Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Weicker, Lear Before the Fall

Former Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker appeared on Face the State over the weekened to defend his friend Sen. Chris Dodd. Weicker’s defense of Dodd, like Dodd’s, consists of a recitation of Dodd’s sterling record in congress and a suggestion that his recent difficulties, when thrown into the scales, are raised up by the weight of the good he has done as a senator.

Other senators, among them Weicker’s good friend Edward Kennedy of Massachussets, have overcome difficulties in their careers by applying themselves to the good they do in congress. Shakespeare put all this best when he said that the good men do “is of’t interred with their bones,” while the evil they do lives on after them.

In his interview with Dennis House, Weicker offered an apology to the ghost that has haunted both him and Chris Dodd. During his race against Tom Dodd, Weicker recounted that he had said some unfortunate things about him, which he now regretted.

In his race against Tom Dodd’s, the current senator’s father, Weicker not only “said some unfortunate things” about Dodd; he said some "unfortunate" things about the only ardent anti-Vietnam war candidate in the race, Joe Duffey. “A nice warm jail cell,” said Weicker at the time, awaits the war protestors.

Time -- and experience in Washington -- changed Weicker, not always for the better. His support of Ned Lamont was rooted in two things: Lamont’s forthright opposition to George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, now won by a general, David Petraeus, who was defamed by anti-war proponents as “General Betray-us”; and Weicker’s smoldering hatred of Joe Lieberman, Connecticut’s senator who lost a primary against Lamont but defeated him in the general election.

Now, it is very awkward for Weicker to lend his support to Chris Dodd at a difficult moment in the senator’s political life without “tidying up the past” -- hence the apology.

However, people should know that Weicker’s support of Chris Dodd is not new. When Roger Eddy ran against Dodd, he took the precaution of traveling to Washington to secure Weicker’s support. Weicker received him warmly and made an extravagant promise: “I want you to know, I’m going to back you 100 percent.” A week before the election, Weicker appeared in news and radio spots supporting Dodd with the same effusion he had previously extended to Eddy.

Not for nothing did Weicker describe himself as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.”

Weicker’s chief aide during his senatorial career and much briefer gubernatorial career, Tom D’Amore, played a direct role in the Lamont-Lieberman primary and general election. Weicker appeared a few times on Colin McEnroe’s radio show to lend support to Lamont’s efforts.

Weicker has much to apologize for, and it was something of a miracle that his host in the clip shown here, Dennis House, was able to tease from the maverick a mini-apology relating to Dodd’s father.

It’s a beginning.

Weicker has compared himself in the past to St. Thomas More, the hero of Robert Bolt’s magnificent play, “A man for All Seasons.” But a truer comparison might be between Weicker and King Lear, before the king’s fall into grace and madness. Shakespeare, a recusant Catholic in the time of the Catholic persecutions during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, wrote King Lear toward the end of his life.

Weicker, who seems to venerate Thomas More for the wrong reasons, might be interested to know that there is a More-Shakespeare connection through the persons of St. Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell, a literary co-conspirator with Shakespeare and his recusant Catholic family. Shakespeare’s father suffered deprivations as a result of his recusancy, as did his daughter Susanna. But the sufferings of Shakespeare’s father paled in comparison to those endured by Campion. The author of “Campion’s Brag” was the Thomas More of the Elizabethan Age, a man who brashly opposed Elizabeth for the same reasons More, sixty years earlier, opposed Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, who gave up More to the executioner.

Campion was given up to the torturer, as were other Catholic resistors during bloody Elizabeth’s reign, but not Shakespeare, whose more subtle resistance to religious persecution can be seen in the best of his plays, King Lear.

In the days of Elizabeth, torture was a bit more extreme than, say, water-boarding.

Southwell was repeatedly tortured in the home of Elizabeth’s chief torturer, Richard Topcliff, in the hope he could be made to betray other Catholic priests. One of his sworn enemies, Robert Cecil, having witnessed Southwell’s torture, confessed to a friend, “They boast about the heroes of antiquity... but we have a new torture which it is not possible for a man to bear. And yet I have seen Robert Southwell hanging by it, still as a tree truck, and no one being able to drag a word out of his mouth.”

Before Campion was slaughtered, his sentence was read out to him. He was hung until nearly dead, taken down from the noose, disemboweled, his intestines burned in front of him, drawn, quartered and beheaded, his head impaled on a pike on London Bridge.

Campion,Southwell and More were the Catholic heroes and saints of the Elizabethan and Jacobean age.

Shakespeare’s Lear, when he is stripped of all his worldly glory, is in solidarity with them, his unfeigned “madness” truest sense.

Relieved of the baggage of secular Machiavellian political dissimulation, Lear recovers his heart, held in trust for him by his faithful daughter Cordelia (couer de Lear), and facing death he says to her:

"Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds I’ th’cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a walled prison, pacts and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by the moon.”

“God’s spies” is a direct reference to the Catholic resistance. Nor had Shakespeare forgotten or abandoned More, Campion or Southwell, wearing out in walled prisons “pacts and sects of great ones.” When Lear is told, immediately after these lines, that he is off to prison, he shouts for joy, “Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia/ The gods themselves throw incense.”

The message of Lear is that real politic, Machiavellianism, is a devilish pursuit that leaves God out of account; the play is a cri de cour against profound secularism on behalf of the then persecuted faith of Shakespeare’s father.

This stripping away of shallow pretensions, Weicker has yet to overcome. He is Lear before his downfall – or should one say Lear before his upfall?
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