Sunday, October 14, 2012

Politicians for Sale, a brief History of Connecticut Politics, with Apologies to Lucian

For those unfamiliar with the early part of the 21st century – perhaps you were watching sports on your 92 inch Mitsubishi DPL TV during the first decade of the new century – Connecticut, as predicted by prophets unloved in their own state, did finally go the way of Greece, Spain, Italy and much of Europe. The plane crashed into the mountain two years after the re-election of Governor Malloy the Minotaur, and the shock of the crash finally woke up the sleeping passengers. Thereafter, the state was administered by political technicians who had decided they must sell off their sole remaining assets. To this end, they held a state-wide sale of politicians.
Auctioneer: Alright, listen up. It’s a sad business indeed when a state once prosperous must sell off its politicians to satisfy creditors. In all ages, creditors are ever the same – single-mindedly vicious. It’s the prospect of a negative return on their investments that puts fangs in their mouths. But that’s where we are right now, so let’s get on with the business. No weeping and gnashing of teeth, please. First up is Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts (rustling and murmuring in the audience)… Well? What is it now?

Buyer 1: But he’s deceased. Anyone can tell from looking at him, he’s gone. What possible use can he be to us?

Auctioneer: All this grousing. My mother was right; I should have studied engineering, something practical that would have preserved me from this clotted crowd of pestiferous numbskulls. Why would anyone other than a lobbyist want to buy a politician anyway? And yet look, the auction hall is full.

Buyer 1: What’s his price?

Auctioneer:  When he was alive, I can assure you, he was considerably more expensive, the toast of the beltway, lobbyists learning at his feet, media mavens fawning over him, half of Hollywood drooling on him. Think of the historic assets attached to the late senator, two brother politicians, one a president and another a U.S. Attorney General, Camelot trailing behind all three like a fabulous cloud of glory. How much am I bid?

Buyer 1: (pointing with pride to his wheelbarrow of money) Five million, three hundred and sixty two thousand, one hundred seventy two hard earned American dollars… and (reaching deeply into his pocket and pulling out his remaining change) 78 cents.

Auctioneer:  The seller would prefer Renminbi; it’s a more stable currency.

Buyer 1: But I’m an American, not a Maoist.

Auctioneer: A tear for you, my son. Perhaps you ought to take a spot at the back of the line until the wunderkinds at the Federal Reserve System stabilize your currency. Your wheelbarrow full of inflated dollars is… well, worthless.

Buyer 1: (wagging his head despairingly) Those guys… that’ll take forever. I used to be a hedge fund manager living a life of relative ease in lower Fairfield County, tucked comfortably in Connecticut’s Gold Coast. My mother worked in a mill. I came up from nothing – it’s the American way -- was the first in our family to go to college, the first to buy a conspicuous McMansion, with a bowling alley and three 92 inch Mitsubishi DPL TVs. Now look at me, little more than an object lesson wrapped in rags. It’s true what the Greeks say: Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make rich. Or was that “famous?”  Lord knows, I tried not to be famous, tried desperately to be invisible in Greenwich among other millionaires, and inconspicuous too. I’ve failed at everything.   

Auctioneer:  Two tears for you then, my friend. And take that clutter of cash with you, please. Such a lot of buyers today.

Buyer 2: Before I bid, I’d like to know what I’m getting for my money.

Auctioneer: Before you bid, I’d like to know with what currency you intend to purchase this museum specimen.

Buyer 2: Silver.

Auctioneer: Now there’s something substantial! Not gold though, silver eh?

Buyer 2: Most of the gold was scooped up by members of Congress who fled, following the Crash of 1214, to Canada and Vietnam. But my silver is pure as my word. What’s the product made of then? Are those cobwebs in his hair?

Auctioneer: He was the last of the First Family of Kennedys, though there’s a new crop coming along, one branch of that fertile tree bred in the aforementioned Gold Cost of Connecticut.  A bud from that branch has been threatening to run for the board of education somewhere in the state. From that position, it’s but a hop, skip and a jump into the U.S. Senate – for a Kennedy, of course. But Ted here, though a little moth ridden, is a real find, one of a kind, sui-generis, called by his comrades in Congress “the Lion of the Senate.” Come on, I don’t have all day. What’s your bid?

Buyer 2:  He doesn’t look all that lion-like to me. Two ounces of silver.

Auctioneer: But that’s only a little under $70.00, pre inflationary currency – for a museum piece?

