Tuesday, December 21, 2004

We Wish You A Merry Whatsit

T’is the season to be secular – and litigious.

In Kirkland, Washington, a high school principal this year refused to allow a production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” because Tiny Tim, the character in the tale who melts the stony heart of Scrooge, was incautious enough to pray, “God Bless everyone.”

The “G” word rarely has been in favor among secularist censors, and this year was no different.

On most occasions, one may expect an eruption of righteous anger when books are banned by school systems that object to ribald language or offensive messages. When Huckleberry Finn was dumped from libraries by timid administrators unnerved by the “N” word, a tortured cry went up from defenders of the First Amendment.

But not this time.

Florida and New Jersey school districts have banned Christmas carols altogether, perhaps fearing the litigious American Civil Liberty Union lawyer hiding under the school nurse’s bed.

In Somerville Massachusetts, the mayor formally apologized to those offended by a press release that called the town “holiday” party a “Christmas” party. “Holiday,” incidentally, is an abbreviation of “holy day” which, one supposes, might well offend the mayor of Somerville. But perhaps the connection had escaped the mayor, the word “holiday” having been sufficiently secularized.

People, not all of whom are religious fundamentalists, are beginning to notice that the new puritans are mostly secularists driven to banning books, plays and music by ACLU phobia.

Friends of the First Amendment may suppose -- wrongly – that the ACLU would be on the side of musicians and book readers whose constitutional liberties are constricted by the new puritans and against the gathering tide of secularists that eventually – It’s only a matter of time; already this year mayors have banned the playing of (italics) instrumental (end italics) versions of carols – may take to the courts to prevent churches from ringing their bells on Sundays, lest the sounds disturb the peace of slumbering atheists.

On some occasions this year, Christians have refused to be thrown to the secular lions.

When Jim Basey, president of The Downtown Denver Partnership, refused to allow carolers in the annual Parade of Lights, Faith Bible Chapel retaliated by sending 1,000 carolers to the parade route an hour before the event. The carolers entertained the crowds by singing to them such banned tunes as “Joy to the World” and “The First Noel.”

Faith Bible Chapel had applied for permission to include a float of carolers in the parade and was refused because, Basey explained, “Our policy, which we have applied consistently for years, is to not include religious or political messages in the parade -- in the interest of not excluding any group.”

Come again?

How is it possible to enforce a policy of non-exclusion by excluding Christian groups and denying them a place in the parade?

So all embracing was the parade committee’s policy of non-exclusion that it had approved a float sponsored by Two Spirits, an American Indian group that considers homosexuality to be holy, prompting critics to charge that the committee had violated its own rules.

While partnership member Susan Rogers said the policy prohibited “overtly religious symbols,” thus disallowing Christmas hymns and “Merry Christmas” signs, Basey had issued the following contradictory statement: "The parade includes performances of Christmas songs, and parade participants saying 'Merry Christmas,' 'Happy Hanukkah,' and other holiday greetings.”

This is the stuff of which litigation is made. So, the good people of Denver could not have been too surprised when former U.S. Attorney Mike Norton, the husband of Colorado Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, said he would be happy to represent Faith Bible Chapel in a lawsuit against the parade committee.

Some Christmas far down the road, people may be ashamed to play Scrooge to Tiny Tim’s exuberant “God bless everyone.” The media, traditional defenders of the First Amendment, may someday realize that the authors of the Bill of Rights could not have intended to grant in one clause of the First Amendment a right that was abolished in the same amendment. And someday policies will not be established that exclude Christians bearing tidings of great joy during Christmas because parade organizers “do not wish to exclude any group.”

Someday all this will come to pass, and the secular lion will lie down with the religious lamb.

But not this year.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Michael Ross, Governor Jodi Rell and Norman Patiss' Strange Delusion

Norman Pattis, a defense attorney in New Haven has weighed in on Governor Jodi Rell and the Michael Ross case.

What is it about the death penalty, other than its finality, that makes anti-death penalty proponents vacate their craniums when they begin to think about it?


“Michael Ross was sentenced to death almost two decades ago,” Pattis wrote in a recent op-ed column, “and his case has bounced through the court system for more than a decade.”


He almost got it right. The case has been dribbled through the court system by public defenders who, for twenty years after Ross had been prosecuted and found guilty of murdering four women, strung out the litigation through appeals over the objections of their client.


Ross, who murdered eight women, has said that he wants justice to be done, so that the suffering of the families of his victims may be finally resolved. This may be Ross’ finest hour in a life full of murderous deeds.


Ross, Pattis continues, “has declared a desire to end the fight, and his execution date has been set by judicial decree. On Jan. 26, we will kill him. We will pump his veins full of poison and watch him die. And we will call it justice.”


What would Pattis call the twenty years of litigation that will result in the execution of a sentence passed upon him by three juries?


Jumping off a rhetorical cliff, Pattis wrote, “It is not justice to kill a human being. It is simply killing. And killing accomplishes nothing but satisfaction of rage.


“The governor’s publicity stunt last week (Rell declined to reprieve Ross) announced to the world that this chief executive seeks a new distinction. Let me be the first to utter it aloud: Rell, murderer.”


Pattis, we are to understand, is not enraged at Rell for executing the laws of the state, the whole point of her office. And moral posturing has played no part in Pattis’ op-ed piece. Neither is he is confused for mistaking Rell rather than Ross for a murderer.


The upside of Pattis’ upside-down view of things is that, if Rell is a murderer, Pattis may be willing to go to some pains to see to it that she is spared the death penalty. Perhaps life in prison for Rell would still his rage.


And he is engorged with rage.


Pattis gives Rell an “A-plus in repulsive posturing.” The governor could have reprieved Ross but declined to do so because “she likes the death penalty.”


Rell said she had been moved by a letter written to her by Edwin Shelley, the father of the fourteen-year-old girl Ross had terrorized and murdered after having murdered her friend, April Brunias.


Mr. Shelley, who has been awaiting justice from the state of Connecticut for more than two decades, beseeched Rell not to intervene and wrote to her, “I last saw my daughter Leslie, on Easter Sunday of 1984, and since learning of her death, I have tried to experience the horror and fear she must have felt as her friend April was led away raped and murdered. I cannot begin to feel the feelings of helplessness as she lay tied in the back seat of his car or her fear when he came to get her; perhaps you may, I don't know.”


But we should put all this out of our minds. Rell is, in Pattis’ view, a cheap politician motivated by base political instincts, a woman without courage and – let us not forget – “a murderer.”


Attorney Pattis has had the distinction of having been the first to say it.


Let me be the first to say this about attorney Pattis: His passion for moral posturing has unhinged him, and one may wonder whether an attorney so confused ought to be practicing law. The op-ed piece Pattis wrote – a pointed political and toxic invective aimed at Rell – hopelessly confuses justice with vengeance.


If Pattis wants to understand the difference between vengeance and justice, he will have to think more deeply on the terror that raced like fire through the brain of Leslie Shelley when Ross strangled her and she heard him whisper, “I’m sorry.”


Ross’ eight murders were more vengeful than the twenty years of litigation he has endured.


It may be that Ross now is sorry, repentant enough to want to give to the families of his victims what is due them under the law.


To give to a man what is due to him under the law is the classic definition of justice -- always on the understanding that if the law itself is unjust, the law should be repealed by legislators; it should not be vacated by governors.


Shouldn’t someone provide the definition to Pattis?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Michael Ross, The Death Penalty and Connecticut's Press

In a recent column in the Journal Inquirer following Governor Jodi Rell's public announcement that she would not reprieve Michael Ross' death sentence, the paper's editorial editor, Keith Burris, ventured far out when he wrote that Connecticut had no standing in executing Ross, a murderer who strangled eight women, raping most of them.

"I would not blame the loved ones of any of Michael Ross' victims for killing him, and I would not vote to convict any parent of any one of his victims for doing so," Burris wrote.

"Call it an eye for an eye or a crime of passion. Ross' victims and family have standing.

"I also think Ross is entitled to take his own life. (Go for it Mike.)

"But I do not see how the state does. And I do not see how the state upholds justice if the state kills him."

There is a great deal of confusion here, particularly since Burris wrote in the same column that he agreed with Cardinal Bernardin's notion that the Catholic Church should be "life affirming."

"I agree," Burris wrote, "with the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago. He wrote and spoke of a seamless garment affirming life: Anti-war, anti-death penalty, and anti abortion."

In what sense is it "life affirming" to hold blameless vengeful family members of victims who murder, even if their cause is understandable?

It would render the seamless garment very bloody indeed if the entire culture, along with Burris, would not blame family members of victims "who have standing" when they seek revenge; for, of course, if the society could not blame men for such acts of revenge, neither should it prosecute them.

It is because Ross was not blameless that he was prosecuted and found guilty.

It has become far too easy for those who oppose capital punishment to argue that there is no distinction between murder, revenge and justice. According to this view, the state, in executing Ross, has descended to "state sanctioned murder."

Rell, Burris writes, "believes in retribution." Addressing the media once she had refused to reprieve Ross, Rell said, "This (the execution of Ross) may not deter other killers, but there is a point at which the community must say -- ENOUGH. We cannot let this stand without objection and correction by civil society. We cannot tolerate your crime, or you among us."

Burris found this mode of reasoning "convincing" but adds, "a similar logic justified lynching not so many years ago."

This is specious reasoning, because it ignores reality. In fact and in truth, Ross' path to execution was very far removed from a lynching, as anyone who understands the difference between just retribution and vengeance would attest. A lynch mob does not observe the niceties of justice afforded Ross. And Ross' crimes were very much more like vengeance than Ross' elaborate ( some would say Byzantine) judicial proceedings.

Though reporters regularly insert prior information into new stories as a matter of course, Ross' litigatory record is not included in recent stories, and not because the reader may be familiar with the details; assuredly he is not.

An accurate recitation of the record simply would take up too much space. The years of litigation were freighted with details not reported in recent stories: first a trial during which Ross was found guilty of having murdered four women; then a separate death penalty hearing during which a jury sentenced him to death; then an automatic review by Connecticut's Supreme Court; then an appellate court's decision that the hearing should be re-held; then yet another hearing by a separate jury in which new information was admitted, followed by yet another death sentence -- then more appeals.

Ross confessed to murdering eight women but was tried only for four murders.

Ross had not exhausted his appeals when recently he decided to let justice take its course, at which point the serial killer was reported in many news stories as having "volunteered" to be put to death.

Ross himself does not view it this way.

