Thursday, September 16, 2010

Larson, Do You Know Where Your Congressman Is?

U.S. Rep. John Larson, firmly entrenched for 12 years in a U.S. congressional seat held previously for 16 years by Barbara Kennelly, the daughter of Connecticut’s last Democratic Party boss John Bailey, is what used to be called way back in the Middle Ages “a hale fellow well met,” a gregarious, back slapping, sociable politician who likely will remember your name the second time he meets you at the Manchester Peach Festival.

The old U.S. congress of the Dodds, father and son, used to be full of such convivial good-old-boys. Sen. Chris Dodd, in a recent exit interview with MSNBC, sadly mourned the passing of such amiable deal brokers, reminding young up-and-comers that the U.S. Senate is, after all, a political brokerage house where, in order to get things done, one must get along with opposition party members, giving a little here, taking a little there, in order to push the sausage through the legislative grinder.

Larson is heir to this tradition. He also is something of a partisan pit bull, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Dodd believes a senator can compromise without compromising himself but acknowledges that fruitful compromise is less likely in the more raucous House.

Only a few months ago, Dodd, Larson and their confreres in the congress spurned the sort of compromise Dodd praised during his exit interview, passing two complex and expensive bills, largely unread, heartily opposed for reasons of principle by the loyal opposition. The Democrats in the congress were able to pass a massive health care bill and an equally massive economic regulations bill because they had the votes, Dodd and Larson leading the charge in the Senate and House, and a righteous wind named President Barrack Obama at their back. Heedless of the warning “be careful what you wish for,” Democrats got what they wished for, and they shall have to live with the consequence of these bills – together, an absurd effort to make the world over – throughout the coming election campaign.

Larson has been loud in his approval of the Democrats’ uncompromising legislative sausage links, but polls taken several weeks before the election have marred the brows of some Democrats with worry lines. President Obama’s poll ratings are but a shadow of what they were when he was perceived in his campaign for the presidency as tolerably moderate. Recent polls show a precipitous decline in his popularity, and some commentators, a bit slow on the uptake, now are beginning to entertain the thought that his precipitous decline may have something or other to do with those expensive entrepreneurial killing bills, the fervent partisanship of Democrats, and the Democratic controlled congress, so un-Dodd like in its indisposition to forge cross-party coalitions. The righteous wind, it would seem, has had some wind kicked out of it.

Disputes about the economy this election season likely will center upon the flow of money between states and the federal government, a dispute as old as the republic itself. Some conservatives, unable to shed the view of virtually all the founders, still cling to antique notions expressed most persuasively by Bill Buckley, who thought that “stimulus” funds, tax dollars used to boost the economy, are best kept in the hands of productive entrepreneurs, who are perfectly able to stimulate business activity without – thank you very much – yielding abjectly to the demands made upon them by ear-markers in Washington such as the late Rep. John Murtha, a pustule of corruption famous for shuttling tax dollars to his political patrons.

It was pointless, Buckley insisted, for taxpayers in Connecticut to send to Washington a tax dollar while receiving back from the horn of plenty sixty nine cents on the dollar. The sixty nine cents meant that Connecticut was 31 cents and more behind some other states in the begging queue. Federal spending in Pennsylvania, Murtha’s old hang out, is $1.07 on the dollar; Maine $1.49. Catch-up, under these circumstances, is a futile exercise. How much money in stimulus funds or ear-marks must Connecticut beg from Washington to level this pitched playing field?

In her  bones, Ann Brickley, Larson's Republican opponant, is a Bucklyite.

Murtha, once cited as a co-conspirator in the infamous ABSCAM sting, was a political shakedown artist of great accomplishment, but those, like Larson in Connecticut, who seek to emulate his artistry, have sent themselves an impossible task. It’s not that Larson is not an artful beggar. But the huge gap between the dollar sent to Washington and the pittance received by Connecticut from Washington is, relatively speaking, too wide to bridge.

However, there’s no harm in asking. When tax rich Obama, showed up in Stamford on the 16th, there were hosts of Democrats in attendance, begging bowls in hand, crying out, like some poor wretched Oliver Twist, “Please sir, I want some more.”

Republicans steered clear, as did Rep. Jim Hines, who is trying to put some ideological distance between himself and the once popular president. And Connecticut’s congressional delegation was missing, one supposes, with leave. No where to be seen in public with Obama was Larson, ever the hale fellow well met, the protégé of Murtha, convinced that a little moral uplift, backslapping and a gerrymandered district will preserve his status in this the season of our discontent.

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