Monday, August 07, 2006

Winners and Losers, a self interview

Q: After the Democrat primaries, who are the winners and losers?

A: It hardly matters if Lieberman wins the primary. The Lamont campaign represents a significant win for progressives, as they style themselves, in the Democrat Party.

Q: Who are they?

A: The anti-war crowd and various hanger’s on. The Lamont candidacy was launched from the epicenter of Connecticut and national politics. You can’t go further left than anti-war protestor Lowell Weicker and the proprietor of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. The Democrat establishment would have been satisfied with Lieberman, mostly for self serving reasons. Democrats control pretty much the entire political barracks in the state, but the governorship has eluded them. According to the polls, Rell continues to be strong, and the Lieberman/Lamont primary has prevented Democrats from launching a concerted attack on a governor widely regarded as a moderate (read: safe Republican). Rell may be best understood a stand-alone political party. That is true of every incumbent politician in the state; they are all islands unto themselves. Political parties as we once knew them hardly exist in Connecticut. After the Lieberman/Lamont primary, their dissolution may be considered complete.

Q: So, what do the new Young Turks want?

A: The same thing that the old Young Turks wanted: prestige, political power, status – and, down the road, jobs as political consultants. Jerome Armstrong, the author with Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of “Crashing the Gates,” a how-to book on busting up entrenched moderates is under investigation by the Security and Exchange Commission for fraudulent stock dealing. Apparently, you can make a buck in blogging. Even as Lieberman’s blood is still wet on the primary floor, the talk among local bloggers is of books and contracts. They have laid siege to an abandoned castle. There’s no one at home in the parties, except a few union stewards drinking Radeberger Pilsners on the ruined battlements with multi-term aging divorced incumbents and Connecticut’s radical commentariat. The parties are pretty much over.

Q: Are you sure?

A: They’ve been dead and buried for some time. Lowell Weicker’s success in Connecticut politics is proof of the ineffectiveness of political parties. It was Lowell, the first “no man but yours” maverick politician in Connecticut, who jumped started the Lamont campaign. Of course, the Republican Party in the state had been withering away for years before the advent of Weicker. His aide-de-camp, former Republican Party Chairman Tom D’Amore, was hired early on by the Lamont campaign. What did it mean in Connecticut politics during the Weicker ascendancy to be a “maverick” politician? Weicker was a Republican who, like Lieberman, occasionally made patty-cakes with the other side. Connecticut always has been a deep blue state. So, the easiest way for an undernourished Republican to survive in this Darwinian universe is to support Democrat proposals whenever possible. It’s hardly a mark of courage to sabotage Republican Party campaigns by endorsing Democrats, as Weicker regularly did when he was senator. Lowell undermined Republicans with his usually energy and dispatch, describing himself at one point cheerfully – and accurately – as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.” That sort of thing gets you invited to tea with the real political shakers and movers in Connecticut.

Q: And they would be?

A: Pretty much everyone in Connecticut’s media, with some notable exceptions, the professorariat at nearly all the state’s colleges and universities, most in-office state politicians except for Governor Jodi Rell, unions, members in good standing of the Democrat Party, bloggers who hope to sign book contracts when the last shovel full of earth is thrown over Lieberman’s remains, and Colin McEnroe. With the exception of the governor’s office, Connecticut has been a one party state ever since God said “Let there be light.”

Q: Why do you suppose the good people of Connecticut have not elected a Democrat governor since William O’Neill hung up his spurs?

A: How can you be sure they haven’t?

Q: What ever can you mean?

