First, the Ukrainian forces turned the tide of battle against the rebels. Then the rebels mistakenly shot down a civilian airliner, killing all aboard. More recently, six Russian paratroopers were taken prisoner in a minor incursion in the southeastern sector of Ukraine. Some of their comrades were killed as well. There are widely publicized appeals from the parents of these six paratroopers. One thing that has not changed from the Soviet era is the Russian rumour mill.
Faced with the prospect of an embarrassing defeat of the Russian speaking rebels, Russia has openly invaded Southeastern Ukraine with two tank columns. The Soviet Union was not defeated in battle by the West. Economic collapse and casualties from the Afghanistan incursion turned the people against the regime, and the regime was overthrown.
Putin has enjoyed wide popularity at home with his moves against various former Soviet states and allies, including Georgia and the Ukraine. But as increased Western sanctions cripple the Russian economy and casualty reports grow, the tide of public opinion may turn quickly. He may have overreached. And the peace-loving Obama may turn out to be one of our most successful wartime presidents. Ironies abound.
John Culleton writes from Eldersburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at email@example.com.