Sunday, June 29, 2008

What Was Not Said At This Year’s Prescott Bush Dinner -- A Manifesto

Political commentary here in Connecticut, the land of steady liberalism, is not dangerous or witty or even humorous; it is dull and repetitious, which is one of the reasons newspapers are foundering.

The Harford Courant, which bills itself as the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States, has fallen on hard times. In fact, it has now fallen into the unforgiving clutches of Sam Zell, a real estate mogul who seems to believe that newspapers should be more like blog sites and should operate on four rather than six cylinders. The Courant is in the process of being downsized or, in the lingo of its new owner, “right-sized.” Apparently right-sizing is a synonym for “made profitable.”

We all know how real estate moguls make profits.

As the press goes, so goes the state. Connecticut too is foundering, flopping around on the sand like a beached minnow, gasping for breath.

The narrative in newspaper land could be more exciting, but the ideological mix on most editorial pages is bland and blind. By the way, do not be disturbed by the devil word “ideological.” It means ordered thought, logical ideas. The opposite of “ideological” is “idiotic.” Every philosopher is an ideologue; so is every progressive or conservative. Only those who despise ordered thought or fail to think are non-ideologues. Some of these, calling themselves pragmatists, write for newspapers.

Oh, every so often, some quisling editorial page editor in Connecticut will risk a conservative column by George Will or Charles Krauthammer. So there are some discordant notes on op-ed pages; but these relate mostly to national politics and are few and far between. State commentary is uniformly liberal. The bulk of propaganda is left leaning. Please do not be offended by the word “propaganda.” It is a solid, honest word; we all want our more fruitful ideas to germinate; we want to propagate them, preferably in newspapers that are not mind-numbingly boring.

It’s within the realm of possibility that newspapers may be operating on faulty premises. H. L. Mencken is famous for having defined democracy as that form of government in which the people “get what they deserve” – “good and hard.” Perhaps newspapers should not always give politicians what they want. Mencken didn’t, and he certainly helped to sell a lot of newspapers. Is it possible that what is needed in Connecticut is the opposite of what many newspapers and politicians want: prudent spending, a taxing environment not hostile to business, fewer left leaning newspapers, more not less controversy, and the ventilation of new ideas.

Connecticut, as we all know -- in addition to being the “Constitution State” and the “Provision State,” so named because it has provided the military with the products of war since revolutionary days – is, or has become over the course of many years, a one party Democrat state, politically little more than an outpost of Massachussetts.

The Republicans in Massachussetts, co-operating with the dominant ruling class (his name is Edward Kennedy) have long since gone out of business. The same is true in Connecticut. Former senator and governor Lowell Weicker was our Edward Kennedy, about whom Gore Vidal once said that he was not dismayed by Kennedy’ senatorial longevity because he thought “every state should have in it at least one Caligula.”

We have in New England at present only one Republican U.S. congressperson left standing, the estimable Chris Shays, now hanging on to his seat by his bloody fingernails. The bloggers, who tried and failed to dislodge former Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman, now an independent, are after Shays. Most moderate Republicans in Connecticut were casualties of the Iraq war and the displeasure of the soon to be right-sized Courant.

The day Shays and the Courant parted company was memorable. The paper had routinely endorsed incumbent politicians and seemed to have a warm spot in its heart for Shays, Weicker in a minor key. The Courant adored Weicker, who was, in the words of T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock,” a willing tool “glad to be of use.” When the paper thought an income tax was necessary, it got one from Weicker.

Shays is moderate, as were most New England politicians, including Sen. Lincoln Davenport Chaffee of Rhode Island, the son and appointed political heir of Daddy Chaffee and the only “Republican” in the Senate to have voted against authorization of the use of force in Iraq. When Chaffee the younger finally is ushered into Valhalla, the obits here and in Massachussetts will be embarrassingly sycophantic:

Supported legal abortion (Is there any other kind?)

Supported gay equality and same sex marriage.

Supported a top income tax rate on the rich of 39.6%

Opposed the death penalty and the elimination of the estate tax.

Named by Human Events magazine the number 1 RINO (Republican in Name Only) in the country.

May he rest in peace -- forever.


In Chaffe the lesser, one finds all the marks of the true Republican “maverick,” the only species of Republican tolerable to the editorial board of the Courant.

Gung ho on the Iraq war, which at the time appeared to be successful, Shays inadvisably allowed that Bush should have pressed into Syria after he had despoiled Iraq, at which point Iran, weary of its mullahs, would have tossed them on the ash heap of history and joined the 21st century.

It was a pretty thesis. But it did not go down well with the editorial board of the Courant, which stripped Shays of the coveted endorsement.

Around the same time, the paper reasoned – for the wrong reasons – that Republican moderates had become immoderate and threw its considerable weight – it was not yet wriggling I the hands of Zell -- to the Democrats, dominant in New England since Mesozoic times.

And so the U.S. congress filled up with bright new Democrat faces. Joe Courtney sat in for Rob Simmons, and Chris Murphy replaced Nancy Johnson. Oddly enough, Shays and Sen. Joe Lieberman, the two most conspicuous defenders of Bush’s Big Adventure in Iraq, were spared a drubbing.

All the Republicans went down but Shays. There are in New England now no “moderate” or, as some prefer to call them, “pragmatic” Republicans. All the pragmatists, including Johnson, were thrown out with the moderate wash water. Being pragmatic, in the Courant’s view, nearly always meant taking Courant editorial advice seriously. As a general rule, many Republicans have resisted following liberal pied pipers at that paper over the cliff.

