Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Yanks Are Coming

D. Dowd Muska was kind enough to invite me to speak to the Yankee Institute on blogging. This is the result:

I’d like to thank Mr. Muska for inviting me here today to talk to you about blogging. And if it’s possible to thank an institution, I’d also like to thank the Yankee Institute for having provided to me over the years the live ammo I’ve used in political columns and blogs. You, the keepers of the right data, have been and are an invaluable resource.

In this talk, if I am successful, I’d like to set blogging in its proper place in the political firmament, and then offer some words of encouragement.

About a month ago, I was engaging in political fisticuffs on a blog not my own, Connecticut Local Politics, run by a gent who calls himself Ghengis CONN – that’s C-O-N-N – when I was rudely interrupted by a pest who styles himself Connecticut Keith. CtKeith said this: “Perhaps Mr. Pesci will consider moving his remarks to his own blog – where no one will ever read them.”

That’s the sort spit and spittle you can expect when engaging bloggers; it’s like introducing a firecracker into a Brahms lullaby. You’re driving along peacefully when, all of a sudden out of the blue, someone throws an epithet through your windshield.

People who blog – the noun has now become a respectable verb – are used to this sort of thing. But CtKeith’s comment is provocative, and provocation is good because it induces us to pose and attempt to answer the right questions.

Do people read blogs? They do. Should they read blogs? I don’t know. Should more politically aware, anti- socialist, Milton Friedmanesque free marketers involve themselves more actively in constructing libertarian or conservative blogs?

Let me answer that last question this way: When the reliably liberal – or progressive --British Broadcasting Company sent a couple of reporters to Connecticut to cover the role played by bloggers in the Lamont-Lieberman race, the producers of “All Night Long” lined up the usual phalanx of progressive bloggers, ten or twenty deep, all with their spears pointing rightward and… me.

I thought at the time; boy, I sure could use a little help here.

The Democrat senatorial primary and the general election that followed – if studied closely, which I do not intend to do here – will tell us a great deal about the effect blogging has had, and will have, on our politics.

Blogs figured importantly in the Lamont-Lieberman jihad – that, and the war in Iraq.

It was former senator and governor Lowell Weicker, father of the state income tax, and his major domo Tom D’Amore, once appointed by Weicker as Republican Party Chairman (What ever was the Republican Party Central Committee thinking?)… it was these two worthies who nudged Lamont into a primary.

At the time, the Cindy Sheehan wing of the Democrat Party was greatly distressed both with Lieberman’s position on the Iraq War and with the senator’s willingness to fraternize with President Bush. This distress produced “The Kiss” that launched a thousand anti-Lieberman blog threads. “The Kiss” was a paper maché representation of two enormous heads, Bush’s and Lieberman’s, lip-locked in a perpetual kiss. “The Kiss” hearkened back to that moment -- which will live in infamy, according to the leftist blogging community – when Bush hugged Lieberman after a robust pro-war speech he had given to the congress.

From that time forward, wherever Lieberman went on the campaign trail – for some reason, he’s partial to diners – there was “The Kiss” on a flatbed truck just outside the nearest window, leering provocatively at him, an unanswerable paper maché reproach.

Did “The Kiss,” the blog chatter, the money raised by progressive blogs for Lamont, the anti-Lieberman blog threads seamlessly woven into mainstream reporting on the campaign, help or hurt Lamont or Lieberman?

There are two answers to this question. The participants in a forum on blogging sponsored by the Hartford Courant -- to which no conservative bloggers were invited – were agreed that bloggers, mostly themselves, played a significant role in both the primary and the general election senatorial campaign.

Personally, I incline to the answer given by the Jewish lady who brought her dying husband to the doctor. The doctor said, “I have some very bad news for you: Your husband is dying.

The woman said, “Give him some chicken soup.”

The doctor said, “Madam, I don’t think you heard me. Your husband is dying. He’s not going to live; that’s certain. He’s at death’s door, he’s due to depart – soon. Chicken soup won’t help.”

She said, “Can’t hurt.”

Blogging helped Lamont and hurt Lieberman in the primary; it probably helped Lieberman and hurt Lamont in the general election, by which time Republicans, no doubt fearing another senatorial stretch by a Weicker wannabe, came on board the Lieberman bandwagon and voted against their own candidate, the hapless Alan Schlesinger, whose remark during the campaign – “You think social security is expensive now; just wait till it’s free” almost persuaded some Republicans to switch their votes.

Hillary Clinton now has armored herself by bringing bloggers into her campaign for president; presently, about 25% of her campaign contributions have come through the internet. John Edwards did the same, but his choices proved to be unfortunate – a couple of anti-Catholic scorpions. My best guess is that these measures are craven attempts to blunt the sharp criticism of some ardent troublemakers and demobilize primary opposition by inviting progressives into campaigns. At best, it will provide a temporary reprieve from sharp criticism and moneyed opposition. At worst, inviting foxes into henhouses is always a chancy proposition.

The rise in the importance of bloggers correlates, I think, with the disintegration of political parties. On my own blogsite, “Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A Blue State,” I’ve attempted, perhaps poorly, to point as often as possible to that connection. Bloggers have stepped into a vacuum created by campaign finance reform, which has strengthened what elsewhere, in columns and blogs, I have called the incumbentocracy – and weakened, perhaps irreparably, the political parties – most especially the state Republican Party.

If blogging lies at the epicenter of our political struggle, the very pillar of our discontent should be the slow, remorseless destruction of the state’s Republican Party, that poor, ragged, motherless orphan. She has been abandoned now by everyone – by the worst sort of people: men without chests, political profiteers who would not scruple to sell her into slavery for a vote or a sycophantic bow from any of the state’s media, heavily implicated in its destruction.

The governor, I’m on the point of concluding, is one of these, but look at the models she has had. Weicker was a nominal Republican, and Rowland, while he showed some promise at the beginning of his gubernatorial career, succumbed to the blandishments of unchallenged Democrats in the legislature.

This road now has led the governor, gagged and bound, into the usual political cul de sac. Having failed to bless all of us with a costly universal health plan that will more than double the budget, leading Democrats in the legislature are now proposing crippling taxes on so called “millionaires,” – couples earning more than $200,000 a year – to pay for their improvident spending.

The answer to all this lies in courage, fortitude and principled resistance. We know that we are on the side of the angels, even when – especially when – the angels seem to cry out against us. We have something in our heads besides sawdust, and our spines can bear the weight of opposition. We don’t need the comforting approbation of the comfortable. We have our weapons, and we will fight. We ought to be spoiling for a fight. Someday – hopefully before it is driven into the poor house -- Connecticut will be blessed with politicians who don’t faint at the prospect of an invigorating struggle.

When you open my blog, you will see at the banner on the top a quote from Samuel Adams, failed businessman, provocateur, warmonger:

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We seek not your counsel or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; may your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!"

Those are words to live and fight by, a bright standard under which to march on the fortress.

There is a place on “Red Notes” for comments. Perhaps some of you will be kind enough from time to time to visit the site and offer a constructive comment. I’ll leave a lit candle in the window for you.

Thank you all for coming, and thank you Mr. Muska for inviting me. I’ll remain here for a few questions. And I think I can promise you that if I don’t know the answer to the question, I’ll take a lesson from the politicians and answer some other question you have not asked me.
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