Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Mann’s Malloy

Ted Mann has written for the Day of New London a multipart opus on the Malloy administration that purports to be an inside look at the “malloyalists,” Mann’s term for the Brights surrounding Connecticut’s first Democratic governor in 20 years.

The difficulty with all such accounts is that embedded journalists tend to be stage managed by the principal actors in the drama. And the malloyalists are energetic stage managers. George Bernard Shaw was no admirer of autobiographies; they were all self-serving, carefully edited to show the hero of the piece in the best light. To the extent that a putatively objective piece of political drama approaches autobiography, it will be practically useless. A biography of Napoleon written by his butler might be useful, Shaw thought. But autobiographies – not so much.

An account of the Napoleonic years written by Madam DeRemusat, Lady in Waiting to the Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s cast-off wife, is useful to historians precisely because the lady, she who could not be stage managed, was not one of Napoleon’s most ardent admirers.

“Tell the truth,” Emily Dickensian said, “but tell it slant.” Truth be told, every truth is told slant, but it matters greatly who is slanting it. Would a biography of Napoleon written by Lord Nelson be more truthful than an autobiography written by Napoleon? Better to stick with the butler.

Among American journalists, Bob Woodward of Watergate fame is perhaps best known for writing embedded accounts of various administrations.

In a recent speech at the Organization for International Investment’s annual dinner at D.C.’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Thursday, Mr. Woodward told the crowd that former Vice President Al Gore was not the best conversationalist at table.

“Now, sitting next to Gore is taxing,” he said. And milking the laughing crowd, Mr. Woodward added, “In fact, it’s unpleasant.” Then Mr. Woodward, who had been criticized in some of his writings for making up conversations – to add verisimilitude to his narratives – tossed a bit of beef to the crowd.

He had asked Mr. Gore how much the public knew about what went on in the Bill Clinton administration, to which Mr. Gore responded, “About one percent,” a response that made Mr. Woodward feel “icky,” according to a report in The Hill.

“I kind of died inside and have to confess to having an unclean thought.”

Pressing on, Mr. Woodward asked Mr. Gore how much Americans would know if the former VP had written a memoir.

“Two percent,” said Mr. Gore, causing Mr. Woodward’s icky meter to implode.

There is some reportage in Mr. Mann’s account so far that will cause some eyebrows to arch. One includes an incident involving Mr. Malloy and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. Mr. Donovan threatened to upset Mr. Malloy’s best laid budget plans by altering an understood arrangement concluded between the Malloy administration and the Democrat dominated legislature. The Malloy administration was operating on the assumption that it had a free hand to insist on further spending cuts should its deal with the unions fall apart, at which point a call came in from “Brendan Sharkey, the House majority leader, with a distressing message relayed from Chris Donovan himself.”

The House leadership, by which we are to understand Donovan, was now proposing “they tweak the language of the agreement. They want the budget bill to say that all its contents -- all those tax hikes, all the spending reductions -- are contingent on a deal with the unions,” a politically unpalatable move on the part of Mr. Donovan, who appears in Mr. Mann’s piece as a fervent pro-union politician, in opposition to Mr. Malloy, an uber-democrat who invariably has the best interests of Connecticut in mind.

In news accounts at the time, Mr. Donovan took great care to suggest that his role in the Malloy-SEBAC struggle was minimal and without consequence. Apparently, this was not true in the retelling. SEBAC is the State Employees Bargaining Agents Coalition authorized to represent unions in contractual arrangements.

Two of the malloyalists are stunned that Donovan seems incapable of understanding the political implications of the tweek. One malloyalist tells Mr. Donovan, “In my view, that is the worst-case nightmare of what it means to have Democratic government. The one thing we absolutely have to avoid, because we'll get ridden out of town on a rail, is turning over control of the budget to the state employee unions."

Mr. Donovan, now running for the U.S. House in the 5th District, very likely will be endorsed by the astonished malloyalists. They’ve had the use of him as a union foil, and in a few months the Speaker’s undemocratic attempt to thwart both the legislature and the governor will be discreetly forgotten by all except, one hopes, Mr. Malloy’s Boswell, Mr. Mann.
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