Buyer 2: Take it or leave it.

Auctioneer: Sold… Next up, Henry Kissinger.

Buyer 3: Good God man! Is he alive?

Auctioneer:  Oh yes. Still has an eye for pretty ladies. Don’t focus on the flesh that withers on the knotty vine. Look at the diamond hard glint in his eye, flashing like fire. Former Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, great negotiator, very subtle, will pray with you if asked. What am I bid?

Buyer 2: Hey, if you throw him in with Teddy the Lionhearted, I have another ounce of silver for you.

Auctioneer: Sold.

Buyer 3: I have to say I’m disappointed. One dead and one near dead politician. Don’t you have anything more contemporary?

Auctioneer: Yes. You there, step up on the block.

Buyer 3: Can I interrogate him? I always like to know what I’m buying.

Auctioneer: Sure. And good luck to you. Remember, all the products are politicians, after all, and full of curvy answers.

Buyer 3: Where are you from?

Weicker:  Connecticut… and (raising his hands) – everywhere, a citizen of the world.

Buyer 3: Right, broadminded. Education?

Weicker:  Lawenceville School, New Jersey, class of 49, then Yale University, then the University of Virginia school of law.

Buyer 3: Another lawyer. Why does that not surprise me? Active or inactive, in service or out of service?  You look a little wrinkled.

Weicker: Well, that’s a difficult question…

Buyer 3: Here we go. No long winded evasions, please. Just be straightforward.

Weicker:  I retired after having served my state faithfully for more than two decades. But once a politician, always a politician. People still seek out my invaluable advice and counsel.

Buyer 3: Oh? So you retired and went back to your plow after a life of faithful public service, like whatshisname, the Roman farmer or, closer to home, George Washington, who returned to Mount Vernon after his labors in the public vineyards. You probably own a business.

Weicker:  No. I came into my wealth through family connections. My grandfather co-founded E.R. Squibb Corporation. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Buyer 3: Ah HA! It comes to me now -- maverick Republican! You were a Republican senator in Connecticut for, what, 20 years? In fact, you were friendly with the museum specimen that Buyer 2 just purchased for two ounces of silver. What a deal, eh? And former senator Chris Dodd, now chief lobbyist for Lindsey Lohan, the Kardashians and other Hollywood sparklers, you counted as one of your closest associates.

Weicker: The same.

Buyer 3: Well now, this is better than a corpse. I can learn something from this one. Tell me, what was the secret to your long run in Connecticut politics?

Weicker: Maneuver, mathematics and the science of maverikism.

Buyer 3: The three Ms. How does all that fit into your political calculus?

Weicker: It’s easily explained. In Connecticut, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of two to one, and Independents outnumber both parties. So, you run as a Republican, traduce Republican as often as possible, and gather up your votes. Most Republicans will stick by you. You’ll reap a Democratic harvest, and Independents will appreciate your independence and vote for you. That’s mathematics and maneuver. Keep maneuvering and eventually you win.

Buyer 3: I have to have this one. He looks and sounds like a Greek god who just stepped out of his deus ex machine.

Weicker: (conspiratorially) You must remember this: “Turd… punchbowl.”

Buyer 3: Subtle too. Do you know what he means?

Auctioneer:  Yes. He once described himself as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.” It went over big among Democrats and Independents, but Republicans didn’t enjoy the slight, or the abusive treatment over the years they suffered at the hands of this (pauses)… turd; I use the word in its most complimentary sense. Eventually, Republicans turned on him. And when he was challenged by our next offering, waiting there in the wings, he went down to dusty defeat, as the poet says. All predictable: It’s what happens when Republicans purge their punchbowls. Okay, consider yourself bought Mr. Maverick. Off you go.

Weicker: (to Buyer 3) Follow me.

Buyer 3: What this? I bought you. You should follow me.

Weicker: Never happen. Come along.

Auctioneer:  You again?

Buyer 2: I’m back.

Auctioneer: What happened to the corpse?

Buyer 2: Turns out he was alive after all. Just as I was carting him away to the museum, he took off like a bat out of Hell. Massachusetts will see him soon, I’ll bet. Least wise, he seemed headed in that direction, spewing a contrail out of his arse.

Auctioneer: We don’t give refunds.

Buyer 2: Well, your loss is my loss, I guess. I can’t go home empty handed though. Who’s up next?

Auctioneer:  Another former Connecticut senator.

