Saturday, May 07, 2011

Connecticut’s Bluer than Blue Media: An Inquest

Robert Thorson is a professor of geology at the University of Connecticut's Liberal Arts and Sciences and a member of The Hartford Courant's Place Board of Contributors. His columns appear frequently on the paper’s op-ed pages.

The Liberal Arts at UConn are, as elsewhere in academia, very liberal.

Mr. Thorson is certain he knows how the rest of us will know when gas prices are “high enough.”

The attentive reader will notice that Mr. Thorson did not write “too high” but used the formulation “high enough.” That is because Mr. Thorson ardently believes that gas prices in Connecticut, now cresting above $4 and heading towards $5, are not as high as they should be.

The price of gas will be high enough, Mr. Thorson advised in a column published on May 5, 2011, when:
“… drive-through lanes at fast-food restaurants and doughnut shops would not be lined with mostly oversized vehicles carrying mostly oversized people toward food energy.

“…the carpool lanes on local interstates would not be nearly empty when the other lanes are at or beyond capacity with solo drivers.

“…the school buses in the suburbs and countryside would not be running so much below capacity, with parents following the same route a few minutes later in their cars.

“… the amount of energy burned for sports entertainment would not be so extravagant at all levels.

“… the boondoggle of business travel to resort destinations such as Hawaii and Las Vegas would end because the cost of getting there would be too high."
Mr. Thorson wants us to know that choices he rejects do not arouse his opposition because they are personal. Like most other red blooded Americans, Mr. Thorson favors personal choices. He is opposed to “government policies that create the energy economy within which we make our individual choices, an economy that still encourages nearly bottomless demand for fossil fuels.”

If governmental policies were different, personal choices would be different. The personal choices we make are framed by government policies that have aroused Mr. Thorton’s ardent opposition. Mr. Thorton favors a frame change that would radically reshape our free choices. Mr. Thorton describes with approval the changes that would occur inside the frame if both national and state government were to pursue different policies:

“America would not burn in a single morning the entire volume of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon disaster a year ago.

“…more than a dribble of federal dollars would be spent for research and development on new energy technologies.

“…private oil companies would not be getting million-dollar subsidies from the federal government during years of record high profits.

“… you would not have to travel major interstates with an endless series of tractor-trailers carrying goods alongside rusting railroad tracks that parallel abandoned canals.

“…Mass transit would be the default choice for most sectors of society; the income disparities regarding the price of fuel for private transportation would be ironed out.”
And, most importantly, the wounds suffered by Mother Earth would finally be healed in Mr. Thorton’s vision of a new society brought about by the policy changes he recommends: “… the income disparities regarding the price of fuel for private transportation would be ironed out; planet Earth would not be experiencing many of its present environmental problems; and the looming prospect of climate change would be less ominous.”

In closing, Mr. Thornton invites those of his readers who cannot appreciate the true value of high gas prices to “Go ahead. Get angry with me. It won't change the price at the pump.”

Without disputing the points make by Mr. Thornton in his march towards an ecological utopia, some of which have been hotly contested elsewhere, it is safe to say that Mr. Thornton is a bluer shade of blue than most political “moderates” in Connecticut are used to. Using a word much misused by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, some moderates might consider Mr. Thornton's policy prescriptions a tad extreme.

The principle pillar of Mr. Thornton’s column is that the tax structure should be used by government as a punitive devise to discourage the production and use of fossil fuel.