"I am asking you not to exercise your executive power to grant the temporary reprieve," Ross wrote in a letter to Rell. "First, and most importantly, it is not fair to the families of my victims, who have been waiting for over 20 years (my italics) for justice to be carried out in this case." If Ross is credible, he has trying to prevent appeals for several years because he does not wish to prologue the agony of the families of his victims.

Others -- notably, public defenders that Ross had discharged because they refused to accede to his wish that no further appeals should be filed; "whole garment" journalists who, for some odd reason, do not object strongly or often to late term abortion, disallowed both by the First Estate and Row v Wade; putative Catholic legislators who will follow their church only where they wish to go; critics of Rell too cowardly to take a clear position on the matter and state for the record that they oppose the death penalty for Ross, a failing for which Burris may plead not guilty; thoughtless sentimentalists; and the Catholic Church, which has taken a principled position against the death penalty -- have been responsible in prolonging the agony of, to mention but one name, Edwin Shelley, the father of one of Ross' 14 year-old-victims.

It has been 20 years since Shelley felt the hair rise on the nape of his neck when he saw his daughter's corpse.

"I last saw my daughter Leslie," Shelley wrote in a letter to Rell prior to her announcement that she would not grant a reprieve to Ross, "on Easter Sunday of 1984, and since learning of her death, I have tried to experience the horror and fear she must have felt as her friend April was led away raped and murdered. I cannot begin to feel the feelings of helplessness as she lay tied in the back seat of his car or her fear when he came to get her; perhaps you may, I don't know.

"But as he took her from his car and knelt on her back to cover up the act of rape and murder perpetrated on her friend April, he had the nerve to tell her he was sorry.

"I am hoping and praying that you will rethink your thinking on a stay of execution of Michael Ross."

Having thought through the matter very deliberatly, Rell decided not to intervene. Ross' former public defenders have filed a petition with the court, which should -- Though one can never be quite sure that appellate court justices will see their duty and do it, as Rell has -- be denied, if only on the grounds that discharged attorneys have no standing before the court. And Michael Lawlor, on the legislature's Judicial Committee, wants yet another debate on the issue of capital punishment. The anti death-penalty proponents attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Rell to grant a reprieve so that the issue may be debated yet again in the legislature.

Whether anyone in Connecticut's media will be guided by the pleas of Ross or Shelly is, at this point, very much an open question.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Brief Sermon on Lowell Weicker, Roger Williams and Religion in America

It is not at all surprising that former senator and governor Lowell Weicker, the prime mover in the enactment of an income tax that has doubled state expenditures, should now be spending his twilight years in retirement bemoaning – high taxes. Weicker’s entire public life has been wasted in attempts to pound square pegs in round holes.

In addition to high taxes, Weicker also is troubled by what he perceives as a dangerous and possibly unconstitutional religious resurgence in America, an alarming turn towards faith that apparently has not affected public education administrators in Maryland who, eyes cocked in the direction of mischievous suits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, have developed curricula pointedly not mentioning that the Puritans were preeminently a religious people who often thanked God for their good fortune – as was the case during Thanksgiving.

“Too many Americans,” Weicker writes in Northeast magazine, a Hartford Courant publication, “have the view that our nation was founded by those fleeing religious persecution. Not so. That (religious persecution) came later as a result of persecution right here in the United States. Rather, Europeans were tired of paying in taxes and lives for wars declared by kings, and so they fled Europe.”

Well … not so.

The Puritan founders of Massachusetts and later Connecticut were neither war weary nor were they tired of paying taxes. Connecticut was founded by a charter given to the colonialists by the king of England. Neither John Cotton in Massachusetts nor Jonathan Edwards here in Connecticut were anti-royalists. “That,” to quote Weicker, “came later.”

The founding of the country is only incidentally related to religious persecution here, which is not to say that theocrats in Massachusetts did not practice what we might call “religious persecution.”

Roger Williams, a separatist nonconformist, was very much put upon by the conforming religious leaders of Massachusetts. He was tossed out of the state during one of the worst winters in living memory and, were it not for the attentions bestowed on him by local Indians, he would have perished. A man of immense courage, Williams lived to write polemical masterpieces against Cotton, appealed the cause of nonconformism to Oliver Cromwell – who was an anti-royalist -- struck up a friendship with John Milton, compiled a dictionary of the language spoken by Indians, and founded Rhode Island, no mean accomplishments.

But neither Williams nor his persecutors were secularists, and they would have been horrified, as would a Deist such as Thomas Jefferson, by the notion that the founders in penning the First Amendment freed pedagogues in Maryland (named after the blessed mother of Jesus) from dwelling upon the religion of the Puritan founders of New England.

The First Amendment -- which reads in part “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof” – opens a wide door of liberty for religious institutions and prohibits the state from writing laws that would impede religious practices.

The open question rarely discussed secularists is this: If the Constitution prohibits Congress from making laws prohibiting religious exercises, does the constitutional prohibition extend to the other branches of government – governors and courts as well? Are courts that issue edicts driving religion from public places engaging in unconstitutional acts?

During much of his political career, Weicker has labored under the misapprehension that the First Amendment to the US Constitution provided a right of freedom from religion. He has said as much elsewhere. This juvenile notion is a gross misinterpretation of history and a radical simplification of the First Amendment. We know something is wrong when a man, under the influence of such misapprehensions, tells us that the Puritans were not fleeing religious persecution; actually, they were seeking a refuge where they could practice their religion unimpeded by king or parliament.

Williams was a man in whom gigantic virtues laid down and lived peaceably with ferocious vices.

Perry Miller, the most accurate authority on the Puritans, said that Williams was an uncompromising nuisance. But Williams was a magnificent nuisance. He denied the covenant theology prevalent in Connecticut and Massachusetts, practiced topological interpretation of scripture, never forgot a slight or a compassionate gesture and was, as was Jonathan Edwards after him, the wide door of religious liberty that led, after him, to the grand mosaic of the religious faithful that have given us so much and asked of us so little in this land of liberty wending its way under the hand of God.

This is a land unplumbed by secularists and, increasingly, an alien land in our public schools – for which we have to thank men, like Weicker, who posses all of the vices and none of the virtues of Williams.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Coming Reinvention Of The Democratic Party, And What Connecticut Republicans May Learn From It

The reversal of fortunes is too dramatic not to notice.

After the 1990 elections, Democrats held a 267-seat majority in the U.S. House and a 56-seat majority in the senate. These majorities dwindled and vanished during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and today they are nearly reversed. In the post election congress, Republicans will have a 231 or 200 majority in the U.S. House and a 55 or 44 majority in the senate.

In addition, Republicans have moved into the majority in state legislature and governorships. The Democrats were unable to carry a single state in the South, Western Plains or Mountain States, the fortress of Republican electoral power.

Some Democrat Party stalwarts have suggested the trouble lies with the messenger.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman said, “We cannot afford to make the perfect the enemy of the good. We have to broaden our base and not have everyone agree with every principle of the party platform. We have to broaden our appeal without violating our principles and the values we stand for.”

Grossman, the national chairman of Howard Dean’s campaign has suggested that Dean, as chairman of the Democrat Party, “would be a passionate spokesman for the Democrats, but also would be able to continue to revitalize participatory politics that is needed to grow the party.”

This year Bush garnered 40 percent of the union vote, 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and 11 percent of the black vote. But the steady erosion of Democratic support over many years has suggested to some prominent Democrats that the problem may lie with the message.

“There’s no question,” said Democrat Party strategist Donna Brazile in a column she wrote for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, “that it’s time to rebuild America’s oldest political party brick by brick… The Democratic Party must lay a new foundation and stop spending its political capital defending old programs and initiatives.”

Even though the Bush administration has presided over a national debt that has raise the eyebrows of fiscally responsible conservatives, polls indicate that most people are unwilling to trust Democrats to manage budgets. In exit polls taken during the election, an astounding 70 percent of respondents answered “No” to the question “Should government do more to solve problems?”

The Bush administration has written off a large part of the budget deficit to a recession that began at the tail end of the previous administration, the financial ramifications of 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The operative assumption of the administration is that a rising economic tide will lift all the boats, replenish federal and state revenues and eventually, as happened during Clinton administration, assist in wiping out the debt.

Democrats in Connecticut, espying a mounting deficit and weary of waiting for a Spring Tide, have decided to tax millionaires to liquidate a growing state debt. A recent poll shows that a majority of Connecticut’s citizens would not mind it a bit if the millionaires picked up their tab.

There are numerous benefits in taxing millionaires rather than controlling spending. Millionaires are a minority. However much money they may dispose of, each millionaire has but one vote he may lob in the direction of candidates who think that tax payments should be more equitably distributed. Tax increases – even on the super rich – remain in the system long after Spring tides have watered state coffers with higher revenues. Most importantly, in a state whose motto is “What spending problem? We have a revenue problem,” no spending reductions or tax cuts are desirable, necessary or possible.

Donna Brazile and other Democrat Party reformers no doubt will have a severe problem convincing Democrats who cling to perceptions abandoned by the general populace that their party is in need of extensive renovation; so much time and energy over the years has been invested in the old comfortable structure, and museums are lovely places to visit from time to time.

Republicans in Connecticut have a different problem. With the exception of the governor’s office, they have not won elections because they have not fought the good fight. No leading Republican in the state believes that Republican programs successful elsewhere ought to be promoted here. We are, after all, living in one of the bluest of blue states, and it always is daunting to go against the grain.

To Republicans who are fearful of change, a quote from Benjamin Disraeli may serve as a spiritual elixir: “Success is the child of audacity... The secret of success is constancy to purpose.”

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Kerry and the Democrats, the Critical Aftermath

Liberals, who lost spectacularly in the recent elections, are being consoled -- by liberals.

The results are what might be expected. There is no need to abandon, or even examine, the prejudices that led us to dusty defeat, they say, but some minor technical adjustments may be in order.

Stick with your core beliefs, advises Keith Burris, Editorial Page Editor of the Journal Inquirer, but finesse your approach.

What Democrats need is to rediscover and reaffirm the old values, which are as solid as the earth itself. They simply need to get back to Jefferson, Jackson and Roosevelt. They do need to be the party that will make national health insurance happen. They do need to be intellectually honest. For example: No, we cannot balance the budget and universalize health insurance at the same time. That does not compute. But we want to get national health care first. Or, Yes, the war was a mistake. A terrible one. Let's talk about how we undo and correct it. They do need to be aggressive. For example: How dare you call us tax and spend liberals when you are bankrupting the country. Or. How dare you malign any soldier's service to his country. Especially heroic service in a brutal and unpopular war.