Buyer 2: He looks like a long distance runner, a little thin, a lot old, but the flash in his eye tells me this may be a live one. Just look at that ponderous head. I can tell by those deep furrows etched on his forehead that this one is given to beating his brains out on some intractable problem of the day.

Auctioneer: Meet Joe Lieberman, the Hamlet of the U.S. Senate and, like his precursor, the Maverick turd, an independent thinker – though this one is not quite so solipsistic as the last. The two of them are mortal enemies, you know, like the guelphs and ghibellines in Dante’s time.

Buyer 2: Can I question him?

Auctioneer: Of course. We don’t sell pigs in pokes here, Ask away.

Buyer 2: Well then Joe… Can I call you Joe?

Lieberman: (silence. Deep in thought, Lieberman strikes the pose of Auguste Rodin’s “Thinker.”) I’m thinking.

Buyer 2: About your name? Tell me about your background, how you came into politics and what was the occasion of your feud with Weicker, who just left the auction block with his buyer in tow. Everyone comes from somewhere, and often a person’s origins will give important clues about his character.

Lieberman: (He has his political resume down pat) Before I became a U.S. Senator, I was Attorney General in Connecticut and, as such, I transformed that sleepy little office into a large scale consumer protection racket with subpoena powers. It’s just amazing how a hundred suit-prone lawyers can transform a state – bring it, so to speak, to a reverent halt in which business people pause in fear and trembling before the majesty of the law, and perform a pious genuflection, before they resume making profits and putting bread, preferably organic, on the tables of a grateful and astonished citizenry. I jumped from this wondrous springboard into the U.S. Senate, after a bruising battle with Mr. Maverick -- God bless him, and the Devil take him.

Buyer 2: And what mistake did Weicker make in his campaign that permitted you to best him? Such information might be important to me should I ever consider running for office. Was it a failure in maneuver, mathematics or the science of maverikism? What pitfall did he tumble into that you adroitly avoided?

Lieberman: Mathematically, I had an advantage because I was a Democrat, while Weicker over there – Why is he beating that poor man? -- was a faux Republican. In Connecticut, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of two to one. Somewhat like Narcissus, Weicker, a notorious belly-flopper, had fashioned for himself a charismatic political persona, and he fell into it, with a splashy plop. As a Republican maverick, he was too much the maverick. And as a maverick Republican, he had come from the wrong side of the ideological tracks. I presented myself to Connecticut voters, always mistrustful of inflamed egos, as a moderate Democrat full of pirouettes and graceful side-leaps, and they liked the dance.  Also, I had some help from Republicans and conservatives lashed over the years by Weicker, full of an undischarged Nietzschean ressentiment ready to explode. What is ressentiment? Is it not the notion that without me in the play, the end must be tragic? I struck a match and –BANG! -- Weicker lit up the night sky like a Hindenburg aflame.  But the world went on without him. And he could not abide that.

Buyer 2: What did he do?

Auctioneer:  I can tell you. These politicians are gods in the bottle. They must be needed. And if they are superfluous – as in any healthy society they would be – they will create the need. If the world is not in danger of collapse, it does not need a world savior to rescue it. We see where all this ends, here at the auction block. Weicker was sorely disappointed to lose his Senate race, but he did get his piece of flesh. He ran for governor of Connecticut and won in a three way race. The state had piled up a deficit at the time, nothing new for Connecticut, and there was a great deal of talk about instituting an income tax. Previous Democratic governors had strenuously opposed the income tax, and Weicker allied himself with them in his campaign. Crawling far out on a limb at one point, Weicker said that instituting an income tax to discharge a deficit would be “like throwing gas on a fire.” Well, he won. And what does he do? He hires as his Office of Policy Management chief a well fed fellow named Bill Cibes, one of the gubernatorial contestant defeated by Weicker who ran on an income tax platform and was soundly rejected by Connecticut voters. Before you could say “Don’t throw that gas on the fire!” the state was saddled with an income tax. There has been no job creation in Connecticut since – if you discount the many state jobs made possible by the Weicker tax. The outmigration both of young people looking for jobs and entrepreneurs who hope to escape strangulation by regulators and taxmen are now the state’s most promising exports.

Buyer 2: Looks like the people of Connecticut got rolled.

Auctioneer: Big time. That’s why we’re here selling off our remaining political assets. So, do you want this guy or not?

Buyer 2: Sure.

