Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Toward a Politics of Principle

Republicans who lean to the right in Connecticut are used to running the knout. This is because the mainstream media in the state is 99 and 9/10 percent pure liberal or, as timid liberals now prefer to call themselves, progressive.

But there are two kinds of Republicans in Connecticut.

Among a certain kind of Republican, prolonged exposure to the knout produces an amused weariness best glimpsed in the famous Reagan remark, “There you go again.” Reagan ran the knout, put salve on his wounds and lived to fight another day. Battling made him more resolute because he was not entirely absorbed by political considerations alone. He had a life. He was amused by the opposition. He had a flag to defend, and he defended it stoutly. He could boast, along with other principled warriors, that there were no scars on his back, while his front was loaded with them.

For a host of reasons, there are very few Republicans of this kind in Connecticut. Politicians running for office really do, when all is said and done, want to hold on to office. The price of office in Connecticut, a state chock-a-block with liberals, is very dear. One is constantly forced to trim one’s principles to the prevailing wind, which invariably blows left.

The second kind of Republican is a man of no strong principle, the sort of fellow St. Thomas More had in mind when he called Cranmer a pragmatist. “What, Cranmer?” says More to his son-in-law Roper in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons. “Pooh, he's a pragmatist -- and that's the only resemblance he has to the Devil, son Roper; a pragmatist, the merest plumber.”

But plumbers, as More soon discovered, know how to make a living at the expense of men of principle. The ever crafty Cranmer caught More in his net and lived for a season petted by the reigning prince, until the mercurial prince turned his face against him. Pragmatists first lose their heads in pursuit of success; then they lose their heads. More was not a man for all seasons because he trimmed his principles to the season. It would be truer to say that that he trimmed the passing seasons to his principles. More knew that nothing flees from a principle so fast as a faddist, unless it is a pragmatist.

Surveying the political terrain in Connecticut, one discovers that the legislature has been in Democrat hands for decades. The executive office has been held by Republican moderates, but they are a vanishing species. All the moderates, the middle of the roaders, the plumbers, the pragmatists, have been displaced by Democrats. And the Democrat Party, both state-wide and nationally, is lurching to the left. The lone exception is Chris Shays, the last so called “moderate,” bi-partisan US Republican congressman in New England.

Under attack in the age of Obama by a vigorous liberal, Shays will have a hard row to hoe. He cannot depend on a spirited Republican Party, because the state Republican Party, for years shaped and molded by an accommodationist ethic, is itself dispirited, though in some respects this seems to be changing. State Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy permits himself to be guided by an internal gyroscope, and the party leadership, the true agent of change in the state, is not at all unprincipled.

The new Republican Party is no longer plugged into an ethic or an economic disposition determined by the state’s power brokers. In the last few years, Republican leaders have politely detached themselves from the yoke placed about their necks by past and present Republican governors, who are of necessity more accomodationist than party activists. These are hopeful signs; they indicate the emergence of a politics of change that may more effectively challenge the status quo.

And the absence of indicators that measure of the health of a state – personal savings not eaten away by an increasingly incompetent bureaucracy, the ability of the state to retain and employ a talented entrepreneurial pool of young workers, a modest and efficient government that is not the servant of special interests, a healthy roll over in political offices, industries that are not looking for exit doors, a true non-partisan media unwilling to co-operate with the present regime – strongly suggests that changes in the status quo would be both liberating and necessary.
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