The regressive gas tax in Connecticut is nearly the highest in the nation. Gas prices at the pump could be reduced, and the economic pain felt especially by those in the state who are not well off would be considerably relieved. But Mr. Thornton’s Manichean view of the world – oil bad; clean forms of energy, with the exception of nuclear power, good – will not allow him to stake out a moderate position. The car is his enemy, public transportation his friend. And Mr. Thornton is unmoved that the friends of his enemy need gas reliant cars to get to work in the morning or occasionally may want to visit, if they are not too pressed by punitive, ecologically friendly taxes, a McDonald’s pit stop. Mr. Thornton does not give a hoot that those who work at McDonald’s, for the most part lower income people with their foot on the first rung of the latter of success, may be put out of a job should the state of Connecticut raise gas taxes to an level he considers high enough to effect his utopian vision of a world in which highways carry mostly buses, HOV lanes are full and oil resources -- which have not been sucked dry, particularly here in the United States -- remain untapped.

Mr. Thornton implausibly argues in his op-ed piece that a) he is in favor of personal choice, but b) any available choice should be crafted by a solicitous government in such as way as to eliminate the range of choices available to the persons who choose. If my personal choice runs to, say, dark chocolate cake for dessert, and Mr. Thornton, hand in glove with government bureaucrats, arranges to impose a tax on chocolate that severely restricts the availability of my chosen desert by increasing its cost so that it becomes in effect unaffordable for anyone but so called “millionaires,” in what sense may it be said that Mr. Thornton favors my personal freedom of choice?

Rick Green Advises Republicans To Become More Blue

In a piece written on May 5 by Courant commentator Rick Green, proprietor of a Courant blog called “CTConfidential: What’s really Happening," Mr. Green asserts that the Connecticut Republican Party would be suicidal to follow the lead of conservatives elsewhere in the nation who delivered the U.S. House of Representatives and several state houses to the GOP.

A move to the right in Connecticut would, Mr. Green warns, drive the Republican Party right off a cliff:
“There's little evidence that Connecticut's vast middle of moderate-thinking unaffiliated voters are ready to embrace the sort of anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, Planned Parenthood-bashing message that plays well in Texas.

“But that's the modus operandi of a new group founded by Jack Fowler, publisher of the conservative National Review. Fowler, who lives in Milford, sees great hope in the General Assembly victories last fall of fiscal and social conservatives Joe Markley and Len Suzio.”

Mr. Green’s chief objection to Mr. Fowler and Tom Scott is that both, recent founders of The Roger Sherman Liberty Center, seem to be unwilling to toss social conservatives “right off a cliff.” Conservative advocates, Mr. Scott and Mr. Fowler persist in foolishly supporting such disturbers of the peace as Peter Wolfgang, the Executive Director of The Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC)), who does not consider abortion, gay marriage and transgender rights to be normative, desirable or politically useful for moderate Republicans.

Connecticut’s very blue legislature recently has passed or is considering the passage of bills that would abolish the state’s death penalty, fold transgenders into legislation that prohibits discrimination against disabled Connecticut citizens, and grants to gays marriage rights pressed upon the General Assembly by a Supreme Court that decided the issue in a case in which then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal pointedly did not choose to defend the state against the judicial imposition by stressing a connection between normative male-female marriage and child birth.

Mr. Green, who changed his party affiliation some time ago from Independent to Republican,” considers these and other matters to be “social issues” and, freshly arrived as a Republican Party journalistic consultant, he councils the state GOP to avoid such divisive issues if the party wishes to elect Republicans to office. Once in the long ago, moderate Republican giants strode Connecticut’s earth. Mr. Green calls the roll: Nancy Johnson, Chris Shays and Rob Simmons, all former U.S. House Representatives. He fails to mention Lowell Weicker, for many years a “moderate” though somewhat abrasive Republican.

Now, if in the interest of fair commentary the Courant were to open its pages to conservatives -- perhaps even courageously venturing to hire a few in order balance the consistent leftward tilt of its editorial pages -- those commentators might wish to dispute several of Mr. Green’s assertions and assumption, even at the risk of falling off a cliff.

The conservative point of view would not fail to note that all the Republican “moderates” mentioned by Mr. Green have been turned out of office, sadly having been replaced by Democrats who are considerably less moderate.