As Tom Jefferson might have said: Pause for a moment, take a breath -- think.

National health insurance has not been a success anywhere, not even in Canada where pills made in the USA are sold at a discount to citizens of Canada and the United States.

Why are those pills not made in Canada? Why is it that the research and development needed to bring new medicines to market occurs here in the United States rather than in Canada? Why is it that the citizens of countries that have implemented national health care plans must wait an intolerably long time for serious operations? What accounts for the movement of doctors from Canada to the United States? Is it the climate, or are medical professionals voting, so to speak, with their feet against national health insurance?

It is not clear, and will not be for some time, that the war in Iraq -- however unpopular it may be with liberals who admire Roosevelt but fail to mention that his pro-war policy was hotly contested by an aggressive peace movement of his day -- is a failure.

It may happen that terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere will eventually bear away democracy in their teeth. If so, this will not be the first time that this nation has sent out its young men to defend an honorable lost cause. Jefferson, Jackson and Roosevelt were war presidents.

All wars are unpopular, even among people who prosecute them. If the enemy is militant Islam, something must be done to defeat it -- militarily. The presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which, at this moment, is still in question (There are some indications that the WMD's were spirited out of Iraq prior to the arrival of U.S. troops by the Russians and deposited in Syria) is a distraction from a larger and more important issue. At some point, some nation will have to insert itself in the Arabian crescent and make war on militant terrorists who, somewhat like landlocked pirates, are not attached formally to any country. If not now, when and by whom? The French? The Germans? The Euroites?

Is it necessary to make war on militant Islam? That is the relevant question. If the answer to that question is "Yes," cost must be a secondary consideration.

By the way, it is by no means certain that the answer to this question must be "Yes." Europe seems willing to negociate with the terrorists who murdered hundreds of people in New York, even as in Jefferson's day Europe had for many years paid tributes to pashas in north Africa to assure that ships in the Mediterranean should continue in their trade routes unmolested by pirates. But the bribes were burdensome to a new nation, and that is why Jefferson refused to pay up. He decided that war on the pirates would be less expensive in the long run and offer a solution to the problem that was both practical and final.

The country is far from bankruptcy. There is some doubt whether a national debt that can be dissolved ought to be so worrisome as to cause opinion makers to declare that the country has entered a new Dark Age. Roosevelt's war was costly -- but necessary. President Bill Clinton got rid of the national debt in one term -- without raising taxes or lowering spending; the debt was wiped out largely by a burgeoning economy.

The president -- and virtually all Republicans officially connected with the presidential campaign -- was very careful to distinguish between a) John Kerry's service to his country during the Vietnam War, questioned by those outside his campaign, and b) Kerry's anti-war political activity.

Those who did not make the distinction could not, in good conscience, make the distinction: Among these were a majority of swift boat veterans who served honorably with Kerry during the war. Their criticism may have been harsh. But was it true? It simply is not possible to assert that no statements made by veterans (i.e. John Kerry) may be questioned (How dare you, sir!) and defend Kerry against charges made by ---veterans. Wars are not flags, and patriots should not be able to wrap themselves in a war to deflect criticism of their political activity during or following the war. If President Bush may be criticized for his approach to the present war, when such criticism is costly in terms of lives and the national treasure, surely Kerry may be criticized for his activities in a war that has passed us by and represents no danger to the nation.

As in other of his campaigns, Kerry made his military service and his anti-war activities a central issue. He invited scrutiny: Bring it on!"

So, what's the problem?

He was scrutinized. And closet critics -- bloggers and others whose writings circulate in the electronic underground -- found and exposed his clay feet.

In a story not widely circulated during the campaign, it was disclosed that Kerry, prior to his testimony before the U.S. congress, had traveled to Paris to meet with representative of the Viet Cong. The points mentioned in his testimony -- including the payment of reparations by the United States -- were remarkably similar to the Viet Cong six point program pressed upon him during the Paris meeting. Kerry was still in service at the time he met with the Viet Cong in Paris.

Kerry was the wrong candidate for Democrats at the wrong time.

That is why he lost the race.

Prime time commentators who write for the big newspaper chains -- and who lean to the left -- also are losing a very different race. What will bring them down finally is their hubris. Even now, when it is obvious that they have lost control of the political stump, they are inhospitable to dissenting voices and continue to write as if they were the only show in town.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Connecticut Republican Party At Ground Zero

State Republicans in Connecticut must be a bit envious of their national party.

Even ardent Democrats who believe that President George Bush is an imbecile – a dwindling number as more and more Republicans are added to the U.S. Congress – allow that the Republicans, led by uber-advisor Karl Rove, the putative brains behind the throne, did a magnificent job in showing Sen. John Kerry the door.

While their national counterparts were expanding their political power, State Republicans were losing seats in the legislature. And only last week Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, formerly the President Pro Tem of the state senate, acting on behalf of Governor Jodi Rell, who was on a vacation not paid for by state contractors, unburdened himself of the following sentiment:

"It is outrageous that our state would be seen nationally as the place to buy an illegal license. Worse still, it appears that state authorities failed to act for weeks after being informed by the media investigation that there was evidence of ongoing fraud and illegality.”

It appears that some entrepreneurs at the Department of Motor Vehicles have been supplying to illegal aliens driver's licenses without which they would be unable to secure green cards, and Sullivan wanted everyone to know how affronted he was. Sullivan was hoisted to his present position as a result of the resignation of former Governor John Rowland, now living a relatively peaceful media free life in West Hartford.

No doubt Sullivan would be doubly affronted if he were a full time governor of Connecticut – but a long line is beginning to form. Still, the experience of being an acting governor, if only for a few days, may be worth something.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Golden Boy of the state Democrat Party, probably could have the nomination for the asking, but being governor might be a step down from being the state’s attorney general. And there may be good reasons why Blumenthal never asked.

Unlike attorneys general, governors cannot overleap constitutional wall of separation that prevents them from assuming functions assigned to legislators, judges and heads of state. Through media connections, suits and legislative advisories, attorney generals regularly exercise quasi legislative, judicial and executive powers. The most powerful and feared politician in New York just now is neither a governor nor a legislator nor a judge but the State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

It may be unreasonable to expect politicians nursing ungovernable ambitions to settle for being governor, when it’s so much more gratifying – and trouble-free -- being Caesar.

Sen. Chris Dodd, who hinted the other day that he might consider a gubernatorial draft, also could have the job for the asking.

Dodd’s problem is the opposite of Blumenthal’s.

The power and influence of a senator is directly related to the chairmanship he holds on, let’s say, the “Subcommittee of the Committee to Investigate the Use of Fish Weirs in the Russian River in Alaska.” If you are not in the majority, you are in the minority, a cold and forbidding place for ambitious senators.

Dodd’s prospects for glory recede in direct proportion to gains made by Republicans, and the senator, who has been in congress since 1980, may have decided, after all these years, that he doesn't want to be Teddy Kennedy after all.

The line of gubernatorial aspirants following the two Democrat heavy hitters runs around the block. And of course, it must be presumed that Rell is interested in holding on to the position she recovered from Sullivan once her vacation was over.

The Democrat Party is chugging along in its usual well worn path, but the Republican Party may have reached a crossroad. Hitting bottom is sometimes liberating because there is no place else to go but upwards.

But how to get up?

When he had lost his gubernatorial campaign to Rowland, a newly liberated, inward looking Bill Curry said he thought that the citizens of the state were voting for “Republican governors to enact Democrat programs.” He almost got it right. In the absence of Republican programs, Democrat programs are the only show in town.

This year, the Democrats in the legislature once again will resurrect their favorite programs, including a millionaire's tax, in an attempt to convince the electorate that they can have their spending and not pay for it too. Standing between hikes in spending and the forward momentum of victorious Democrats is Rell and a decreasing number of Republicans who have grown comfortable enacting Democrat programs -- slender reeds indeed.

What is needed in Connecticut is a real state Republican Party that would advance real Republican measures like … well, President Bush's.

Red Republicans in a blue state would not have an easy time of it. But think of the fun they might have.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Why Kerry Lost

It’s doubtful that the average American thinks very much about his own past, let alone the past of his nation’ recent presidents. Most Americans are forward looking; something they have in common with tempest tossed immigrants newly arrived in the land of milk and honey.

During his first campaign against the current president’s father, former president Bill Clinton was careful not to dwell too much on his dubious past: It took awhile for that past to catch him up with the fleet footed Clinton and grab him by the throat.

Clinton’s first campaign was grounded firmly in the insubstantial future. The past belongs to history and may be, especially to those who have lived in it, a twilight shrouded, dangerous terrain. The future belongs to the imagination and is made of “frogs and snails and puppy dog’s tails.” As boys -- who will be boys -- enter their maturity, their pasts, so the poem tells us, are transmuted to “sighs and leers, and crocodile tears.”

If John Kerry didn’t get himself a rosy future soon, some of his new advisors warned, he would be condemned for the rest of his campaign to repeat the errors of his past, bore everyone to tears and let victory slip from his fingers.

Vietnam, viewed as a paralysis of the national will, was over, a casualty of the first Gulf war. The sixties were over. Long hair and talk-ins and doubtful public declarations made ex-warriors turned peacenicks were over. In the post 9/11 period, it was no longer politically useful to insist that preventative military action might be unconstitutional. Kerry himself would soon be over, they speculated, if he didn’t get over the past and move on.

All this was sound advice.

Going into his campaign, Kerry faced three major difficulties, all of which he failed to address: The economy was shaking off the after effects of a lingering depression that, much to the distress of Democrats, had begun in the last days of the Clinton administration and could not rightly be attributed to President George Bush; and the democratization of Iraq appeared to be inching forward, despite efforts by anti-Western Islamic terrorists to frustrate the attempt to turn Baghdad into a resplendent Washington on the Potomac.

On the economy, Bush had been more right than wrong: Certain kinds of tax cuts – as it happened, those ardently deplored by progressives -- did indeed spur economy activity and increase tax revenues. And a rising economic tide, as former President John Kennedy once said, “lifts all the boats.”

The tide was incoming.

On Iraq, Bush may have been be right in the short run. Americans, an intensely practical people, tend to mistrust those who claim to be able to square circles. While in the long run the democratization of Iraq may fail, it never is advantageous for an American aspirant to the presidency to argue persuasively that democracy need not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially from within a Democrat presidential campaign.

