Sunday, December 26, 2010

Colin s Conversion

After the election, when it was finally safe to explore some ideas put forward by Martha Dean in her attorney's general race against Democrat George Jepsen, Courant columnist and NPR radio host Colin McEnroe invited Mrs. Dean on his show to bury the hatchet. Mr. McEnroe had indicated during the campaign that Mrs. Dean ideas were somewhat off the beaten track. He may have picked up this patter from some of his comrades at the paper. What left of center commentators consider outrageous – insulting even -- others who do not share their ideas and prejudices may regard as unconventional, the conventional wisdom among political writers in the Connecticut being liberal to progressive.

None of the issues discussed by Mrs., Dean and Mr. McEnroe during his recent program were new in any sense. At the outset of her campaign, Mrs. Dean did not choose to hide her light under a bushel basket. Her first political statement, made upon entering the race, was fairly comprehensive. No sooner did commentators hear the title of Mrs. Dean’s first utterance, which was titled “Faith, Freedom and Fortune,” than they were in full cry and on the attack.

Rick Green, another left of center columnist at the Courant, began to mutter darkly about Mrs. Dean’s “cyborg blue eyes.” Others thought it necessary to mention Mrs. Dean's divorce. And when Mrs. Dean mentioned nullification in a historical context, it was roundly hinted by some commentators that nullification might lead --  gasp! -- to a new civil war. In pre civil war New England, the fires of nullification began to smolder over the Fugitive Slave Act. For all practical purposes, the New England states practiced nullification when southern slave owners began to appear in Boston to retrieve slaves that had escaped through the underground railroad. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a federal law supported by Supreme Court decisions, required people in New England to assist in the apprehension of slaves. Henry David Thoreau said his "no" very impolitely in an impassioned piece called “Slavery in Massachusetts,” and Thoreau's version of civil disobedience is simply a polite form of personal nullification. Had Mrs. Dean asked any of her critics whether they might have resisted the Fugitive Slave Act had they been writing at the time, it is a good guess that every one of them would have placed themselves on the side of the anti-slavery angels.

Among Connecticut’s left of center press “Fortune” is regarded as something that ought to be appropriated from what we are now pleased to call “millionaires” – anyone making more than $250,000 a year – whose earnings should be distributed to the needy, the engine of distribution being Connecticut’s relatively new progressive income tax; faith is little more than an indicator that those who have it will be perfectly willing to hop over the First Amendment’s establishment clause and force Buddhists to join the church of Rome; and Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose.

The meeting between Mr. McEnroe and Mrs. Dean was a peace council, following which Mr. McEnroe offered what appears to be on the face of it a sincere mini-apology hedged about by qualifying reservations:

“I sought a full length interview with Dean because she had recently objected to words on this blog, had called me a jerk, had offered to pray for me.

The full audio of it is here. Just click the play button.

“And it occurred to me, that I didn't know her at all, that I'd covered her two campaigns for attorney general without getting past her easily caricatured persona as a far-right, gun-loving, sharp-elbowed theocrat.”

Given Mr. McEnroe’s left leaning sympathies, he swallowed hard on two occasions:

“The first was when she said that she and George Jepsen had fun as rivals, more so than did other candidates in the 2010 race. It didn't really seem to me that they were having fun. The second was when she brushed off my suggestion that she continued her challenge of Jepsen's eligibility past the election.”

The two public debates between Mrs. Dean and Mr. Jepsen were both enlightening and fun for those attending them; the audiences were rewarded with a stunning display of campaign oratory. Mr. McEnroe easily could have asked any of the lawyers or non-lawyers in attgendance how they rated these confrontations with respect to other more brutish battles among other candidates. Had McEnroe attended the debates with an opened mind or questioned those who did, the recent convert would have discovered that there was no bad blood between Mrs. Dean and Mr. Jepsen, and his fears, at least on this score, would have been laid to rest.

It is true that Mrs. Dean, following a lengthy court finding that Secretary of State Susan Byseiwitz had not the requisite background to qualify as a candidate for attorney general, did challenge Mr. Jensen’s qualifications for the same office. Immediately, it was assumed by commentators hostile to Mrs. Dean’s bid that her court action was, in some sense, invidious. No, Mrs. Dean explained patiently at the time, her action was necessary in view of the court’s earlier decision. Actions brought in court are invidious only when they are unnecessary, and her action was necessary because it would allow the court to decide important issues the court had not covered in its earlier Bysiewicz decision. Indeed, the earlier decision invited a clarification from the court on what constituted acceptable qualifications for the office of attorney general, and a decision on her suit would have removed from Mr. Jenson’s tenure as attorney general any suspicion of doubt concerning his qualifications. All this was “out there,” as commentators sometimes say, much before Mr. McEnroe and the anti-Dean mob suggested that Mrs. Dean was, through an imagined animus, unnecessarily making a pest of herself.

When Mrs. Dean withdrew her suit and offered a handsome concession to Mr. Jepsen, Mr. McEnroe guffawed loudly in his column; Mrs. Dean replied that the notion her concession was insincere was itself insincere, and she called Mr. McEnroe a jerk, allowing that she would pray he amend his ways. Mr. McEnroe said he thought any spiritual renovation had come too late for him, and he extended a cordial invitation to Mrs. Dean so they might clear up some points and bury the hatchet, preferably not in each other’s backs.

Mr. McEnroe’s peace mission was a success. If the usual prejudices of Connecticut’s left of center media had earlier given way rational analysis, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Mrs. Dean -- who spent no tax money on her campaign, did little advertising and yet gave much more richly endowed preferred candidate of the state’s left of center media a pretty good run for his money -- might have had a somewhat better chance at attaining office. But it was not to be. The endorsements of major newspapers in the state still deliver votes to favored candidates.  Connecticut’s media helped to elect the candidates, nearly all Democrats, they wanted in office pretty much across the board.

During his program, Mr. McEnroe questioned Mrs. Dean on her religious affiliation without acknowledging at the time that he used to be the religion writer at the Courant some years ago. And of course his own religious preferences, or lack of them, were kept very much under the rug. But Mr. McEnroe did produce an admission that Mrs. Dean had been received into the Catholic Church. Mrs. Dean's enemies will take note of it.
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