With former Governor Tom’s Meskill’s death, an earlier generation of Republicans is passing the torch to a newer generation.
Meskill, former Governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javitts, also of New York and former Governor Lowell Weicker’s template of the good Republican, were all “moderates,” which means they were inclined to break free of ideological restraints and join forces, when necessary, with liberals on the other side of the political barricades.
The AP story on Meskill’s death does not mention his roll and that of his aide, Tom D’Amore, later Republican Party chairman and Weicker’s right hand man, in the institution of a Connecticut state income tax.
Legislation creating a state income tax during the Meskill administration was somewhat surreptitiously passed through the legislature, which quickly reconvened and killed the legislation at a raucous midnight session. Much later, Weicker and D’Amore – along with some help from Bill Cibes, who ran for governor and lost on a pro-income tax plank – pulled and pressured “moderate” Republicans legislators until the tax was passed. Of course, one does not expect such things to be mentioned during Meskill’s eulogy. Nancy Johnson’s bouquet -- “Meskill transcended politics” – is probably all one can expect while the corpse is yet unburied. Johnson, perhaps taking a lesson from Meskill, also transcended politics, until she was shot down by US Rep Chris Murphy who, following the well worn path trodden by most Connecticut politicians, is now in a transcendent mode.
Support institutions, among them Connecticut’s “moderate” media, love moderates – some would say immoderately. They liked Weicker when he was setting then President Ronald Reagan’s pants afire.
In a recently published book, Reagan reached out from the grave and clipped Weicker on the ear. Said Reagan in a diary entrée recorded in March of 1984: “We lost the school prayer amendment in the Senate. We had a majority but needed a 2/3 majority. The sad thing is about 15 Sens. were convinced the amendment was a mandate that schools would have to have prayer. Lowell Weicker was the head ringmaster against us as he is on everything we want. He's a pompous, no good, fathead.”
A commentator humorously noted upon reading the entrée that “Reagan, of course, was a master of hyperbole, and the short, pithy diary form, comparable to a blog, is not exhaustive. So, perhaps Reagan may be forgiven for calling Weicker a ‘fathead.’ Given his size, Weicker’s head was proportionally not that fat.”
New England’s media will mourn the passing of Meskill. But some Republicans, not so immoderately moderate, will rejoice that the torch has been passed on.
Well, to those few brave Republicans unafraid to wear their ideology on their sleeves.
It is no longer fatal in Connecticut to be, for example, a Reagan Republican. And in a media where conservative ideas in the ice-age of Javitts et al were strictly verboten, one sometimes sees dangerous ideas ventilated, even in papers that increasingly sound like they had been written by press aides for Chris Dodd or the front page writers at DailyKos.
The underground, long suppressed in Connecticut, is rising slowly to the surface. Both the left and the right are flexing their muscles.
This does not mean that the age of moderation in New England has been supplanted by an epoch of – to use a term not unfriendly to true believing Republicans and Democrats – principled politics. It simply means that the public square, the great stage upon which democracy struts and stretches its peacock feathers, will be populated by other actors. And the other actors certainly will change the nature of the dialogue.
Indicative of this change is a brief conversation I once overheard between a respectable, long serving editor of a newspaper and a dismayed conservative reader. The editor was insisting that reporters at his paper, while listing in a liberal direction, were professionals who did not allow their prejudices to get the best of them when they were at their jobs; their reports were “objective.”
“I believe you,” said the reader. “But, don’t you see, we want you to hire some conservative reporters who will be objective.”
The times, they are a’changing. Every man who dies carries a whole generation with him to the grave. So with Meskill. Let us honor him – and pass on.