And then there was Kerry’s last and most formidable problem: The present, with fanatical terrorists in view, could not be romanticized out of existence. During his first presidential campaign, Clinton often pointed to a bright imaginary future, partially a construct of his own ambitions, because Osama Bin Laden, Hussein and his ogre sons were outside the house peering through the windows.

They entered the house after 9/11.

Only when Islamic terrorism is met with and deflected by a superior force will a return to normalcy be possible.

Kerry’s final obstacle involved the inability of a tiger to change his stripes. By nature and predilection, congressmen are fence straddlers. Kerry is a congressman; like others of his kind, he waffles on issues because it is the nature of the congressional beast to so position himself on every issue that he cannot be attacked by political opponents for having the mental clarity to choose between sundering either/or’s.

Is the earth flat or round? The practiced pragmatic congressman will answer the question by asserting that it is a little of both, depending on your point of view, thus assuming a moderate position that will offend neither opposing factions, the flatearthers or the roundearthers, and assuring re-election to congress -- which is to clarity of vision what the Tower of Babel was to communication.

Kerry was not able, within the last few weeks of his campaign, to demonstrate to his countrymen that he had in hand a workable plan to secure their peace and prosperity – a detailed and particular plan, not a tepid soup of glowing generalities.

His candidacy did not survive the challenge presented to it, and to his country, by a transnational ideology bent on its destruction.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Rep. Chris Shays Exposes French Perfidy

One question not seriously pursued during the presidential debates concerns the perfidy of trusted allies with respect to the United Nation’s Food for Oil program.

In the future, how would presidential candidates John Kerry or George Bush prevent rogue states such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from turning UN Oil for Food programs into Oil for Weapons programs?

The Oil for Food program was designed to ease social conditions in Iraq by permitting Saddam’s government to buy food and supplies for the country he methodically plundered. But the program was early on subverted by Saddam through a voucher system that rewarded state officials in various countries for political favors.

According to a story featured in the “Washington Times,” Patrick Kennedy, a representative to the United Nations for management and reform, told the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations that some member states had “resisted” efforts to put an end to bribery and contracting corruption in the Oil for Food program.

Saddam, who conscientiously patterned himself after Josef Stalin, could not have bribed government officials who were upright. It is not surprising that the prospect of personal enrichment should have caused a curvature of the spine in the representatives of nations that, prior to the U.S. intervention in Iraq, had nurtured intimate business relationships with someone who did not hesitate to murder hundreds of thousands of his own people.

Recent excavations in Iraq have uncovered mass graves containing women and children executed by the Stalin of Baghdad. No doubt the inoffensive children were enemies of the people.

Kennedy named names during his testimony. Among the UN member states overseeing the program that resisted efforts to prevent Saddam from stealing $10 billion were France, Russia, China and Syria. In recent days, Syria has been a prime exporter of terrorist to Iraq.

The remarks of the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut, were even more pointed.

“Acceding to shameless assertions of Iraqi sovereignty,” said Shays, “sovereignty already betrayed by Saddam's brutal willingness to starve the Iraqi people, the U.N. gave the Hussein regime control over critical aspects of the program.”

"Chinese, French and Russian delegates to the Security Council sanctions committee deftly tabled persistent reports of abuses.” And as a result, "the contractors hired to finance and monitor the program had only limited authority to enforce safeguards.

"The U.N. sanctions (against Iraq) were all but eviscerated, turned inside out by political manipulation and financial greed. Saddam's regime was not collapsing from within. It was thriving. He was not safely contained, as some contend, but was daily gaining the means to threaten regional and global stability again, once sanctions were removed."

About $1.78 billion of the $10 billion Saddam had skimmed from the U.N. program was paid out to French government officials, businessmen and journalists. The remainder, according to a report released Oct. 6th by a CIA-led Iraqi Survey Group, was used by Saddam to purchase military goods.

An Iraqi 1992 intelligence service report disclosed that in 1988 its ambassador to France paid $1 million to the French Socialist Party. According to the report, the ambassador was to “utilize” the money “to remind French Defense Minister Pierre Joxe indirectly about Iraq’s previous positions towards France, in general, and the French Socialist Party, in particular.”

Saddam also used the oil-purchasing voucher system as a means of encouraging French opposition to U.N. initiatives proposed by the United States in the late 1990’s. Iraq’s Intelligence Service supplied vouchers to French nationals, who made hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions by selling them to oil buyers.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in the Survey Group report that he personally awarded several Frenchmen “substantial” oil allotments. France’s Interior Minister, Charles Pascua, received a voucher for 13 million barrels. The chief executive officer of France’s SOCO oil company, Patrick Maugein, the recipient of 13 million barrels of oil, was a “conduit” to Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.

Democrat presidential candidate Kerry pledged to engage the French on the side of the angels in attempting to establish a democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq, even though he must have knon that Chirac eEver the Gallic maverick, already had said he would not be willing to accede to such a request, whomever the Americans chose as president.

Perhaps it’s just as well. With friends like the French, who needs enemies?

The Future of Political Parties and the Utopianists

We all know that after reading a news account of his own demise, Mark Twain advised, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In much the same way, reports that political parties are languishing on their deathbed may be greatly exaggerated – or not.

In this talk, I’d like to take you to the early nineteen hundreds and back again to the twenty-first century, so that we might have a rounded historical view of political parties and how they changed over the years.

I should begin by putting before you two propositions that few people here may disagree with.

The first is that political parties are necessary. The second is that no party can be successful unless it can maintain itself – financially and organizationally.

It will come as no surprise that there are dissenters to the first proposition. Some people believe that political parties are an encumbrance to good government. It may be an instance of advanced hubris, but there are political writers abroad in the land who believe that politics would be so much more rational and enlightened if they were running the show.

I think they are wrong – for obvious reasons.

The mission of journalists is to say the truth and shame the devil, as Cardinal John Henry Newman once put it; the mission of politicians is to tend to the affairs of the polis.

These two missions are not mutually exclusive: Often one finds politicians who are committed to the truth. Without such a commitment, no politics in a democracy can succeed for long. Here again, a remark of Twain seems appropriate. “Tell the truth,” he said. “You will confound your enemies and astonish your friends.”

On the journalistic side, one occasionally finds editors, reporters and political writers familiar with the nitty-gritty of politics who can offer up practical and sensible ideas. A few, of course, go overboard in an excess of enthusiasm. I can recall reading some editorials that sounded very much like the marching orders that Tammany Hall’s favorite son, George Washington Plunkitt, use to issue to his ward healers.

In any case, there can be little doubt that parties – in some form or other – are necessary and not simply a necessary evil. What teams are to sports, parties are to politics. If you don’t have a baseball team – preferably two teams – you can’t have a baseball game. Without parties, politics soon would come to resemble a sort of anarchical political ant heap in which powerful men and women use public means to further private ends.

No less an eminence than Arthur Schlesinger predicted that political anarchy would follow in the absence of a strong and vigorous two party system.

Our two party system, largely at the prodding of the Fourth Estate, has been reformed over the years. The present system is radically different than it was in the glory days of Plunkitt and Tammany Hall.

Plunkitt, I admit, is one of my favorite political characters. Those unfamiliar with him should try to secure a small book – only about 100 pages – written by William L. Riordon called “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall.” There they will find a somewhat bowdlerized but fairly accurate account of political parties as they existed at the turn of the century – virginal and, as yet, unspoiled by reformers.

For very good reasons, Plunkitt thought the Civil Service System, then in its infancy, would signal the end of political parties as he knew them. Once the giving of state jobs had been wrested from the iron grip of district managers and given to bloodless and apolitical civil servants, how would parties reward voters for their fealty?

Here is Plunkitt on the use of money in politics:

The Civil Service gang is always howln’ about candidates and office holders puttin’ up money for campaigns and about corporations chippn’ in. They might as well howl about given’ contributions to churches. A political organization has to have money for its business as well as a church, and who has more right to put up than the men who get the good things that are goin’? Take, for instance, a great political concern like Tammany Hall. It does missionary work like a church, it’s got big expenses and it’s got to be supported by the faithful. If a corporation sends in a check to help the good work of the Tammany Society, why shouldn’t we take it like other missionary societies? Of course the day may come when we’ll reject the money of the rich (I may break off here and remind you that Tammany was a organ of the Democrat Party, even then concerned with the tainted money of wealthy contributors. But, Plunkitt adds) it ain’t come when I left Tammany Hall at 11:25 A.M. today.”

Here is Plunkitt on primary election law reform; these lofty sentiments are ventilated in a chapter entitled, “Bosses Preserve the Nation.” A menacing black shadow, Plunkitt says, has crept into the consciousness of reformers.

“What was the great big black shadow? It was the primary election law, amended so as to knock out what are called the party bosses by lettin’ in everybody at the primaries and givin’ control over them to state officials. Oh yes, that is a good way to do up the so called bosses, but have you ever thought what would become of the country if the bosses were put out of business, and their places were taken by a lot of cart tail orators and college graduates? It would mean chaos … It makes my heart bleed to think of it. Ignorant people are always talking against party bosses, but just wait till the bosses are gone. Then, and not till then, will they get the right sort of epitaphs, as Patrick Henry or Robert Emmet said.”

Plunkitt was fond of bringing political icons like Patrick Henry into his effusions.

The party bosses are long gone, victims of precisely the kinds of reforms that made poor Plunkitt’s heart bleed. Civil service reform has considerably constricted the more offensive kinds of political patronage; and these days we make serious attempts to jail politicians who practice what Plunkitt used to call “honest graft.” Honest graft – as opposed to dishonest graft -- is when a politician who has selflessly served his community keeps for himself a sliver of the pie he has actually delivered to the common folk. If you hog it all for yourself, you are a dishonest grafter.

Let’s leap forward into the 21st century and have a look around. What do we see?

As the French say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

We are about a hundred years out from Tammany Hall. After a virtual cataract of party reforms, here is a 21st century columnist “howlin” about present corruption and peculation, circa 2004. The columnist is distressed that direct primaries in Connecticut are not working.


“For years,” the columnist wrote, “we good-government types had banged the drum for election reform. Oh, how we thundered and roared. Outlaw the practice of candidates being chosen in smoke-filled back rooms, we pleaded. Drive a stake through the hearts of party bosses. Put an end to the humiliating and costly system of forcing contenders to beg for delegate support. Dismantle the incumbency-protection system. Reinvigorate our democratic institutions by allowing candidates to circumvent rigged conventions and petition directly onto the primary ballot. So what was the result? Of Connecticut's 187 legislative and five congressional districts, a grand total of one person petitioned onto the ballot: Republican Raymond Collins III of West Haven, who was seeking the House seat being vacated by his father.”

