Monday, July 23, 2012

The Progressive Byseimurphy


It’s getting very WWE out there among progressives.

The long anticipated tousle over ads has begun.

U.S. Representative Chris Murphy so far has produced a downy soft introductory ad showing Mr. Murphy pushing a shopping cart through a grocery store, accompanied by his wife and children. Along the way, he meets various actors posing as potential voters who toss his way the kind of easily answered soft ball questions and remarks his likely GOP opponent, Republican Party nominee for the U.S. Senate Linda McMahon, should not expect whenever she gets around to visiting editorial boards across the state.

The first “shopper” to accost Murphy, his delightful wife Cathy and their two children detests the partisan bickering that has become a common feature in congress during the age of Obama. Could Mr. Murphy, after his election to the U.S. Senate, please do something about that?

Here one expects Mr. Murphy to remove his arch progressive Rough Rider’s hat, don his rakish ah-shucks-can’t-we-all-get-along plebeian cap, and tell the concerned citizen that he sure can; perhaps let drop that he is a leader of the Center Aisle Caucus, a bipartisan group, according to a Hartford paper, “that attempts to reach solutions on difficult problems.”

The Center Aisle Caucus is a Potemkin Village “caucus,” not at all the real deal. In other discussions with Connecticut’s media, Mr. Murphy has acknowledged that the group meets for lunch occasionally at the Hunan Dynasty restaurant on Capitol Hill to foster an environment of civility inCongress. If the caucus has solved any congressional problems, the solutions are nowhere apparent, and Mr. Murphy is too progressive to breach the bipartisan cleavage.

None of the shoppers pause to extract responses from Mr. Murphy, whose bright eyes drip with honeyed empathy.


The “shoppers” expressed their dismay and offered Mr. Murphy compliments on a variety of issues: bringing jobs back to America; fighting for women’s rights; working on “buy America.” Mr. Murphy projects understanding, and the “shoppers” move on with their shopping. In the future, their food will cost more, because inflation will reduce the purchasing power of their money; their taxes will rise; and their government, averse to cutting spending, will cost more.

Mr. Murphy’s Democratic primary opponent is former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, whose first ad is also introductory, non-offensive and somewhat saccharine. This ad passed media scrutiny without much comment. Her second more aggressive ad was marred by a misrepresentation. Lawyers representing “Friends of Chris Murphy” have sent a letter to stations carrying the ad cautioning that “Failure to prevent the airing of ‘false and misleading advertising’ may be ‘probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility’ that can be cause for the loss of a station’s license” and threatening a suit should the stations continue running the ad.

The tocsin Mrs. Bysiewicz has sounded since the beginning of her primary campaign is that she is the more progressive Democratic candidate. Mr. Murphy is a faux progressive, according to the central thrust of the Bysiewicz campaign, because his campaign has been towed along by the very Wall Street financers he pretends to regulate.  It is clear that the choir to which both Democratic primary opponents now preach pretty much the same sermon is progressives. Democrats may now say that within the party of Jefferson, Jackson and Bailey, they are all progressives now. 

No one has yet remarked that we are fast approaching the hundredth anniversary of the most significant campaign of the 20th century, the 1912 presidential campaign that let the progressive dogs out. Historic progressivism had its roots in the prairie populism of Robert La Follette and William Jennings Bryan, the great commoner who sought to rescue farmers across the fruited plains from the sharpies on Wall Street that had nailed agrarians to a cross of gold. The populist anti-trust banner later was taken up by Teddy Roosevelt who in 1912 ran on an independent Progressive ticket against his own handpicked president, William Howard Taft. It is a long and tangled tale. But it was during this period that progressivism stepped from behind the curtain to change the very nature of reform politics.

Modern progressives, of course, are different than their progenitors; 2012 is not 1912. But one of the characteristic notes of 1912 progressivism – its unremitting hostility to manipulative trusts that were, even then, too big to fail – remains a temperamental disposition. Also constant is the notion that money increases in social value when it is extracted from the private marketplace and redistributed by an omni-competent government. These notes Mrs. Bysiewicz has strummed continually on her single stringed dulcimer. She lacks a cross of gold – the United States has long since moved away from the gold standard, owing in part to the exertions of early 20th century progressives – but the Anti-Wall Street beat goes on.

Here and there one finds in the Murphy political oeuvre a head-fake towards moderation. But pressed to the wall by a reporter early in July, Mr. Murphy coughed up his moderate hairball: “Asked at a New Haven Register editorial board meeting Monday how he’d label himself, Murphy said, ‘progressive.’”

The bald truth is that both Mrs. Bysiewicz and Mr. Murphy are committed progressives.

Let the shopper beware.

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