Wednesday, October 31, 2007

An'Don't Let The Door Bang Yer'arse On The Way Out

"Mr. Bluster Saves The World" is a review of Lowell Weicker's then newly published autobiography written by Chris Powell, the Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer. Powell wore two hats when I wrote a regular column for the paper several years ago; he was also the Editorial Page Editor. The column is published here with the author’s permission. Some journalistic pieces – nearly all of Henry Mencken and Bill Buckley – are overarching and survive the ravages of time. This is one of them. It richly deserves a second curtain call. There are well wishers who, now that Weicker is leaving Connecticut for a more promising and … ahemm… less taxing state, silently invoke the Irish blessing on the author of Connecticut’s income tax: “An’don’t let the door bang yer’arse on the way out.” This piece by Powell is the door.


Weicker's Memoir Is Breathtaking
for Self-Contradiction and Omission


Legend has it that the ancient Athenian statesman
Aristides was stopped in the street by an uneducated
man who didn't recognize him and who asked for help
in writing Aristides' own name on a ballot in an
election to decide who among the nation's leaders
would be banished. The man is said to have explained
that he didn't know Aristides at all but was simply
sick and tired of hearing him called "the Just."

It may be impossible to get far into Lowell P. Weicker
Jr.'s autobiography, "Maverick: A Life in Politics"
(Little, Brown, & Co., $22.95), without understanding
exactly how that disgruntled voter felt.

According to the legend, Aristides silently completed
the man's ballot for him and was duly voted into
exile, which is sort of where Weicker, Connecticut's
former U.S. senator and governor, now finds himself
politically. Unfortunately, while Weicker was at the
center of great events both in Washington and in
Connecticut and has had the ghostwriting services of
Barry Sussman of The Washington Post, this memoir is
almost entirely without reflection even as it is often
laughably and unintentionally ironic. Indeed, if there
is even one insight in "Maverick," it is lost under an
avalanche of chest-thumping, self-congratulation,
self-righteousness, and breathtaking
self-contradiction and omission.

The self-contradiction begins right away, in Weicker's
introduction, where he denies the grievance of many
Republicans, to whose party he belonged throughout
most of his political career, that he lurched to the
left after he was elected to the Senate in 1970 with
less than half the vote in a three-way race. He
insists that it is the Republicans themselves who have
"moved so far to the right" since then.

But only a few paragraphs later Weicker acknowledges
having been a Goldwater supporter who, during his
single term in the U.S. House of Representatives,
endorsed a school prayer amendment to the Constitution
and the impeachment of Justice William O. Douglas. In
this paragraph Weicker writes
that he "matured and changed," having just denied
changing at all. And that is the extent of his
explanation of his remarkable political metamorphosis.
He doesn't deign to address the old suspicion that he
mainly adapted himself to suit Connecticut's
traditional Democratic leanings.

To explain his narrow loss to Democrat Joseph
Lieberman in his bid for re-election to the Senate in
1988, Weicker writes, "I had remained the same
persistent figure, fighting with the Jesse Helmses of
this world...." A few pages later he discloses not
only that he, the great maverick, actually believed
fervently in the Senate's seniority system but also
that, in this belief, he supported the very
same repugnant but duly senior Helms
against the tolerable but junior Richard Lugar for
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"By 1988 Connecticut citizens were tiring of a senator
who kept focusing on annoying issues like
discrimination, separation of church and state, health
care, and AIDS," Weicker writes, never mentioning the
possibility that Connecticut also might have tired of
a senator who was missing dozens of Senate votes to go
out collecting a fortune in "speaking fees" from
special interests on whose legislation he
simultaneously was voting -- the issue that actually
cost him the election. Nor does he explain how, if
benighted Connecticut really was so indifferent to
those annoying issues of his, it nevertheless elected
him governor as an independent two years later.


Weicker laments the loss of civility in public life
and complains that his political opponents over the
years have been hateful and vicious. Having disposed
of civility, a few pages later he
calls them names like "slimeball,"
"chameleon," "ass," and "moralizing nuts."

He can relate a trivial anecdote about playing in a
tennis match for charity with Vice President Spiro
Agnew but recalls nothing about the speech Agnew gave
soon after, in the last weeks of the 1970 Senate
campaign, calling Weicker's Democratic opponent a
communist -- a damaging attack whose immense political
profit was gratefully accepted by the fearless
crusader for fair play.

Weicker calls former state Sen. Richard Bozzuto's
endorsement of Lieberman in 1988 "a stunning act of
disloyalty to the Republican Party." But Weicker
neglects to mention his own frequent and stunning
endorsement-like remarks from the Republican side in
support of Connecticut Democrats in the thick of
campaigns over the years. How someone who was elevated
by Connecticut's Republican Party and was never denied
anything he sought from it and still sabotaged its
candidates and then left it to deprive it of the
governorship in 1990 can fault others
for disloyalty is ... well, vintage Weicker.
As he did in politics, in this book he simply waives
all standards for himself, sometimes only moments
after he articulates them for everyone else.

He praises his broadmindedness for having induced the
party in Connecticut to open its primary elections to
unaffiliated voters. But he fails to address the
complaint that his underlying purpose was only to
prevent Republicans even from having
a party of their own in which they someday
might have a primary Weicker himself might not win.


Even advocates of progressive taxation may gag at
Weicker's account of his imposition of the income tax
on Connecticut soon after his inauguration as governor
in 1991.