It’s De ja vue all over again.

It is as if the great political reform that swept away Tammany had never existed.

Is there something wrong here?

The columnist, you will notice with some relief, has not yet called for the abolition of political parties, but one senses some movement towards that awful brink.

The next reform, according to a thought-piece that appeared in a paper recently, aims to eviscerate party conventions even further. According to this view, so few people have petitioned their way on to ballots because, once face to face with a nominated candidate, the petitioner bumps up against insuperable odds. The solution: Require everyone to petition their way into office – no more nominating conventions.

Were the columnist as candid as Plunkitt, one might expect to hear something of this sort: “Let’s abolish political parties as such. Who needs them? They are antique, useless instruments, unnecessary in an age when political affairs may best be arranged by college graduates, cart tail orators – and me.”

Plunkitt may amuse us today, but some of our amusement is at our own expense.

The political parties in Plunkitt’s day were firmly connected to their roots – that is, to party members – by adamantine bonds and not gossamer threads. A day in the life of Plunkitt might find him tending to the needs of recently arrived immigrants from Ireland, tempest tossed and yearning to breathe free. His party would provide the new arrivals with a place to live, a job and coal to survive the raw winter weather in the crowded tenements of New York.

The immigrants, needless to say, were very grateful and Plunkitt did not think it out of line to advise those accepting his aid that they might show their gratitude by voting for Democrat candidates in future elections. At the opposite end of the political barracks, the Republican Party was at the same time angling for the same fish and employing the same methods.

Patronage in the age of Plunkitt was not something shared only among the governing classes. It seeped deeply into the roots and watered the fierce loyalty of even the lowliest of party members.

This order of things has been entirely swept away by a series of apparently unending reforms. Civil service reforms erected a sort of Berlin Wall between politicians and state employees, while primary reform swept away party bosses. Next on the chopping block, avant guard reformists tell us, are nominating conventions.

Here in Connecticut today, Democrat Party boss John Bailey and his Republican counterpart – who even remembers his name? – have been tossed on the ash heap of history. The role once played by party bosses now is played by leading party officials. Even party chairmen serve at the pleasure of governors or senior senators and are regularly cashiered whenever party leaders are displaced.

The latest effort of the apparently inexhaustible reformers, as everyone knows, is the McCain/Feingold bill. It was supposed to prevent campaign contributors from purchasing pristine politicians and assure an even chance at the brass ring for challengers.

Now, there is a point of diminishing returns in all things – including reform.

Reformation, as the word signifies, should be a reordering that restores to its pristine form a system encrusted with distorting accretions

If you believe, as I do, that a healthy democracy depends on the maintenance of the two party system and a turnover of the ruling classes, then you will believe, as I do, that recent reforms – especially McCain/Feingold – will not moving us in the right direction.

The greatest danger to our democracy comes from a permanent government, a sclerotic mass of immovable incumbents clogging the body politic. In one of his best political poems, Robert Frost counseled “turn the farm under.” It is the only way to refresh the political ground. McCain/Feingold does not endanger incumbents, which is why it has been supported by incumbents.

In the post reform era, we have become used to extra-party political activity: killer ads produced by offshore political entities, for example.

We have become used to larger than life incumbent congressmen-for-life who are too big for their parties, the way boastful braggarts are too big for their britches: Lowell Weicker, for instance.

After Weicker lost his senatorial seat to Joe Lieberman, he ran for governor on his own ticket, won, proceeded to impose an income tax on his state, succeeded over the unavailing protests of Republicans in the state legislature, spent one term in office annoying the citizens who had thrown him over for Lieberman, retired from politics – having perhaps realized that, after his political high jinks, he could not be elected dog catcher of Greenwich, the wealthy community he hails from -- quietly disappeared from the political scene and since has been heard from no more. Cross your fingers.

We have grown used to tyrannical judges who, suffering from Cesarism, simply have nothing to lose by engaging in socially destructive behavior. The court jesters who ruled that McCain/Feingold does not contravene constitutional prescriptions protecting political speech have nothing to fear from an aroused citizenry fearful that their Constitution has been violated by justices sworn to uphold it. Judges cannot be removed from office by disapproving citizens impacted by their rulings and misrulings.

Only a few liberals, among them Nat Hentoff, have made a stink concerning the Supreme Court’s decision that congressmen-for-life may, through legislative means, prevent parties – but not extra-party entities – from publishing political ads a few weeks before votes are tallied. What part of the First Amendment, one wonders, don’t the ladies and gentlemen of the court understand?

We have become so used to these corruptions that we no longer can imagine life without them, a certain sign that we are reaping the reformist whirlwind we sowed.

My advice – if anyone should ask for it – is to think seriously whether or not we are reforming out of existence institutions that buttress our civilization.

Political parties are not merely decorative; they perform vital functions. If the parties are eviscerated, these functions will be performed by others. But when party leaders perform functions previously performed by party bosses, their parties will rise and fall with them.

Parties rooted in ideas are more permanent than parties built around people, and in politics the permanent should hold sway over the temporary. That is less likely to be the case when parties coalesce around strong personalities.

People who belong to political parties or clubs or churches are more responsible and socially conscious than people who consider themselves a party of one.

If parties may not produce political ads prior to elections, the ads will be produced by groups far less politically responsible than the parties. A friend of mine has dubbed Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” a “docu-ad.” Now, there is room for colorful propaganda in politics, but I’m far from certain that parties ought to follow the prescriptions suggested by Mr. Moore: I’d rather the dog wag the tail than the other way around.

Apathy is related to enfeeblement; as parties decrease in power, other less pleasant and responsible entities will step into the void and take charge of our politics. Is this what we want?

That is the question we ought to ask reformers on their relentless march towards utopia.

Lowell Weicker Comes Up For Air

Just when you think things can’t get worse, things get worse.

Today – Sunday, October 17 – I went to fetch my Hartford Courant from its bright blue box. Carrying the five pound thing into the house is something of a chore. It usually takes me ten minutes to weed out the ads and fillers, after which I toss out sections I never read, about three quarters of the paper. Next, I gingerly skip over the usual liberal blabmeisters – Colin McEnroe, for one, though the paper is lush with them– at which point the thing becomes manageable and more readable.

Northeast Magazine is usually dense with liberal fodder, but Kevin Rennie, once a Republican legislator, is sometimes elegantly articulate in his regular column.

Not today.

Rennie, who quickly learned how to make himself indispensable to his liberal handlers at the Courant, launched a paean to Chris Dodd, rather as if the longtime U.S. senator could not retain his seat without plaudits from a moderate Republican. And McEnroe, always toxic when downed in large gulps -- His stream of consciousness method of writing is exhausting – mentioned a quip about Dodd made by Chris Powell, who said in a column he writes regularly for the Journal Inquirer that the senator probably would not deign to notice his competitor this year. The closest Dodd may come to mentioning the name Orlucci, Powell wrote, “was when he sneezes.”

Former Editorial Page Editor John Zakarian, now retired, used to boast that conservative writers would leech onto his staff only over his dead body. For appearances’sake, the Courant keeps one Connecticut-grown libertarian writer on its pages – in a cage, at a safe remove from the liberal bestiary -- but he is not on the staff. As a result, the paper is stiff with liberal rigor mortis, one of the reasons most papers in Connecticut have lost readership.

The transition from the usual Sunday liberal fodder to the editorial page, unfailingly liberal, is always effortless. So, by the time I got to the commentary section, I was primed for anything … short of, “Where Did All The Money Go?” by former Governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

The art supporting Weicker’s op-ed article sports a broken piggy bank, showing a cavernous , dark, empty belly, where there ought to be glittering gold, or a least a remnant of the horde shoveled into the pig’s belly by Lowell Weicker, the father of Connecticut’s income tax.

The prose, liberally speckled with “I’s” is typically Weickerian.

Here are some treasured specimens:

“During Connecticut's recent political soap opera, I had a hard time staying quiet (So do cats naturally given to caterwauling). But, afraid that one resignation might maintain the political status quo, I'm now going to cut loose.”

The resignation Weicker is referring to is that of former governor John Rowland. Personally, I’m having a hard time discovering how the resignation of Rowland, forced out of office at the sword point of impeachment, could contribute to the maintenance of the status quo.

An untidy half-thought maybe?

The real purpose of Weicker’s uninhibited, cussed cutloosedness, it soon becomes obvious, is to puff himself up, however strenuously he may deny it – as it happens, in the very next paragraph.

“Aside from a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, my life for the past 46 years has been Connecticut. I set down my bona fides herein not for purposes of puffery but to establish by resume the reason I know our state inside and out, especially its politics and government.”

That second graph sort of makes you wish he had cut loose inside a confessional, doesn’t it?

Then follows three dense paragraphs that look suspiciously like resume puffing.

“My political life started in 1960 with election to the Connecticut legislature as state representative from Greenwich. I served in that post until 1968. In 1963, I was concurrently elected first selectman of Greenwich for four years. In 1968, I defeated an incumbent Democrat to become congressman from Connecticut's 4th District. (In his resume puff, Weicker fails to mention that he entered public life as a fire breathing conservative and maintained that posture until it collapsed when he ran for the senate, it having dawned on him that Connecticut was a liberal state.) In 1970, the U.S. Senate beckoned, and after a three-way race, I commenced serving three terms as first junior and then senior senator from Connecticut. In 1988, defeat presented itself in the person of Joe Lieberman. (Note the passive voice. Why can’t he just say “I was defeated by Lieberman, a curse be upon him?”) With two years off to become active in the nonprofit health care community in Washington, I returned in 1990 to run as an independent for governor of Connecticut, again in a three-way race. I won that contest (having vowed never to consider an income tax, a solution to Connecticut’s woes that Weicker likened to “pouring gas on a fire”) and became chief executive of the state I had served for so long as a legislator.”The next four years were the toughest of my political career. (But Weicker’s press was laudatory throughout the state -- with an exceptional column written by yours truly in the Journal Inquirer -- mostly because he gave the liberal media what it wanted, an income tax.) Not only were they hard on me, they were brutal on the state legislators, Democrat and Republican, who time and again stood up for doing the right thing (the imposition of a new income tax) rather than wimping out for soft landings on issues that had bedeviled the state for years. I'm talking about excessive spending, excessive bonding, high sales taxes, increasing deficits, raiding trust funds, high corporate taxes and unstable revenue streams - never mind education and health care systems that were running on fumes with no reason to anticipate any improvements (italics mine).”During the next four years, the budget went from an inherited billion-dollar deficit to a surplus of $60 million. Sales and corporate taxes were reduced, spending was drastically cut and a low income tax was initiated. At the same time, capital gains, interest and dividend taxes were eliminated. The state had gone from a hand-to-mouth existence to an unparalleled revenue stream of Indian gaming monies and revenues from the income tax. It was also going in 1995 from uncertain economic times to eight years of unparalleled prosperity. The table had been set for an exciting future for cities, children, the frail - in truth, a bright future for all of us.”

