Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Susan Collins as Marie-Reine Le Gougne

If you're my age or older, the name "Marie-Reine Le Gougne" may ring a faint bell of recognition. Better known as "the French judge", Le Gougne was at the center of 2002 Olympic figure skating scandal which saw a Russian pair win gold over the seemingly far more deserving Canadian duo of Jamie Salé and David Pelletie. Le Gougne voted for the Russians and immediately attracted suspicion for it -- she soon confessed that she had been pressured into her vote by the head of the French federation as part of a trade where a French couple would receive a scoring advantage in the ice dance competition later in the games. Le Gougne was suspended and disgraced; eventually the decision was made to give both pairs a shared gold medal.

Here's the thing though: there were nine judges in the 2002 Olympic figure skating competition. Five voted for the Russian pair. Four went for the Canadian. So why was Le Gougne, "the French judge", singled out?

The answer is simple: everyone knew that the four eastern bloc judges (from Russia, Ukraine, China and Poland) would vote for the Russian pair. And everyone "knew" that the western judges (from the USA, Canada, Germany, and France) would vote for the Canadian. The only real decider was the Japanese judge -- who passed for neutral. He picked the Canadians. But it didn't matter once Le Gougne didn't vote for her "side". A 5-4 vote gave the Russians the victory.

It is a testament to just how deeply this sort of corruption was ingrained in the Olympics that nobody even thought to be aggrieved by the fact that the regional blocs were guaranteed to vote for "their" skater regardless of performance. Indeed, the entire fix was premised on the assumption that they would do just that. And yet, despite the fact that their votes if anything represent a deeper rot inside the body of Olympic figure skating, unlike Le Gougne, these judges received no punishment and no public attention whatsoever. Everything fell on the head of Le Gougne, because her corruption wasn't assumed from the get-go.

And that brings us to Susan Collins. Collins has had a rough year, politically-speaking: she's seen her approvals tank over the course of the Trump administration; and she's now in a statistical dead heat with her 2020 Democratic challenger Sara Gideon. This brings me almost indescribable joy. Time after time, Susan Collins has been a loyal water-carrier for the worst excesses of the Trump administration. She may grumble or pout or furrow her brow in grave concern, but when push comes to shove she has almost unerringly toed the party line. If a "moderate Republican" is someone who "talks about voting differently from other Republicans before voting exactly the same as other Republicans," Susan Collins is indeed Washington's quintessential moderate Republican. And this identity has made her one of the true, great villains of the Trump era.

In a sense, this is unfair. Susan Collins isn't voting any differently from Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz. Indeed, that's the very indictment against her: she votes just like they do. But like the eastern bloc judges, the corruption of Cotton and Hawley and Cruz is assumed. Everyone knows they're in the bag for whatever Trump would have them do. Collins has cultivated a public identity predicated on the idea that we should not "know" this about her. So it is more of a shock (even if by this point it should have ceased to be one) when she inevitably caves.

But still -- if Susan Collins feels that this is all unfair, I do think she has a point. She is not, objectively speaking, any worse than Cotton or Hawley or Cruz.

She has a point, and that point she be reflected in how we see her. And so when Collins loses her seat in 2020 (and I expect she will), and all the columnists race to write their eulogies for her Washington career, this is the only point about her truly worth making: Susan Collins was, at root, no different -- no better, no worse -- than Ted Cruz.

That is her legacy. And it is completely, entirely, deserved


chicago teamster said...

- corrupt judging of Olympic figure skating: That's what happens when you try to make these performances into a sport.

- Collins v. Cruz: Ethically there may be no difference, but there is something so off-putting about Collins'pretension and obliviousness.

LewLorton said...

small typo .
If you're my age our older . -> If you're my age OR older

Unknown said...

Before the fall of the the USSR (1991) and the success of the Solidarity movement in Poland (1990), such an alignment may have been possible, mostly out of political pressure. But in 2002? Hardly a sure vote.

In my experience, most Poles do not align with Russia, ideologically or politically. Indeed, calling Poland a part of Eastern Europe is likely to provoke hard words from Poles. Central, or even Western European is what they'd say.