The trouble with Connecticut Republicans has always been the same: There is no Maggie Thatcher among them.
The pre-Thatcherite Tory Party in Britain resembles to a “T” the “go along to get along” Republican Party in Connecticut.
The late Mrs. Thatcher wrote in her memories, “Almost every postwar Tory victory had been won on slogans such as ‘Britain Strong and Free’ or 'Set the People Free.' But in the fine print of policy, especially in government, the Tory Party merely pitched camp in the long march to the left. It never seriously tried to reverse it… The welfare state? We boasted of spending more money than Labor, not of restoring people to independence and self-reliance.”
So too in Connecticut the Republican Party, more often than not, has been content to serve as the handmaiden to Democratic Party orthodoxy.
Mrs. Thatcher, who could run rings around the opposition in debate, relished all the epithets thrown at her by Labor. But she was especially fond of the term “reactionary.”
Said the lady, who was “not for turning” in a 1979 speech, “Well, there’s a lot to react against.”
Britain’s social-democratic consensus threw in the towel after her third electoral victory. She defeated that consensus on many key issues of the day: labor union reform, the privatization of 26 major state owned industries, to mention only two of her important victories. Under the moral weight of her administration – with a little help from a reinvigorated United States, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the foremost writer of his day, and a Polish Pope – the Soviet Union collapsed in ashes.
Mrs. Thatcher is not hated by the left in Europe today because she failed; the failed politician rarely inspires such vigorous contumely as was hurled at Mrs. Thatcher’s corpse. No, only success brings out the worst in what John O’Sullivan, a former editor of National Review, recently called “the Caliban left.”
Ten years after losing office, Mrs. Thatcher found herself surrounded by a bunch of mini-Calibans shouting “Thatcher, Thatcher, Thatcher, fascist, fascist, fascist, out, out, out,” at which she turned to her former speech writer, Robin Harris, and exulted, “Oh Robin, doesn’t it make you feel nostalgic.”
It is unlikely that any Connecticut Republican should similarly feel the affectionate tug of nostalgia, because in Connecticut there have been no obvious victories over the liberal-progressive status quo. Even worse, there has been no sustained and principled opposition to a progressive putsch within the state Democratic Party that has displaced antique moderate Democrats with bullish leftists.
The weary and spent pre-Thatcherite Tory Party in Britain winked at the welfare state, possibly because it had not the moral imagination to overcome a set narrative that pictured governmental aid as the solution to every social problem in Great Britain. It fell to Mrs. Thatcher to point out that the solutions exacerbated the problems: One does not become self-reliant by relying wholly upon the kindness of strangers.
Before she could change her country, Mrs. Thatcher had to change and invigorate her party, and the pre-Thatcherite moderate Tory Party was very comfortable in its own skin. Its leaders simply could not understand why the Tory Party should change. Were the grey heads in the party not successful? Had they not been returned time and again to office? Cooperation with the reigning regime certainly had benefited them, had it not? Why could not others trod their effortless path to victory? The greatest bar to victory in politics is the success of compromised office holders who by venturing nothing gain nothing for others.
Any political party that considers only the short run will lose in the long run. Old victories do not presage new victories.
The moderate Republican Party in Connecticut has been losing ground to Democrats and Independents for more than 20 years. Surely these loses carry a message.
One can only imagine how Mrs. Thatcher would have characterized an opposition party that was responsible for the largest tax increase in state history, presided over the exodus of young entrepreneurial talent to other less rapacious states and couldn’t for the life of it balance a budget. Whatever would she have said about an opposition party that, seeking to make life easier for low paid workers, continually raised the minimum wage, thereby killing potential jobs for low paid workers, mostly forgotten young urban African Americans thirsting for self-reliance? She certainly would not have been content with an opposition party that practices crony capitalism on a grotesque scale. Nor would she have been content with a phony conservatism at ease with pragmatic measures that left in place a progressive opposition party and an emasculated Republican Party loyal only to the status quo?
A little spine and a few OPERATIVE principles – social principles as well, for the end of all politics is social betterment – might carry Republicans out of their doldrums towards a fruitful campaign, if only there were a Thatcher among them.