Moderation in Connecticut, like love, is largely in the eye of the beholder. The Courant’s ambition is to make sure that the preponderance of the beholders who write within its pages are, like Mr. Green, reliable liberals. Mr. Green can mention only two conservative politicians in the General Assembly, both of whom are recent arrivals, which suggest that conservative politics in Connecticut, far from being tried and found wanting, has not been tried at all.

Mr. Shays, in fact, was the very last Republican “moderate” – though some considered him a liberal on what Mr. Green perceives to be social issues – in all of New England. The species “moderate New England Republican” is, to put it in ecological jargon, now as extinct as the wooly mammoth.

Never-the-less, Mr. Green wishes to breathe some life into these dead dry bones, but Mr. Fowler, Mr. Scott and the sort of people with whom Mr. Green would never choose to break liberal bread are standing Mr. Green’s way and must be bowled over, if only rhetorically.

The sharp division of the political sphere into social conservatives and economic conservatives, while it may be convenient for liberal rhetoricians, is highly misleading, because in the real world, outside the fevered imaginations of utopians who wish to make it over, the two spheres leech into each other, even in that part of it in which liberals like Mr. Green attack social conservatives with rhetorical weapons forged in the smithy of social liberalism. Abortion on demand and what is now being called in Connecticut transgender rights, both urged by liberals, surely falls within the precincts of the so called social doctrine Mr. Green finds repugnant. In what sense is the struggle to make abortion more available not both a social and an economic issue?

Relatively speaking, abortion is the new kid on the block. Some of the oldest prohibitions affecting abortion were promulgated by the early Christian church in response to the widespread use of abortion in the Roman period. In that time, the paterfamilias, the Roman father of the family, enjoyed – if that is the word for it – life and death powers over children, born and unborn. Unwanted children, often females, were either aborted or exposed until they died. A similar situation may be observed today in China where the state, which regulates birth, determines precisely how many children will be born into each family.

Now, we can all agree to disagree on the utility and humaneness of abortion; some very late term abortions were repugnant enough to cause Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a respectable liberal, to characterize partial birth abortion as a form of infanticide of a kind once practiced by the Roman paterfamilias. But the question of abortion’s relatively recent arrival on the scene is not arguable. Laws prohibiting abortion are older by several centuries than the changes in the law – here in the United States mostly by judicial fiat – that allowed abortion, from which we may conclude that abortion, now legally permitted pretty much every stage of pregnancy, is the new normal. If Connecticut’s Democratic dominated General Assembly is successful in clothing transgenders with the same statutory protections it affords to, say, the blind, in time these statutory affirmations will become the new normal.

Mr. Green is free to marshal his arguments in favor of abortion at every stage of pregnancy or transgender rights or the abolition of the death penalty or any other issue he chooses to champion in his columns and blogs. We are still a free country, sort of. But when Mr. Green says that conservatives who uphold the traditional view of the family against those who would change it have ruptured tradition, he should be vigorously challenged on the point. Opposition to abortion certainly is less extreme than partial birth abortion if for no other reason than that it does not involve the destruction of life.

Mr. Fowler is the publisher of National Review, the magazine founded by Bill Buckley, who was a conservative and a close friend of Mr. Moynihan. It is true the magazine is not unattached to economic or political theory: Bill Buckley described himself as being somewhat addicted to ordered thought. But political philosophy alone does not an extremist make.

Both Mr. Fowler and Mr. Scott are comfortable with traditional views of marriage, religious precepts and the economic ideas of Ludwig Von Mises and Fredrick Hayek, the author, among other books, of “The Constitution of Liberty.” Mr. Hayek, Mr. Von Mises, Mr. Scott, Mr. Fowler, Mr. Wolfgang – whom Mr. Green attempted unsuccessfully to “friend” on Facebook – would all of them resist the notion that social conservativism and its opposite, social liberalism, do not impinge on economic matters.

One hopes Mr. Green would agree on the point.

