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August: The time when bored political journalists make mountains out of Washington molehills

With Congress in the doldrums of summer recess, our town has inevitably sunk to the game of making political mountains out of molehills.

The latest example is disclosure that the campaign manager of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell confided to a political associate, last January no less, that he was "sort of holding my nose for two years" working for Mr. McConnell. He was doing so, he explained, in hope of it being "a big benefit" for a previous employer, Sen. Rand Paul, also of Kentucky, who is said to have 2016 presidential aspirations.


The perpetrator of this lapse into candor, one Jesse Benton, made the hapless comment in a phone call to a Republican activist named Dennis Fusaro. For his own reasons, Fusaro gave a recording to a blog called the Economic Policy Journal, and from there it was reported on by the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

History, to be sure, is replete with cases of politics making strange bedfellows. In 1960, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson sniped repeatedly at rival John Kennedy in their contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Yet LBJ set aside his differences long enough to agree to be JFK's running mate, to the dismay of Kennedy's once campaign manager, brother Robert, who despised Johnson.


Back in 1968, New York's Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who privately held Richard M. Nixon in utter contempt, nevertheless seconded his presidential nomination. He ended his fulsome praise by calling on the Republican convention to nominate "Richard E. Nixon!" Maybe the E was for Expendable.

There was no love lost, either, between Sen. John McCain and Gov. George W. Bush in their 2000 fight for the GOP nomination. Yet Mr. McCain, after being smeared and defeated by the Bush campaign, made up with his conqueror in a strained public endorsement of the next President of the United States.

Nor is it any secret that in the anything-goes mode of American politics, candidates and their political strategists and helpmates often put aside personal sentiments and objectives for tactical actions that they figure in the long run will advance their primary causes.

In this case, all this obscure fellow Jesse Benton did was carelessly confide that while neither his heart nor his nose was in full harmony with the McConnell re-election campaign, he was working for it for the possible advantage of Rand Paul's national aspirations.

What he probably didn't count on, but should have been aware of, was that pesky other player in most political dramas through the years and maybe more so now: the nosy news media. Political reporters worth their salt always have their eyes and ears open, along with their ever-sniffing noses for news. They are repeatedly rewarded by political candidates and associates who carelessly or unwittingly hand them the stuff of damaging stories.

Only last year, Republican nominee Mitt Romney paid a heavy political price for the candid remarks to what he obviously believed was a supportive and understanding "private" audience of prospective donors. His reference to "the 47 percent of Americans" he said were beyond his reach as beneficiaries of federal (Democratic) largesse was a kiss of political death.

By comparison, this latest dust-up of a McConnell campaign functionary indelicately telling sympathetic ears that he had ulterior motives in working for Senator McConnell was distinctly small potatoes. But it does cast today's politics in a dishonorably harsh light that is a disservice to all the practitioners who toil with their hearts and convictions in the right place.

At the same time, the news media's spotlight, spread widely by an Internet that seizes on every tidbit (including in this preachy column), compounds the offense. In the summer lull of truly significant news coming out of vacationing Washington, an obscure low-level political player gets his 15 minutes of fame, or infamy.


It's almost enough to yearn for Labor Day and the return of Congress. Almost, but not quite, considering what little that return is likely to bring in this year of continuing stalemate and bickering on Capitol Hill.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is