Weicker writes that he said during his campaign for
governor that he "wouldn't rule out an income tax."
But in fact he did rule it out -- in general with his
famous television commercial likening the tax to
"pouring gasoline on a fire," a commercial responding
directly to his Republican opponent's charge that
Weicker did support an income
tax; and specifically, in writing, with a pledge to
oppose an income tax at least through his first year
in office.

He writes that he waded into the crowd at the mass
rally at the state Capitol protesting the tax because
"I wanted to keep up the dialogue." A few lines later
he remarks that the insults hurled at him there were
"the kind of inanities you expect in that situation."
So might he really not have sought "dialogue" at all
but rather an opportunity to taunt the protesters into
discrediting their cause and to get himself on TV
looking like a brave martyr to a mob?

This self-contradiction suggests as much, and sure
enough, in the Weicker pattern, it is followed by an
equivalent hypocrisy, when he condemns White House
Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman for having done the same
sort of thing, for having welcomed the chance that
protesters would turn violent and obscene at a
campaign rally for Richard Nixon.

Weicker writes that he refused to give state
legislators jobs in the executive branch in exchange
for their votes for the income tax. But in fact a good
number who voted for the tax did end up with such

He writes that his income tax saved Connecticut. He
doesn't mention the tax's cynical "Greenwich" nature,
its replacement of capital gains and dividend taxes on
his wealthy friends and neighbors with taxes on the
ordinary earnings of the middle class. Nor does he
mention that, whatever the cause, Connecticut remains
severely depressed economically and has lost
population every year since the income tax was passed,
the only state in such a long downward trend.


Weicker denounces the manipulation and
self-perpetuation of the two-party system and cites an
example of it: the attempt of Democratic and
Republican legislators who opposed the income tax to
build support for their alternative tax proposals by
promising not to nominate candidates against each
other in the next election. But then he boasts that he
got votes for the income tax by promising his third
party's cross-endorsement to the same legislators,
who, with that endorsement, survived to perpetuate the
very system he just denounced.

He describes as his great personal victory the 1992
state legislative election, which returned to power
the Democratic majority of the income-tax session,
without mentioning the possible influence of the
Democratic presidential landslide at the top of the
ticket. He does not explain why he did not dare to
seek re-election himself two years later.

To hear Weicker tell it, he didn't just end up on the
right side of the Watergate drama but rather was its
central figure. (Putting Nixon rather than Weicker
himself on that postage stamp apparently should be
considered doubly unjust.) Weicker didn't just work to
clean up the oceans and integrate the disabled and
retarded into society and so forth. No, Mister Bluster
singlehandedly saved the world -- and in a mere 224


As he has been doing in speaking engagements for a few
years now, Weicker blithely rewrites history here,
portraying himself as the anti-Vietnam War candidate
when, in both 1968 and 1970, his two congressional
elections during the war, he was entirely Nixon's
candidate and supported Nixon administration war
policy. He may be escaping exposure in this because
most of those who supported the war don't want to have
to account for it now and because most of those who
opposed the war give him a free pass for having come
over to their side on big issues since then.

Amid all these self-contradictions and omissions he
writes that his "first truly hypocritical act in
politics" was only to eulogize Malcolm Baldrige at the
dedication of a research ship named for the late
commerce secretary. According to Weicker, Baldrige's
unforgivable sin was that he had tried to carry out
the cuts proposed by his president, Ronald Reagan, in
the budget for oceanic research. (Of course if
Baldrige had resisted carrying
out the will of his boss, Weicker now might be
sneering at him as well as at Bozzuto for "a stunning
act of disloyalty to the Republican Party.")

While his once having spoken a little too well of the
dead is the most Weicker can fault himself for in "a
life in politics," it was not policy or ideological
disagreement but his making a whole career of flaming
hypocrisy that created such apoplectic animosity
toward him among certain political people in
Connecticut. Indeed, here and there in this book he
actually makes good if all-too-brief arguments for
particular policies, like means-testing entitlements
and relaxing the U.S. embargo against Castro's Cuba.
But these are overwhelmed by the blustering pose that
he has been so much better than all other politicians
in methods, tactics, principle, and personal virtue.


In fact Weicker regularly lowered himself with the
worst of them. Maybe that is why there is no mention
in this book either of his too-cozy relationship with
the contrivance that calls itself the Mashantucket
Pequot tribe, to which, by gubernatorial fiat, he
granted a monopoly on casino gambling in Connecticut
and from which he received, seemingly in return, a $2
million contribution to a charity he chaired and
controlled, the Special Olympics --which promptly
provided many of his political cronies with cushy jobs
and a comfortable place to land as his administration
was coming to an end.

If Weicker's predecessor from the Democratic old
guard, William A. O'Neill, had taken personal
advantage of his office like that, Connecticut's
largest newspaper, The Hartford Courant, would have
led the state's press in demanding impeachment on
grounds of corruption. But since their darling of
political correctness did it, The Courant and most
other Connecticut newspapers never even reported the

Weicker has cultivated a reputation for candor, and
the publicity for this book tries to perpetuate it. He
has taken many forthright
positions over the years and no one would accuse him
of timidity, but, as this book inadvertently suggests,
he may have been the least
candid politician of his era in Connecticut, the
distinction between candor and mere bluster having
been lost.

Weicker notes that he has been married three times and
acknowledges shortchanging his family during his 30
years in politics. As he took this book on the road to
receptions at bookstores last month, he said his
family was the most important thing in his life now. A
few days later came the announcement of his
exploratory committee for an independent presidential

"Maverick" may be less an autobiography than a hasty
and self-serving text for that campaign, establishing
that its author isn't always wrong, just insufferable.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal
Inquirer in Manchester.
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