Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weicker And The Destruction Of The Republican Party


Lowell Weicker’s unvarying message to his long discarded Republican Party, iterated and reiterated countless times during his 21 year congressional stint, is always, wearily, the same: Republicans in Connecticut could win office if they were JUST LIKE ME.

The 81 year-old Weicker, still the darling of the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s only state-wide newspaper, surfaced briefly in June 2011 at an event called “Conversations at Connecticut's Old State House."  His appearance was covered by the paper in a story titled “Former Governor Endorses Obama, Same-Sex Marriage, Income Tax Hike, Ending Super PACs.”

It is safe to conclude that Republicans in Connecticut would not have been surprised by either the title or Mr. Weicker’s views reflected in the story, however much Republican Party dissents from the former Republican U.S. Senator.

Mr. Weicker’s state party has over the years grown used to being shamefully used as a political foil. When then Republican Senator Weicker described himself approvingly as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl,” few Republicans in his state were astonished by either the abusive sentiment or the scatological reference. Following the rapid and irreversible expansion of Weicker’s self-inflated ego, always easily pumped up, the senator’s relationship with his party quickly deteriorated. Eventually, the two parted ways when then Attorney General Joe Lieberman challenged Mr. Weicker and absconded with his seat, assisted by a Republican Party that manifestly did not wish to be Weicker.

The parting between the turd and the punchbowl was not, as lawyers sometimes say in messy divorces, amicable.

When Mr. Weicker became governor of Connecticut, he ran as an Independent. When the independent, maverick governor imposed an income tax on his state over the hearty objections of most Republicans, he likely felt a stab of joy carousing near his spine: The greatest joy a man can have, Genghis Khan used to say, is to dance on the chest of his enemy.

The very nearly impassible bridge between Mr. Weicker and his cast-off party has not prevented him from offering Republicans in Connecticut advice and council, most of it converging on the golden perception that if Republicans were more like him, they would win more elections.

Here is what Mr. Weicker said at the Old State House:

President Barack Obama “inherited” rather than caused the problems that confronted him when he entered office, a non sequitur as large and imposing as Gibraltar, or Mr. Weicker’s estimation of himself.

Should Mr. Weicker have a real “conversation” with his audience, someone eventually might ask the former governor and senator to point to one president who did NOT inherit the problems of his predecessor, George Washington, not preceded in office by a president, being the single exception that that proves the rule.

In truth, there are presidents who “own” problems left on their doorstep by their predecessors, and there are those who shuck off their own presidential responsibilities by pointing to the errors of others. Mr. Weicker did not speculate to which category Obama might belong.

Instead, he tossed at his rapt audience a rhetorical question, here defined as a self-serving probe meant to illustrate the brilliance of the questioner and the stupidity of the person questioned, whose answer the questioner loftily presumes is unnecessary. Acknowledging that the predecessor gambit is no excuse for failing to apply corrective action, Mr. Weicker asked: “… but how in God’s name do you move forward under these circumstances, if the Republican leadership just keeps saying no?”

Monologists frequently ask themselves questions they leave dangling.

Political watchers will notice that the hackneyed political expression “move forward” is in political discourse little more than a naked rhetorical appeal to the “forward looking” impetus of most red-blooded Americans. But it’s a directional expression that begs the question: Move forward where?

Suppose you resolve to take a bus from Hartford to Springfield. You get on a bus in Hartford marked “Springfield.”  After a few miles, it becomes startlingly obvious that you are traveling toward New Haven. At this point, when you know further forward direction will take you farther from your appointed destination, what would Weicker consider the proper response to a call to “move forward?” Considering the anticipated point of arrival – Springfield, as announced by the arrival sign on the bus -- would it not be more fruitful, for the sake of all the passengers on board, to resist calls to “move forward” by saying “NO” and advise the bus driver that he must turn around and travel in the opposite direction?

Republicans ought to be different than Democrats: As the French say, “Vive la difference!” Weicker’s notion of a winning Republican Party is one that differs from the Democratic Party only in unimportant details. Mr. Weicker supports Obama; Republicans don’t.  The father of Connecticut’s income tax is quite willing cheerfully to support the Malloy tax increase, the largest in state history. Why, indeed, would the author of the second largest tax increase in state history, Mr. Weicker, harpoon the author of the largest tax increase in state history, Mr. Malloy, when both are fraternal brothers in the Order of Reckless Spenders? Republicans are queasy about this sort of thing because they perceive a demonstrable and direct connection between high taxes and increased spending. On some social issues, Mr. Weicker hugs the far left periphery. Republicans more conservative than Mr. Weicker worry that forward motion on some social issues – unregulated abortion, gay marriage, impositions made by the federal government on religious enterprises that traditionally have been afforded a wide door of liberty, and the like – might entail unfortunate unintended consequences.

But, says Weicker, Connecticut is blue, like me. If Republicans want to win office, they’ll have to paint themselves blue, like me. Perhaps it’s time to start a new party, and appoint Tom D’Amore chairman of it. And so it goes with Mr. Weicker, perhaps the most successful camouflage artist in the last half century. The self-justification, the shameless puffery, the fatal advice to Republicans, will end with the man’s last dying curse of his party. In the meanwhile, the GOP in Connecticut, grander now that it has cast off its incubus, really would like to move forward – preferably to Springfield, not New Haven.
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