Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dan And Ned

If by the intervention of heaven a Democrat becomes the next governor, he must not imagine that the problems besetting outgoing Governor Jodi Rell will magically disappear. They will not.

The legislature is dominated by Democrats. A Democratic governor will find himself surrounded by members of his own party who appear to be motivated by concerns that do not include, for instance, reducing state spending by 15%.

Here is a partial list of the past and immediate concerns of members of the Democratic dominated legislature:

• How do I get re-elected?

• How do I discharge a looming $6 to $8 billion state deficit, not to mention the state’s $ 56 billion debt in pension obligations, without inconveniencing state workers whose support is needed to accomplish my re-election?

• How do I fleece the remaining millionaires in the state without driving them to, say, Texas or Florida?

• Assuming Rell will be replaced by a Democrat with a heart of solid oak, who can I blame for the logical consequences of my votes in the legislature? Rell will be gone. George Bush II is fast vanishing into the near unremembered past, and Democratic President Barack Obama, having added mightily to the deficit, continues to press forward a war in Afghanistan that progressives such as Merrick Alpert consider pointless and expensive. Convenient scapegoats are fast disappearing.

• Will voters remain convinced that Connecticut, bleeding from the nose with exiting young entrepreneurs, is suffering from a revenue rather than a spending problem as our crippled state stumbles into a future laden with debt?

• How can I effectively counter Tea Party Patriots whose activism appears not to have been sufficiently blunted by politicians and members of the commentariat who feel the newbie protestors are, politically, below the salt?

At the portal to the gubernatorial race, Ned Lamont appeared to sense he might have some problems with his fellow Democrats in the legislature and told radio talk show host John Dankowsky, the news director of NPR’s “Where We Live,” he was “ready to go up to Hartford and bang some heads,” Lamont immediately repented of his harsh language and sheepishly walked back the remark.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dan Malloy officially announced his candidacy in mid-March. The ex-mayor of Stamford has much to boast about concerning his administrative abilities, which are considerable, but he appears to be operating on the assumption that both the outgoing governor and the going nowhere legislature were not motivated by ideological considerations but by poor policy differences. Malloy seems prepared to treat policy as if it were ideologically neutral. To put it in blunt language: The governor and the legislature, according to this view, probably had no clue how to manage state affairs. Malloy will be insisting for the duration of his campaign that he has lots of useful clues, some of which are spelled out in his new gubernatorial campaign site.

There are some difficulties with this view. It is true that neither Rell nor her predecessor, former Governor Rowland, nor his predecessor, former Governor Lowell Weicker, were virulent ideologues. Weicker was a Jacob Javitts Republican. His twin bete noirs were the late conservative man for all seasons William Buckley and former President Ronald Reagan, both unflinching conservatives. Rowland found the ideological bedrock of his party inhibiting and frequently negotiated legislative deals with leading Democrats over the sometimes heated objections of legislative Republicans. Rell rarely failed to put a ten foot pole between herself and national conservatives in her party, and she, too, frequently surrendered ideological ground to leading legislative Democrats.

Here is the problem: Most policy decisions are ideologically rooted. It would be absurd to say that the progressive income tax, a policy that taxes people at different levels, is not ideologically rooted. The policies politicians embrace are not self generating. They spring from an ideological nursery bed; or, if the word “ideological” is too toxic, they arise from political philosophies that, here in the United States, may be roughly denoted conservative or liberal. There is no such thing as a non-ideological, free floating political policy. There are no policies that are ideologically neutral. Even among pragmatists, there are two, and perhaps more, species: conservative pragmatists and liberal pragmatists.

In Connecticut, the whole political universe tends to be more pragmatic, in the best sense of the word, rather than strictly and unabashedly ideological – which means that Connecticut voters are disposed to judge a policy by its consequences rather than its philosophical provenance.

But here’s the rub: For decades the state’s policies have been generated and implemented by legislative Democrats and too obliging Republican governors, all of whom consider themselves non-ideological pragmatists.

And here we are - another day older and deeper in debt.

A final judgment by voters of the state’s legislative and gubernatorial policies may not be long in coming.
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