Then follows Weicker’s analysis of what went wrong.

“It was at this time of greatest promise that the two-party system failed, ethics failed and - worst - we, the voters, failed. Instead of great opportunities for all, the pigs of malfeasance and misfeasance lined up at the public trough to gobble down the resources of the state. So much for a history that is indisputable. The question squarely in all of our faces is: Where do we go from here?”

Just to begin with, it was a failure of the two party system that gave us the income tax: In a conspicuous failure of partisanship, Republicans combined with Democrats to pour gas on the fire, and the income tax was, at best, a temporary solution to the problems Weicker outlined in his Courant opinion article.

At the present time, the current budget is twice what it was in pre-income tax days, when the problems mentioned by Weicker -- “excessive spending, excessive bonding, high sales taxes, increasing deficits, raiding trust funds, high corporate taxes and unstable revenue streams - never mind education and health care systems that were running on fumes with no reason to anticipate any improvements” – were presumably settled by an income tax.

So then, here we are after “the table had been set for an exciting future for cities, children, the frail - in truth, a bright future for all of us” and 1) the budget has doubled, 2) the surpluses are gone, replaced by budget deficit potholes, 3) media “know-it-alls” now are complaining that Rowland’s last few budgets relied on “gimmicks” much like those cited by Weicker, 4) spending is twice as excessive as in the pre-income tax days of Governor William O’Neill, though liberals continue to insist, in the words of Michele Jacklyn, the Courant’s chief political columnist, that “Connecticut doesn’t have a spending problem; it has a revenue problem,” 5) bonding is even more excessive, about two or three times what it was during problematic, pre-income tax budgets, 6) the sales tax has risen, 7) trust funds have been raided, and 8) public education, especially in urban areas, has tanked. The failure of urban public education in Hartford was so spectacular – rising, for once, to the notice of Courant reporters and political writers who work in Hartford – that the state was forced to take over the failing schools. They are still failing.

Every single item mentioned by Weicker as having made the income tax necessary – every one, and more not mentioned by him – has worsened in post income tax days, when the state was run by two Republican governors, Weicker, a faux Republican, and John Rowland, a repentant ex-conservative.

Weicker raises the question of corruption in the Rowland administration only to dismiss it: “The departure of a corrupt governor does not solve the problems. Whether or not John Rowland is indicted for corruption is not the answer to situations that are endemic to our state government.” In a frumious mood, he can’t resist the usual dig at Rowland, who opposed the income tax while spending it happily enough. So did everyone.

And then, after what appears to be an endless, self congratulatory ramble, finally Weicker raises but does not address adequately the right question: “For example, who spent all the money that rolled in during the late 1990s and early 2000s?”

Not all of the money – twice the amount of O’Neill’s last pre-income tax budget – found its way into the pockets of "corrupt politicians and their abettors.”

Where did it go?

Down the rabbit hole.

Here is my theory: The real restraints on state spending – disturbing red ink; temporary rather than permanent solutions to budget deficits on the spending side; the opposition to spending increases by strong and principled political parties; the frank recognition on the part of politicians that, when spending has doubled within the space of two governors, the state is facing a spending rather than a revenue problem – were removed by the income tax.

And the removal of restraints led to a period of aggressive spending. This is why the budget has doubled since pre-income tax days.

Weicker’s “solution” removed all restraints on spending. So loosed, spending, like a bird, took flight, and money flew out the window, kissed good-bye by the good government folk who believe in the anti-Marxian notion that the richer the state is, the richer people will be. For Weicker and his ilk, the instruments of government are the people. When Weicker says that the state is healthy, he means that state coffers are full. The early Marx, an incurable romantic, presented a quite different dichotomy: The richer the state, the poorer the people.

When Weicker says all’s right with the world, he means all’s well with the governing class.

In his Courant article, Weicker proposed two solutions: 1) Throw the bums out, and 2) restore fiscal discipline.

Fat chance!

Solutions are effected by efficient means. The only way to throw out the bums – i.e. entrenched incumbents -- is through some sort of term limits, which Weicker has always opposed. The Courant, forgetting Weicker’s example, generally argues that term limits would deprive government of knowledgeable politicians. Actually, they would provide parties with knowledgeable unemployed politicians who, ousted from their sinecures, would become available for other positions.

And doesn’t the call for fiscal discipline, after all the bars to excessive spending have been removed, come a bit too late?

Actually, I would -- and have -- favored both these solutions. The media, entirely a creature of incumbents, especially here in Connecticut, continues to sniff at both of them.

Weicker’s discussion of corruption in the Rowland administration is – rather purposefully, I think -- incomplete.

Rowland sought to insulate himself from corrupt activity by surrendering his responsibilities to subordinates. Prior to Rowland, state contracts were vetted through the governor’s office: Weicker, O’Neill, Meskill and Grosso all left their fingerprints on state contracts. Neither the sitting grand jury probing the Rowland administration nor the impeachment panel nor the state’s intrepid investigative reporters are interested in extending their investigations into other administrations.

Rowland’s miscalculation was to suppose that if his office assigned to others the responsibility of vetting contracts, there would remain no legal quid pro quo on the basis of which he could be prosecuted when accepting favors from contractors doing business with the state. Why not accept a hot tub from William Tomasso if Rowland could plausibly argue that all state contracts with the Tomasso companies were arranged by others and vetted by the attorney general’s office? No quid pro quo there.

What a pity that, thus far, no one has examined possible malfeasance in the office of other governors who were legally responsible for contractual agreements.

But don’t hold your breath expecting Rowland hunters in the media to set their sights on … well, Weicker, among others.

It ain’t gonna happen

Direct Primaries and the Ends Of Good Government

A distressed liberal writes in a recent column that direct primaries are not working.

Direct primaries were “a dud” the columnist declared and added, “For years, we good-government types had banged the drum for election reform. Oh, how we thundered and roared. Outlaw the practice of candidates being chosen in smoke-filled back rooms, we pleaded. Drive a stake through the hearts of party bosses. Put an end to the humiliating and costly system of forcing contenders to beg for delegate support. Dismantle the incumbency-protection system. Reinvigorate our democratic institutions by allowing candidates to circumvent rigged conventions and petition directly onto the primary ballot.

“So what was the result?

“Of Connecticut's 187 legislative and five congressional districts, a grand total of one person petitioned onto the ballot: Republican Raymond Collins III of West Haven, who was seeking the House seat being vacated by his father. “

All this is very sad, but predictable. Has ever an elephant brought forth such an inconsequential mouse?

Could the reforms liberals mothered over the past few decades have anything to do with this sad state of affairs?

The smoke filled rooms have been emptied of vampires for a half century. The last time a nominating convention chose a presidential candidate was in 1952. Republican Dwight Eisenhower won on the first ballot and Democrat Adlai Stevenson won on the third. Not only did primaries remove the suspense involved in choosing candidates for office; they were the stake in the hearts of party bosses.

The last useless remnants of the old party system have been dismantled by the McCain/Feingold campaign reform bill, a measure that effectively prevents money passing freely through the party system. Some critics of the bill have argued that it is a body blow to the First Amendment, since the legislation prevents the airing of political ads – Free speech anyone? – a few weeks before election balloting. And yet McCain/Feingold’s direct assault on the hallowed First Amendment has ruffled few liberal feathers.

Primaries have moved decision making from the two major parties to any group not formally connected with them that is interested enough in backing fringe candidates, and McCain Feingold moves election financing from parties to deep pocket millionaires like George Soros and propagandistic film makers that nurse grudges against presidents who behave like Teddy Roosevelt.

When direct participation in party politics means nothing, few will participate in party politics. In some respects, financing and political decision were better left in the hands of party bosses who chose candidates in smoke filled rooms. Their choices imposed a certain level of restraint in campaigns and were more intelligent, practical and civil than those made by unaffiliated interest groups.

Campaign reforms that “good government” liberals have championed over the past few decades did not, could not, and never will end the stranglehold incumbents enjoy. In the following decade, we shall see that McCain Feingold has not substantially changed the percentage of incumbents returned to office, a figure now hovering at an obscene 98 percent. So far, the McCain/Feingold reforms, buttressed by mischievous court decisions, have gagged party professionals and awarded to independent political groups rights and privileges that used to be deployed first by party bosses and then by the nominal heads of parties – usually presidents and governors.

Term limits – which, for some odd reason, never were embraced warmly by liberals – would radically change the incumbency landscape and, as an additional benefit, provide experienced candidates for other offices. A term limit in place several years ago might have thrown Sen. Chris Dodd into the gubernatorial mix. State contractors and employees then might have had an opportunity to provide amenities to a Democratic governor more practiced than John Rowland in the etiquette of giving and taking gifts.

If term limits are not one of the arrows found in liberal quivers, especially here in Connecticut, it may be because the average liberal is not concerned with “good government.” Why should liberals, any more than conservatives, be concerned with wresting political control of party affairs from incumbents who belong to the same ideological church they regularly attend?

The Impeachment And Resignation Of Governor John Rowland


Governor John Rowland two days ago threw himself on the mercy of the media.

In a written statement, Rowland admitted he had mislead the state's Capitol Press Corp and abjectly apologized. And what was the result?

It was predictable, after his stunning confession, that he would be publicly mutilated. Nothing so arouses the media as public confessions of deceit.

Two newspapers called for his resignation, firebrand liberals demanded the governor be impeached, and other leading Democrats asked that Rowland step down until federal authorities have completed their investigations.

Much of the heavy fire came on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2003.

The Hartford Courant ran two stories on page one under the headline "Tomasso Oversaw Cottage Work." One sub-headline read "Contractors: He Hired Them While His Company Sought State Job," and the other read "Rowland: Democratic Leaders Say Governor is 'Looking Into That Opened Pit."

According to the story, William Tomasso "personally was overseeing improvements to Governor John A. Rowland's lake front cottage."