And so we have arrived at the present crisis: The entire New England congressional delegation, save Shays, is blue; the Courant, still the only state-wide paper in Connecticut, will soon be a shadow of its former self; the Bush administration at long last appears to have gotten a handle on the Iraq war, but Reps. John Larson and Rosa DeLauro, the “Young Turks” in Connecticut’s congressional delegation and Sen. Chris Dodd, Democarts all, have yet to notice the change; the economy is reeling; the globe is overheating, some say; overtaxed people in Connecticut are having problems meeting their bills; the brain drain of young people traveling to southern climbs where taxes are, ahem, fairer continues unabated; the price of gas, over $4 dollars a gallon, is expected to reach $6 or $7 in the near future; Madonna’s marriage is on the rocks; and, with president Obama in the wings, the hour of the assassins has come.

All this is, in the words of Sen. John McCain, the likely maverick Republican nominee for president, a “big deal.”

What should the state Republican Party do about it?

Well, like the poor, there will always be Madonnas with us. Not even Connecticut Attorney General “St. Richard of the Suit” Blumenthal is likely to do much to suppress gas prices; Connecticut, like other state governments that tax gas at usurious rate, is not likely to surrender tax money coming its way by slashing state taxes on gas. The absence of sun spots, one Australian meteorologist has conjectured, may inaugurate a new ice age, which should take care of global warming.

As so we are left with the state of the state; what can we do to ameliorate the condition of nutmeggers?

We can – to borrow a phrase from Democrat presidential nominee Barrack Obama – change things, beginning with the makeup of the state legislature.

Or barring this, we can say, a la Obama, we are going to change things and haul in the votes.

Republicans, the party of change; has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

To be brutally serious, New England Republicans should bill themselves as the party of change, and you cannot change things by becoming part of the problem, which is what happened to the Republicans who are no longer with us, including the dearly departed Chaffee and Weicker.

Connecticut is the highest taxed state in the nation; a change from first to 10th place, just to pick a more comfortable number at random, would be welcomed.

There is a movement afoot in Massachusetts, formerly Taxachusetts, to rid the state of its onerous income tax, a change many of us in Connecticut can believe in.

Massachussetts is able to get on their ballot a proposition to axe their income tax because they have what is called ballot initiative. As it happens, the stars over Connecticut are propitious. A constitutional convention is required in the state once every twenty years, a throwback to Jeffersonian democracy. Jefferson thought the health of a nation required a revolution every generation, and ballot initiative – a bloodless revolutionary device in which the people engage in direct participatory democracy -- probably would have been agreeable to him.

State Republicans, some have argued, should use the convention – just to begin with -- to press for ballot initiative, a state referendum on budgets, a cap on spending equal to the inflation rate and budget transparency.

The opposition to ballot initiative comes from the usual suspect quarters: time servers, both Republican and Democrat, in the state legislature and their abettors in the media. We are a representative democracy, they argue; and if the people find their present rulers intolerable, they can always cashier them at the polls. If they are bums, the people can always throw the bums out. They don’t need ballot initiatives; they have the ballot. In a representative democracy, do not people deserve the government they get?

As an abstract proposition, we can all agree with this. But abstract propositions do not put bread on the table, or keep hard to acquire earnings from the prehensile grasp of self serving politicians. To a certain extent, getting and spending public dollars is a zero sum game. The more the politicians get, the less money the people have to meet their needs. The less money they have to met their needs, the more they will be reliant on the government to give them the bread that has been taken from them by their benefactors. Citizen Peter cannot tax citizen Paul to get money to pay for expensive government services. But the government can tax both Peter and Paul and use its collections either improvidently or well.

Here in Connecticut, much of the money has been spent – to be sure, by the dominant Democrat legislature – unwisely and often. Democrats are dominant in the state because the Republican Party has been co-opted by the liberal message machine. Voters vote Democrat because they have been fed, through the media, a steady diet of failing liberal nostrums. Their votes are the “junk out” one may expect from the liberal “junk in” messaging that is ubiquitous in Connecticut’s media. Where Democrats are left leaning and Republicans are moderate accommodationists, the political vector will run to the left. Here in Connecticut, as the French say, "Il n’y a pas d’enemi à gauche," there is no enemy to the left. This left tropism has deprived the Republican party of its weight, which is why it is so easily pushed around, like an airy weather balloon.

This year Republican Governor Jodi Rell’s absence was duly noted at the Prescott Bush dinner. The Prescott Bush affair is comparable to the Democrat’s Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey get together. This is a governor who speaks to her party in her behavior: She doesn’t want to be a part of that party. Her survival, those closest to her have convinced her, depends upon a certain distance. This is the Moody effect. Most Republican governors have been like that. Having negotiated a pact with dominant Democrats in the legislature, Rowland, putting on the manners of Weicker, used to bully legislative leaders to support the accomodationist view. The result of all this was a diminishing Republican presence in the legislature, a weak Republican Party and a ruling Democrat party in the legislature. All this was fine, of course, for the RINO governors and the dominant Democrats. The past few years, for the first time, Republicans have pushed back – which is to say, they have discovered the virtue of being Republicans who offer solutions to Connecticut’s pressing problems that are different than the usual bromides. This is a good sign. Let the governor go her way. She does not want to be a part of the new state Republican Party. The reformers are in it for the long haul. Not everyone will want to run the race to the finish.
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