Auctioneer:  Okay Hamlet, off you go.

Buyer 4: (loud noises back stage) What’s the ruckus in the green room?

Auctioneer: That’s Dannel Malloy, the Minotaur. He’ll be out soon, utopia streaming from his nostrils. He says he has a plan to re-invent Connecticut.

Buyer 4: Is it safe? Should I stick around?

Auctioneer:  Suit yourself. He’s a hard purchase though, says he can’t be bought.

Buyer 4: God, what a fearsome aspect, clearly not a bull to be trifled with. But for that green tie, he’d look like a Chinese warlord. What’s the crowd attached to him all about?

Auctioneer: Malloyalists.

Buyer 4: Ah! A personal bodyguard. Are they to be sold with him?

Auctioneer:  Yup. It’s a single package. Ideologically, they’re all attached at the spine so that when one scratches his nose, the rest of them sniffle. They think the same, talk the same language, eat at the same diner. The Minotaur Major (pointing to Malloy)  and the Minotaur minors (pointing to the chorus of Malloyalists).

Buyer 4: That seems fair: Buy one, and a chorus is thrown in free. A real deal.

Auctioneer: A new deal, a real deal, a fair deal and, his critics would say, a raw deal.      

Buyer 4: Well there bully, how do you account for yourself? What’s your main idea?

Malloy:  I tax people. I take money from them and use it to re-invent Connecticut. I can’t be bought. I don’t care what people think about me, which is why I have been able to accomplish so much… well, more than fat fop from New Jersey.. whatisname…?

Chorus of Maloyalists:  Christie. Chris Christie.

Malloy: Yeah, him (a geyser of smoke pours out of his nostrils). Before I came along, Connecticut was writhing in pain, like a woman bringing forth a demon. The state was poor, hobbling along on crutches, living from hand to mouth like a… like a …

Chorus of Malloyalists:  Wall Street Occupier, his tent pitched on the green in New Haven, crying out to the pitiless gods for justice… bread, give me the bread of justice…

Malloy: Yeah, like that. I straightened things out pretty quick, shoved Republicans out the door, repackaged the budget, raised taxes – someone had to do it – took on flack, dodged the bullets, emerged victorious, as you see me now (blows a spurt of smoke from his nostrils. The chorus quakes in mock fear). There are no scars on my back. But look here (he rips open his shirt, and one can see tattooed stripes cross-hatching his chest) And in addition to all this, I’m modest, not one to blow my own horn. I leave that to others.

Buyer 4: At last, someone who loves the strenuous life. I’ll bet he rides a bike to work. How much is he?

Malloy: I can’t be bought. Whatever I do is done for the benefit of children, multiple murderers on death row awaiting in fear and trembling the executioner’s axe, and state workers. I’m a pragmatist; I do what is best for me and mine, without regard for inconvenient principles just like … Is that Weicker over there beating that man?

Buyer 4: How much?

Malloy: I can’t be bought.

Buyer 4: It’s your call auctioneer.

Auctioneer: Well, make me a deal I can’t refuse.

Buyer 4: An ounce of silver for the lot.

Auctioneer: Sold. (to Malloy and the Malloyalist chorus) Get off with you now. And stop blowing that stuff out of your nose. It’s unsanitary. (everyone leaves. Buyer 3 returns, full of welts and bruises).

Buyer 3: Woe is me. I’ve lost everything. My product flew the coop, after having beaten me mercilessly, and all because I called him a turd – which he is, in spades. This is the problem in buying politicians. If Weicker were a sack of wheat and I bought him, he’d stay bought, and I’d bring something home for all my troubles. But these men and their promises have in common their portability. And the politician has not been made whose word is not double tongued, whose face is not double-faced, like the god Janus of the doorways, whose two faces cagily oppose each other. Janus was no doubt a pragmatist. They’re the worst: No taxes, they say, and they tax – pragmatically. Prudent spending, they say, and they spend my money as if it weren’t theirs -- pragmatically. And then, as the final curtain draws down and they are auctioned off, the last assets of the nation, you buy their line for the last time – and look what happens! First Kennedy the corpse flies away to Massachusetts, and now Weicker trots along in his footsteps, leaving me, as before, poor and suckered. Woe is me. , In comedies, the good usually come out on top, criminals and politicians on the bottom. My case is different. This is what tragedians call a reversal of fortune: I get reversed, they get my fortune.
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