Monday, September 24, 2012

Weicker Faces the State

Like most professional politicians, former U.S. Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker tends to filibuster journalist’s questions.  And, solipsistic by nature, Weicker has a way of relating all questions to his own personal experience.

Dennis House of WFSB’s Face the State opened his interview with Mr. Weicker -- "the only man alive to serve as both governor and senator of our great state” – by asking what he thought of the U. S. Senate race so far.

Mr. Weicker had recently endorsed Democrat U.S. Representative Chris Murphy over Republican challenger Linda McMahon. Mr. Weicker and Mrs. McMahon have a shared past together. Mr. Weicker served on the board of WWE, pulling in, according to one press report $150,000 per year for his no doubt invaluable services. Mr. Weicker was forced off the board, after which his change in salary led to a corresponding change of heart. In his introduction, Mr. House referred to Mrs. McMahon correctly as Mr. Weicker’s “former colleague.”

Mr. Weicker began his answer by noting that the title “U.S Senator” was the “highest honor the state can bestow upon anybody, even higher than governor; protocol, senator’s higher than governor.” Then he offered the following either-or: “Do we bestow that on some one that’s given public service or is the seat for sale?”

This is what even amateur logicians might call a false alternative. Just to begin with, political offices in the United States are not “bestowed” though, considering the turnover of incumbents in the U.S. Senate – slim to none – Mr. Weicker may have some reason to think that U.S. Senate offices are awarded for life by a grateful deity. As a matter of fact and record, U.S. Senators seem to be appointed for life because they deploy overwhelming advantages over challengers, perpetuation in office being one of the rewards of incumbency.

When on rare occasions an incumbent is ousted by a challenger whose past record in office is slight, it may not be proper to conclude that the challenger has “bought the office,” even when the challenger is more wealthy than the incumbent – as was the case when Ned Lamont, at the urging of Mr. Weicker, challenged then Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman. Mr. Lieberman, whose personal fortune does not measure up to that of Mr. Weicker or Mr. Lamont, was the poor cousin in the Lamont-Lieberman primary. An outsider, Mr. Lamont challenged a senator whose years of experience in the Congress matched that of Mr. Weicker.

Far from chiding Mr. Lamont for his presumption in challenging a senator upon whom the citizens of Connecticut had “bestowed” the honor of congressional service, it was Mr. Weicker who had pressed Mr. Lamont to engage Mr. Lieberman in a Democratic primary. Mr. Weicker’s major domo, Tom D’Amore, once Chairman of Connecticut’s Republican Party, fond no difficulty in crossing the Republican bar to direct part of Mr. Lamont’s campaign.  Mr. Lamont – like Mr. Weicker a Greenwich millionaire – defeated Mr. Lieberman in the primary but lost to the more experience incumbent senator in the general election campaign, a result not wildly applauded by Mr. Weicker who, on this occasion, preferred the less qualified candidate.

Here is Mr. Weicker on negative campaign advertising: “I’m against the negative. I just am. And I realize that they’re effective. Don’t forget, I was the first guy that went down because of them.”

Nope, not the first.  Mr. Weicker’s “I” sticks in the public eye like a sharp pencil.

In the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson race, the very first contested presidential election, Jefferson’s Republican-Democrat Party heartily attacked President George Washington’s Vice President as having “a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Adams also was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant infested with aristocratic ambitions. None of these plaudits pleased Mrs. Adams, who also came under rhetorical hatchets.

Mr. Jefferson hired a hatchet man, James Callendar, a political writer and newspaper editor, to scuff up Mr. Adams’ reputation. Mr. Callendar convinced many Americans that Adams, if appointed president by the U.S. House, would attack France, a fictitious charge. He also “broke” a story concerning an affair between Alexander Hamilton and Maria Reynolds, a married woman. Upon his release from jail for having slandered Mr. Adams, Mr. Callendar sought to extract favors from President Jefferson and, unappeased by a president who previously had given Mr. Callendar money and secured a job for him, broke a story in 1802, only a rumor till then, that Mr. Jefferson's slave in France, Sally Hemings, had given birth to five of Mr. Jefferson’s children.

Negative ads showing Mr. Weicker as a cartoon bear hibernating in a cave during his campaign for the U.S. Senate against Mr. Lieberman were sweet and inoffensive in comparison to the roughhouse endured by Abe Lincoln and, closer to our own times, the inoffensive Barry Goldwater, whose possible presidency, it was suggested in one ad, would lead ineluctably to nuclear annihilation.

The bear commercial was intended to throw a public spotlight on Mr. Weicker’s penchant for collecting honoraria which, in Mr. Weicker’s day, were not merely campaign contributions but cash payments from special interests designed to purchase the affections of congressmen – the sort of sleaze that got Senator Tom Dodd censured. The Journal Inquirer published the story that was quietly snuffed by other pro-Weicker Connecticut papers. 

Mr. Weicker – like Mrs. McMahon a Greenwich millionaire; although it must be said that Mrs. McMahon earned her money, while Mr. Weicker inherited his – lost to Mr. Lieberman because his Republican Party treacheries finally caught up with him. Those treacheries, a shabby black halo visible only to Republican Party saints, still hover around his head after all these years.
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