Abortion, which Mr. Green considers a social issue, was instituted in China principally for economic reasons: Fewer people, if they are productive, allow higher salaries and a more manageable population. Once a government is able to manage what one might call the social DNA of a society, it will be able to bend and twist the economic fabric to its liking. Under a totalitarian socialist dispensation, less is more. Constitutions are unknown in China, and organized faiths are ruthlessly abolished. The assault on women in China through abortion, rarely noticed here in the United States, is an essential part of China’s new fascism. Birth rates have a direct and profound impact on the economy. In some sense, nearly every social issue is an economic issue as well, and the reverse is also true: The social thigh bone is connected to the economic hip bone. Conservatives are those who perceive connections that liberals, for tendentious political reasons, prefer to ignore.

Virtually all the nations in Europe that gave birth to Western civilization are now incapable of sustaining their populations because birth rates in Britain, France, Italy – that’s where the Vatican is – Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands have dipped below the replacement figure necessary to sustain population growth. The United States shortly will join the group. Is the disappearance of Western civilization through birth attrition a social problem or an economic problem? Is it reasonable to suppose that people who wish pass on their culture to a future generation should not concern themselves with low birth rates or the deteriorating financial and social condition of the traditional family unit – mom, dad and two and a half kids?

In a commentary published in the Chicago Tribune, not a conservative media outlet, an author of indeterminate ideology, managed to smuggle into his piece the following statistic: “According to the Census Bureau, the rate of abortions in 2006 among black women was 50 per 1,000, compared with 14 for white women and 22 for "other" women.”

Surely Mr. Green will agree that this is an astonishing figure. It is not a conservative figure, it is not a liberal figure, it is merely a true figure.

In days gone by, a robust African American demagogue -- I use the word here in its positive sense -- such as Malcolm X might easily have deployed that figure to show that abortion has become one of the most successful instruments in the tool box of new white racists. But this is not a whisper one is likely to hear from the progeny of those brave few who marched on Selma with Martin Luther King to kill Jim Crow. Jesse Jackson, the liberal preacher politician, used to warn African Americans that abortion has its dark side, but he has since reformed. Mr. Jackson is more placid now, more manageable. Faced with figures of this kind, the silence of the leftist lambs is simply shattering.

In poor inner cities, the traditional family structure has all but disappeared. Is poverty among African Americans in inner cities related in any way to the kind of social structure one is more likely to find among wealthy brats in Hollywood or supremely wealthy but stressed commodities traders in blue chip Connecticut: out of wedlock children, multiple marriages and multiple divorces, a high incidence of drug use, narcissistic fixations. African American fathers in poor inner cities have all but disappeared which, come to think of it, is one of the reasons why the inner cities are poor, flooded with gangs and lawless young men. Is this a social phenomena or an economic one?

When Mr. Wolfgang defends the sanctity of marriage in the same tones that Sam Adams once defended the sanctity of natural rights, is he making a religious point, an economic point or a sociological point?

When Martha Dean, whom Mr. Green in an uncharitable lapse of judgment compared to a cyborg, says that the state and federal strictures embodied in constitutions really should CONSTRICT the authoritarian hand of those who govern us, is she making a sociological point, a constitutional point, a religious point or an economic point? Dean, whose manners are exquisite but whose crap tolerance level is refreshingly low, would say -- and indeed she has said it in nearly all her pronouncements -- that the human being is indivisible; that religious rights, constitutional rights and human rights all hang together in the sanctity of personhood.

Among some people on the left the indivisibility of the person is a doctrine that must fall on deaf ears: The doctrine is incompatible with a rigid statism. Leftists know that if they can persuade others, as they have persuaded themselves, that this doctrine is the special preserve of a despicable interest group, they can more easily dispense with it and get along with producing a brave new world from the rubble they have made of an old world in which first things – the family, organized religion, constitutional rights and the sanctity of the individual – have been relegated to the dust bin of history.
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