For prosecution purposes, it is essential to establish a material connection between a receipt of bribes on Rowland's part and a benefit received by the Tomasso companies.

Is there one?

The connection usually lie in the eye of the beholder. The improvements were overseen by William Tomasso at a time when the Rowland administration was awarding some no-bid contracts to the Tomasso companies.

Ambitious and sharp-eyed Federal prosecutors employing RICO legislation need only show that a "criminal enterprise" existed and that Rowland was part of it. If they can convince a jury that the home improvements were kickbacks for contracts awarded, they would be able to make a case against Rowland that might convince a jury.

But will they?

There are legions of Democrats and disappointed supporters of William Curry in Connecticut's media that would welcome a prosecution, provided the tenacles of prosecutors do not reach into Democratic closets.

Some liberal Democrats -- four House members and Sen. Edith Prague -- have openly called for impeachment. Others -- State Treasurer Denise Nappier, Comptroller Nancy Wyman and Democratic Party Chairman George Jepsen -- more cautiously called upon the governor to "step aside" for the duration of the federal investigation. Since there is no declared end-point to the investigation, their demand, practically speaking, is an invitation to the governor to resign office.

The likelihood of impeachment is, strickly speaking, a political question. If an impeachment would not expose Democrats to public scrutiny -- and/or prosecution -- we might see one.

Impeachment would begin in the House of Representatives and conclude with a trial in the Senate.

While it is true that the state legislature is dominated by Democrats, Republicans, seeking to establish a prosecutorial and ethical baseline, concevably could call past governors to testify concerning relationships they may have had with the Tomasso companies.

Worse, Democrat stalwarts such as former party chairman John Droney and former state Senator William DiBella might be summoned to testify. Such testimony could become uncomfortable both for a number of Democrat Party hacks who have benefited from finders fees and some Democratic leaders in the legislature comtemplating inpeachment.

The same may happen during a Rowland trial. Political corruption that hinges on the receipt of bribes is a tricky business, a rake in the grass. One must trod very carefully, with an eye to political consequences.

This is virgin territory. When editorialists decry the Rowland administration as "the most corrupt" in living memory, they do not often mention that it is also the most investigated administration in living memory. Tomasso company connections with state administrations overleap party lines, and are deeply rooted in pre-Rowland administrations.

As is usual in these cases, older heads are cooler heads. While Chris Dodd, whose father was impeached, tells us that he is "sick and tired of picking up the paper every day and reading about corruption in the state (He ain't seen nothing yet), Connecticut's senior senator advises that the process in place should be "permitted to take its course."

That course -- involving grand jury investigations, continual pressure and criticism from a media that thinks lying to reporters ought to be a capital offense, possible impeachment proceedings, or perhaps a quiet uneventful resignation on the part of the governor -- is a winding river that, uncontained, may overleap its banks and pull in its undertow Democrats more clever than Rowland who have managed to escape the notice of investigative grand juries.

In the smoke filled rooms of the Democratic and Republican parties, "containment" may be a word heard more often than "impeachment" or "conviction."

*****

This Sunday, The Hartford Courant editorial board called for the resignation of Governor John Rowland.

What a surprise!

And Rowland's gubernatorial challenger, Bill Curry, resurfaced in an interview in "Northeast Magazine," also published by the Courant.

What a shocker!

In retrospect, Curry looks good; a prophet unheeded in his own state, or so it would appear. Curry has been been dubbed by the Advocate chain of newspapers "Connecticut's Cassandra."

It is worthwhile remembering the Courant blessed Rowland, not Curry, with its gubernatorial endorsment. Such endorsements don't mean much in the grand scheme of things; few people pay attention to media endorsements, a certain sigh of a loss of potency, but the stab in the back no doubt made it less possible for Curry to move with agility.

To give credit where credit is due, Curry, during his campaign, did mention corruption in connection with the peculation of Rowland's associates as well as the "D" word -- deficit, and no one at the time paid him much mind.

A Curry administration would not shrink the deficit. Bill Curry is a likeable fellow. He brings a high degree of civility with him to any political discussion. Intending to bestow a compliment, I referred to him once in one of my own unread and forgotten columns as "the Oscar Wilde of Connecticut politics." While his political prescriptions may be ruinous,the man himself is good to the bone.

The interview in "Northeast" was conducted by Dan Haar, the Courant's business editor, who danced rather gingerly around Curry's plan to relieve Connecticut taxpayers of burdensome property taxes by having state government assume a greater role in paying the cost of education. Under Curry's "property tax relief plan", onerous property taxes would be reduced and state government would assume a larger portion of educational costs.

Curry's plan was and will remain a shell game that may backfire politically-- unless he intends at some point, perhaps in some future gubernatorial run, to propose genuine cuts in educational costs.

If costs remain the same, the tax load on citizens of the state will remain fixed; ultimately, there will be no relief because net costs will not be reduced. Under the Curry plan, municipal governments, which have had some success in cutting budgets, would lose control of educational costs.

Curry, in other words, had proposed a power shift -- not a cost saving measure. It was this transparent shell game that put him at odds with many voters, who listened to him, saw the dollar signs in his eyes, and voted for Rowland. There is little chance that Curry will give up promoting "property tax relief" and settle on a plan that would, in fact, reform property tax collection and provide real relief.

Any reform of the property tax must begin with a frank acknowledgement of its virtues. Good government does not throw the baby out with the wash. These are the virtues of the property tax: It provides a steady stream of revenue easily collected by municipalities; it reduces compliance and administrative costs because it provides no opportunity for tax avoidance; and it is transparent, since the taxpayer knows exactly what he is paying for and what he receives in return.

Reliance on state funding of education, as we have learned from the recession that now shows signs of ending, creates fiscal uncertainties for municipalities: Surpluses increase the pressure to cut taxes, and deficits induce legislators to cut costs and shift the burden of payments to municipalities.

Now, it has been sufficiently advertised that liberals in Connecticut intend to shift the burden of increasing educational costs to the state's millionaires. But the state's millionaires are not without resources: They can vote against such taxes with their feet, and they may also employ the services of tax attorneys who will advise them in the gentle art of tax avoidance.

The real hidden danger in having costs paid by the millionaires is that in doing so any inducement to keep spending within tolerable limits disappears. Also, good government should be broad based on both the suppy and comsumption side. Those who pay the bills are more likely to be concerned with costs. The danger in having the millioaires pay the brunt of the costs for education is that no one but millionaires, a slim minority in the state, are likely to be concerned with the spending side of the budget.

Within the space of two governors -- Lowell Weicker, who instituted the income tax, and Rowland, who spent all the money generated by that tax and then some -- the state budget has doubled. No matter, liberals have assure us, "The state has no spending problem. It has a revenue problem." The words are those of Courant political writer Michele Jackin, the Madam Defarge of Curryites.

There is no check on spending in the tax reform plan favored by the Curryites -- none. When asked how he would discharge the defict, Curry responded with a plan that would have reduced the defict by about a third. The editor of the Journal Inquirer, Chris Powell, several months ago wrote a bristling column on all this.

Connecticut should be exploring ways to reform the property tax. Split-rate taxation -- taxing improvements at a lower rate than land -- would have a beneficial impact on economic growth by creating an inducement to develop underutilized space. As a direct consequence, home owners would realize a decrease in their property tax burden.

But Republicans, overcome by the controversy crippling Rowland, are not likely to offer effective resistance to budget busters who will ascend to power as the governor's influence diminishes, and it is this happy thought, much more than fantasies of vindication, that has revitalized liberal Democrats.

Will Rowland resign?

Possibly. How could the governor bear to disappoint so many of his former media friends, not to mention his moderate cohorts, Democrat and Republican, in the legislature? The hallmark of the Rowland administration, ever since he abandoned a principled conservativism, has been consanguinity and agreeableness. At some point along the line in his political career -- My guess is it was very early on -- Rowland decided that resistance wasn't worth the trouble; conservativism wasn't worth the trouble. He was elected to govern, and govern he would.

Teddy Roosevelt is the template for Republican politicians in the Northeast, and you can't ape Teddy Roosevelt convincingly without being energetically progressive, an affliction born ackwardly by the entire Republican U.S. Congressional contingent, moderates all. Once in office, the TR pretender is compelled by the logic of his assumed character to enhance his legacy, which can only be done by wildly spending wads of money.

In this regard, it is worth recalling H. L. Mencken eloquent tribute to a notable do-nothing president: He didn't bawl platitudes from the rooftops, Mencken said, and the Republic was at peace during his tenure.

One of the reasons Rowland must feel abandoned by other Republicans -- though the number of principled conservatives in the legislature can be counted on the fingers of one hand -- is that he is not their dog in the fight. The Carvillian spit and spunk is missing from the brawl. Moderates are not inclined to defend each other to the death, and conservatives are quite willing to let Rowland go down in disgrace. They may even be willing to let the Curryites take the helm -- feeling, as some do in their moments of despair, that the populace in a democracy always deserves its governors. So, the budget has doubled in the last decade, has it? Want to triple it? Vote Democratic. Just as bad laws, if enforced, will be repealed, so will bad governments be repelled -- in time.

Curry himself probably has more in common with conservatives than the moderates in his own party, whom he has accused of going along to get along.

Curry and a handful of conservative in Connecticutcertainly share something in common: Neither is satisfied with the present regime. Curry would make a liberal state more liberal; conservatives would have it more conservative. But the obstacle to progress that stands in the path of both liberals and conservatives is -- the moderates, the quislings, the principle trimmers, the custodians of the status quo. And Curry is very hot after them in The Northeast interview. "What is this about?" he asks. "What is the question for the people here? How did this entire state become this man's (Rowland's) enablers? Where were the editorial boards? Where was the state's attorney? Where was the Ethics Commission? How could the General Assembly's leadership refuse to take sworn testimony on any of these scandals for nine years? How could the state make a collective decision not to enforce its own ethics laws? Why was this left to a handful of people in the U.S. attorney's office?"

Some of these questions may be answered. But, on the whole, the questions are well posed and have about them the bracing odor of fired grapeshot.


****


So, how did Rowland get into this pickle?

Rowland got divorced and married his High School sweet heart. In the land of fairy, both of them ought to have lived happily ever after. But there is little room for poetic fancy in politics, and unlike the multi-wived Lowell Weicker, Connecticut's King Henry VIII, Rowland couldn't afford the alimony payments.