A: Well, O’Neill was followed by Weicker, who was followed by John Rowland, neither of whom can pass the Republican sniff test. Weicker imposed an income tax on the state, hardly the hallmark of a traditional Republican. Even former Governors Ella Grasso and O’Neill opposed the state income tax. Rowland emerged from the campaign egg as a Reagan Republican, which is why many in his party were at first titillated by him. But, once in office, Rowland was overcome by the general atmosphere and reverted to type. It takes a certain kind of character to be thrown in with a ship full of pirates and yet refuse to fly the Jolly Roger. Anyway, after a few terms in office, Rowland seemed to everyone a sort of younger version of Weicker; he staked out the middle for himself and soon popped up in approving Hartford Courant editorials as a can-do “moderate” governor, useful as a firewall to prevent spendthrift Democrats from driving the state into the poorhouse. Every time the paper held up a hoop to the governor, Rowland obligingly jumped through it. In the end, hoping to build a breakwater between himself and some of his seedier political associates, Rowland routed all the state contracts outside his office, and his henchmen began to play monopoly with them. At this point, all the long knives came out. When a mortally wounded Rowland looked around for a friendly smile, all he saw were menacing grimaces. Republican didn’t care about him because he had gone native; Democrats viewed his corrupt activities as a springboard to the governor’s office – though it hasn’t worked out that way; and the usual culprits were happy to see a Republican corpse dangling from a rope swinging slowly in the breeze.

Q: So, your point is that all the Republican governors since O’Neill were faux Republicans.

A: There were only two. Weicker, remember, bolted the party after his loss to Lieberman and ran for the governor as an independent loathed to impose an income tax on the state. But in the popular imagination, he had been identified for virtually all his political career as a Republican. When the faux Republican and his reborn moderate successor had left office, the state’s budget had magically doubled. But isn’t that precisely the point made by Democrat insurgents with respect to Lieberman? In their view, Lieberman is a faux Democrat. Why has no one commented upon the slap-in-the-face irony of the situation? Here we have Democrat purists who claim that Lieberman is, in important ways, a Democrat imposter. But the assault on Lieberman was instigated by Lowell Weicker, a faux Republican who was supported in many of his campaigns by leading Democrats, Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd among them. Parties as such played only a walk-on roll in all of this. It would be closer to the truth to say there are no parties. There is the party of Lieberman, the party of Chris Dodd, the party of Rosa DeLauro, and so on down the line. Every incumbent is his or her own political party. They have their own staff, their own pollsters, their own money making machines. And it is for want of a viable party that Lieberman was ejected from the ranks by the insurgents. On the Republican side, it is for want of a real party that the state budget has doubled within the space of two governors.

Q: Is Jodi Rell her own party?

A: Sure. I keep reverting to a notion once peddled by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a party man himself. When the parties disappear, he said, politics will be conducted on the sly by warring anarchical factions; the result will be that the candidates, and consequently the destiny of the nation, will be determined by extra-party groups seeking their own interests. You have to ask yourself: What part would Jack Abramoff have played in a party run by Connecticut political boss John Bailey? He would have been sticking nickels in parking meters for Democrats attending nominating conventions. Remember nominating conventions -- where delegates, with a little prodding from the bosses, used to select candidates for office? Primaries sounded the death knell for nominating conventions. Schlesinger, it turns out, was a prophet unloved in his own country.

Q: Why are Rell’s positives so high?

A: Because there does not appear to be a there there. Please do not misunderstand; this is a compliment, or at least the chorus continually warning us of the dangers of partisanship would regard it as a tribute. Isn’t that the beef with Lieberman – that there is no Democratic there there, that he has sided too often with Republicans? So says that noted political theorist, the nameless proprietor of the blogsite MyLeftNutmeg. It’s tough to lay a glove on agile moderates. They are Proteus. As soon as you think you have your hands wrapped around a solid neck, the persona turns to smoke. Life became dangerous for Lieberman when he committed himself to the survival of Israel and the democratization of Iraq. It is commitment that makes a politician solid – and vulnerable at the same time, a lesson not lost on the moderates. Notice how agilely Sen. Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill have danced around the hidden mines exposed by the Lieberman/Lamont primary. Hill and Bill threw their support to Lieberman before the primary -- on the understanding that they were leaving themselves free to support the winner of the primary.

Q: Rell has not assumed solid shape?

A: Well, she doesn’t like political corruption; that’s good. But on many other points, she’s running with the pack. It may be possible to establish a significant difference between Republican and Democrats on the matter of property tax reform. But doing so will take intelligence and courage, and I’m not sure Republican office holders are up to it.

Q: Explain.

A: Later, after the primaries.
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