Friday, December 16, 2005

Lisa Moody's Blues

In handing out invitations to state commissioners and inviting them both to contribute to Gov. Jodi Rell’s campaign and to solicit funds, Lisa Moody, the governor’s chief of staff, was violating a well known regulation. Her claim that the violation was inadvertent is not plausible. As one commentator pointed out, Moody has been attached to Rell by the hip every since the governor’s more uneventful days as Lieutenant Governor and she has earned a reputation as a detail hawk.

The open question therefore is: Shall Moody be hanged; or hanged and quartered; or hanged and quartered and burned at the state capitol, her ashes to be sown over the lawn as an example to politicians that Connecticut, at long last, has become serious about ethics reform?

Two Democrat gubernatorial aspirants, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, called upon Rell to suspend Moody immediately. There is no need, DeStefano said, for Rell to wait upon the completion of investigations begun by Chief State's Attorney Christopher L. Morano or the State Elections Enforcement Commission. And Malloy called upon Rell to have her “ethics czar,” Rachel Rubin, conduct a separate investigation. Wondering darkly if Rubin was aware of Moody’s improper activity, Malloy hinted that Rubin might well find her own head on the ethics execution block.

Moody’s slide down the ethical chutey-chute occurred only a few days after Rell announced she would take no funds for her gubernatorial campaign from the Republican Party. Other Republicans, adverse to financial suicide, will accept money from some sources banned by the governor.

Democrats were quick to point out the loopholes in Rell’s plan: The governor would still accept some in-kind contributions, such as shared polling data from her party, and her donor ban would apply only to people who have "personally solicited, negotiated or signed a contract with the state since July 1, 2004." Owners of companies that have live contracts with the state could continue under the Rell plan to supply campaign contributions, provided the owners played no personal role in arranging the contract. Rell was using her party as a money laundering instrument, Democrats charged.

What we have brewing here is a mini French Revolution. That revolution, begun on a promising note, ended in a bloodbath in which successive revolutionists, each purer and more dedicated than their predecessors, guillotined each other with reckless abandon. In the end, the revolution assumed a life of its own, engorging itself upon the corpses of impure revolutionists. Such has been the case with every radical reform that has insisted on the perfectibility of human nature. The American Revolution, grounded philosophically upon the imperfectability of human nature, wisely set factions against each other so that imperfect purists could not achieve supremacy.

The Dantons in the Democrat Party now putting themselves forward as ethicists purer than the driven snow – though, in this regard, it would be difficult to outdo Rell -- seem to be unaware that they are sitting astride a rolling stone that may crush them as well.

What the state desperately needs are critics of radical reform. In past times, critics of the perfectibility of human nature, historically an anti-human notion that usually has ended in grief, were plentiful in politics and the press. John Adams, a close student of human nature in the raw, consistently railed against Thomas Jefferson’s angelism. Both had witnessed a revolution in France that inspired Jefferson and repulsed Adams. Among notable American journalists, Henry Mencken, who counted Ambrose Bierce as his friend and compatriot, buried moralistic legislators under mountains of hostile rhetoric.

“It must be plain,” Mencken wrote, “that this process of law-making by orgy, with fanatics supplying the motive-power and unconscionable knaves steering the machine, is bound to fill the statute-books with enactments that have no rational use or value save that of serving as instruments of psychopathological persecution and private revenge… They involve gross invasions of the most elementary rights of the free citizen, but they are popular with the mob because they have a virtuous smack and provide it with an endless succession of barbarous but thrilling shows.”

The danger always is that reformists will carry their impractical reforms too far. It is one thing to rail against contractors who can be shown to have purchased legislation through campaign contributions, and even in this case legislative prescriptions should be narrowly focused so as not to deprive citizens of their inviolable constitutional rights; but it is lunacy to insist that political parties should not be able to provide candidates for office with sufficient funds to win elections, provided that such funds are transparent and well publicized.