The math was done by Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell in one of his columns. I'll use rounded numbers here. For the first several years of his administration, the governor was earning about $78,000 but was paying out $33,600 in alimony.Only last year was his salary raised to $150,000.

Feeling his pain, several of his friends -- among them Jo McKenzie, recently vilified for her solicitude in a testy column written by Courant writer Helen Ubinas -- decided to pitch in and defray some of his expenses.

Ubinas apparently was offended by one of McKenzie's kindnesses: When it became impossible for the Rowland's to participate in a home building project for poor people, Ms. McKenzie found other sponsors so the project could continue -- a small good, to be sure, but one that Ms. Ubinas seems determined not to leave unpunished.

It was left to Kevin Rennie, once a Republican state lawmaker and now a political writer for Northeast, a Courant publication, to drive home the stake.

"A defiant Jo McKenzie," Rennie wrote in his fly-on-the-wall column, "looking more than ever like the distaff half of the old ventriloquist act 'Waylan and Madam,' is thought to have already faced a federal grand jury."

Rowland's friends fixed up a cabin on a lake for him. What are friends for?

William Tomasso of the Tomasso Group, a company that through numerous governors has done business with the state, provided Rowland with various amenities. The trouble was that some of Rowlands friends were contractors, and their gifts -- if they were gifts -- were deemed inappropriate by a whole slew of people: such as Courant investigative reporter Jon Lender and Michele Jacklin, the paper's political columnist; Democrat labor leaders who had stubbed their toes on the governor's resolve not to turn over to them all the tax money he had collected during his tenure; moderate Democrat and Republican "legislative leaders"; radio talk-show gabmeister Colin McEnroe, Bill Curry's fast friend; Bill Curry, the liberal white knight in the whole affair; federal prosecutors from whose belts dangled the scalps of Joe Ganim, the ex-mayor of Bridgeport, Paul Silvester, the former State Treasurer, his crooked legal friend Robert Stack and Civil Rights leader Ben Andrews -- everybody, it seemed but Rowland's mother and second wife, who wrote a Christmas satire that sent most political writers in the state into an apoplectic rage.

The divorce -- These things can be expensive -- was partially responsible for Rowland's problems; that and a disposition to accept favors from underlings and sycophants.

Will the Rowland mess leech into the careers of other politicians?

Most likely not. Democrats are very agile at escaping the whip. In a recent Courant story, Lender, the object of Patty Rowland's ire in her Christmas poem satire, mentioned that Rowland was not the only governor to vet state contracts, a practice the governor gave up after the legislature boosted his pay. Lender quoted Louis Goldberg, a commissioner in both the Weicker and Rowland administrations, to the effect that former Governor Lowell Weicker continually had his thumb on the pulse of state contracts.

The gentle art of shaking down contractors to finance campaigns -- if that is what Rowland did -- almost certainly had been practiced, though with more panache, by other governors from whom grand jurors may never compel testimony. If the machinery for corruption was there prior to Rowland-- And it was, in spades-- what is the possibility that more saintly governors and their accomplices did not make use of it?

Will Rowland be indicted?

Everyone seems to think so. But at this point the prosecutorial matter seems to rest on doubtful propositions. It's true that Alibozek buried in his back yard a kickback in cash and gold coins, reputedly from the Tomasso's, certainly an amusing and alarming touch. But the Rowland mess falls far short of "Operation Plunder Dome" in Providence. Anyone who has read "The Prince of Providence," Mike Stanton's sometimes hilarious account of the Cianci regime, knows that Rowland just does not measure up.

Besides, there are legal questions that hang over the prosecution. One of them could be glimpsed by reading through the lines of a recent Courant story in which Connecticut's Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano decided that he would not interfere with the federal prosecution underway by instituting a prosecution of his own.

The Feds are not supposed to prosecute under RICO legislation when states can prosecute, and there is no question that Morano is capable of prosecuting Rowland, a small fly in the prosecutorial ointment that a lawyer familiar with the RICO statutes might exploit.


The federal grand jury sitting in Connecticut, seeming to follow the lead sugested in countless news stories and commentaries, recently subpoenaed records relating to gifts given to Governor John Rowland by friends, contractors and political associates.

Several newspapers have reported that Rowland's status has been upgraded from "witness" to "person of interest," though the governor still is not a "target" of the federal probe.

The question arises: With all this poking around by the media and the feds, who needs an additional probe by the legislature?

A serious answer to the question would draw important distinctions between various kinds of inquiries.

An impeachment probe will be different in kind from a probe that seeks to create legislation that would prevent future officeholders from wandering into the mare's nest that has ensnared Rowland .

A legislative probe is necessary for impeachment. If the legislature is serious about removing the governor from office, the only applicable penalty in impeachment proceedings, it may do so only after an impeachment in the House, followed by a trial in the Senate.

During impeachment, the House compiles a case against the governor and send the case to the Senate for trial. If the Senate convicts, the governor is removed from office.

Such inquiries can cause disabling problems should federal prosecutors return an indictment and wish to try the governor on criminal charges. It is not at all unusual for defense lawyers to successfully petition courts to exclude from a criminal trial evidence obtained during other authorized inquiries. That is why the federal prosecutors have been counseling against an investigation in the House and Senate that would duplicate their efforts.

Can an impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate be constructed so as to avoid these pitfalls?

No doubt it can. Impeachment is preeminently a political rather than a juridical act, although the process is juridical in form. The real danger in impeachment lies in the precedents it creates. There are no guidelines in Connecticut's Constitution that tell us when impeachment may be utilized. In the U.S. Constitution, office holders may be impeached at the will of the legislature for "high crimes and misdemeanors."

What constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor? Former President Gerald Ford gave the clearest and, many constitutional scholars thought, most accurate answer to this question when he said that a high crime and misdemeanor was whatever the impeaching authority said it was during the impeachment process.

In being asked to consider impeachment, Connecticut's legislature is doing two things: It is proposing to remove a governor and negate an election; at the same time, it is creating a precedent for future impeachments that may be applied to every officeholder in the state.

These are weighty matters.

Impeachment is a political decision that will affect, some suppose for the worse, all future elections and all future impeachments. During the impeachment of Rowland, legislators will be creating the standard against which the behavior of every office holder in Connecticut, appointed or elected, will be measured in the future to determine whether the official is fit to remain in office. In the case of elected officials, legislators will be creating the standard that may be used, rightly or wrongly, to effect what one might call electoral nullification.

Connecticut's constitution is nearly mute on the matter of impeachment. It casts a shadow, rather than a broad outline, which impeaching legislators will define through the act of impeachment itself.

What to make of the argument that Governor John Rowland ought to resign for the good of his party?

The short answer is: The parties have long ago been supplated by interest groups.

There was a point, at the beginning of January, when Rowland decided to hunker down and brave the gathering storm assailing him.

Tom Scott, best known for leading a march on the capitol after former Governor Lowell Weicker pressured the legislature to pass an income tax, made a brief appearance on the op-ed page of the Hartford Courant.

That in itself was bizarre: It was as if Arron Burr had shown up at the funeral of Alexander Hamilton to say a few kind words about the corpse. After his column appeared, Courant political columnist Michelle Jacklin, Scott's ideological opposite, referred approvingly to points Scott made, and Colin McEnroe, a liberal talk show host who also writes a column for the Courant, confessed,"I like Tom Scott."

Common interests make strange bedfellows. But Scott's analysis was sharp.

Scott located Rowland's Achilles heel in his lack of character and principle, as evidenced by his truly shameful and politically opportunistic reversal on the abortion issue.

"I saw what he did on abortion," Scott wrote. "After a career in the state legislature and in Congress as a pro-life Irish Catholic legislator - who said that it was murder to terminate a pregnancy - one morning just before his 1990 campaign for governor, Rowland abandoned the pro-life plank. His excuse? He couldn't get away with it running for statewide office. Whichever side you take on this issue, the shamelessness of his opportunism is breathtaking."

And then Scott pointed out the chief difference between moderates and partisans: "I pity a man who spends his life in the political arena without the pleasure of standing on principle. That someone so lacking in character, in core beliefs, could rise so far is an indictment of Connecticut's go-along, get-along government. John Rowland is the product of a system that rewards a lack of conviction. He has governed without commitment to party or ideology. That has been fine with the Democrats and the liberals; they have had one of their own in office without having to elect him. It has been fine with his Republican colleagues, too, because he has an R after his name. Such blind partisanship discredits the GOP of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and former Connecticut Gov. Tom Meskill."

He got it just about right.

Parties form around persons or a set of coherent ideas -- a political philosophy. But, Scott wrote, "Connecticut does not have ideologues to speak of, just the users and the used. Suddenly John Rowland is used up, and everyone can see what some of us saw all along: Devoid of conviction, he is an essentially dishonest man."


What to call the Republican ... uh, thing ... if it's not a party?

A political interest group, centered in the politician of the moment, whomever it happens to be. The Democrats are the same. Of course, at the extremities of the parties, we have people committment to ideas: There are conservatives and liberals in Connecticut who believe deeply in their principles. But increasingly, they are pushed aside by the unprincipled professional ruling class -- here in the Northeast, mostly moderates.

Political parties have been replaced by interest groups, and modern politics now is centered in personalities. On the edges of the political pond, people are still commitment to ideas: There are conservatives and liberals in Connecticut who believe deeply in their respective philosophies, but increasingly, they are pushed aside by an unprincipled permanent ruling class that attaches itself to various interest groups in order to maintain itself in power.

Political support has two dimensions: depth and breath. There was no depth to Rowland's support, because there was no depth to (italics) him (end italics). Choosing the broad middle way, Rowland very early in his career cast off his ideological ballast so as to make himself light as air, the better to be able to move briskly to the right or left on a whole host of issues.

The best politicians are like rivers: They can chose to be deep or broad -- but not both. Lincoln was a river so deep that, even today, the Republican Party he remade swims in its bed. The same may be said of Franklin Roosevelt.

Depth is a measure of principle and sacrifice. Sometime -- literally, in Lincoln's case -- the man must die so the principle may live and water the consciences of lesser men. May we always be watered by such hidden springs.

Because Rowland cast off the ballast of principles, his support was as shallow as his principles. Rowland's coattails were virtually nonexistent during his tenure. He carried no one into office with him. His agenda was cobbled together pragmatically from newspaper editorials and compromise measures designed to put his critics at ease.

Republicans will not likely suffer long term losses by the scandal that has enveloped their unprincipled governor.

The worse that can be said about Rowland is that he is a shallow man. Most moderates are.