In the course of writing political columns, a bad habit I’ve been nurturing for more than 30 years, people have sometimes ask me, with a note of desperation in their voice, will things in Connecticut ever change? These people generally are either conservatives or libertarians and therefore immune to the usual political nonsense. The Democratic Party has been in charge of the state roughly since the Mesozoic Era. Will we ever sniff change in the air, they wonder?
It’s a serious question: What will it take to shake people in Connecticut from their lethargy – to wake them up before the plane we’re all traveling in finally crashes into the mountain?
We’re perilously close to that. Only a month ago, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) released its 12th annual survey of businesses in the state, and the news was bleak. The organization surveyed 377 in state companies and found that 82 percent had a negative or somewhat negative opinion of Connecticut as a place to do business. Only 11 percent of in state businesses said Connecticut was a somewhat or very positive place to do business.
Here are some points that the loyal opposition Republican Party might consider:
1) The ground game has to change. You can’t go to war with an army you don’t have. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by a 2-1 margin and, as we all know, the state is gerrymandered, an incumbent protection racket. The chance of John Larson losing his seat in the 1st District is about the same as the chance that Governor Dannel Malloy will kiss unions goodbye and begin seriously to attack the chief problem in the state he is mismanaging – which is overspending.
Democrats now own the gubernatorial office and both houses of the General Assembly. So, in the absence of a third party – the dream of starry-eyed revolutionists – the Republican Party, the sometimes too loyal to the opposition party, must come together around some politically popular points and kiss goodbye in their campaigns to the usual campaign strategy. We all know what that is: Run as a moderate and lose.
As a political animal, the Republican moderate, a vanishing species in all of New England, is someone who strides the principles of both the left and the right. It’s difficult to do this and maintain credibility among people who are looking for what I've called many times in many columns “authenticity.” Then too, when the plane is on the point of hitting the mountain, you want to raise a lucid shout, not a muffled moderate cry.
During the days of Charles Lamb, the best social critic and essayist of his day (1775-1834), a woman wrote a poem called “Love Is Enough,” and it was reviewed by Lamb in a single line – I’m quoting: “No, it isn't.” Someone should tell the Republicans that the economy is not enough to get you elected. It just isn't. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney made the economy the central pillar of his campaign. President Barrack Obama, the Samson of the Democratic Party, soon pulled the roof down on his head. Lesson: With the right accomplished populist – someone who, for purposes of election rather than governing, can fashion a new and, one hopes, temporary coalition -- social issues can trump economic issues. Republicans in Connecticut will either take the lesson, or they’ll take the beating. They need some social issue arrows in their quivers.
2) It’s the spending, stupid. When Republicans made jobs – or rather the lack of them – the central, and some would say the ONLY, pillar of their campaigns, Democrats in the shadows were smiling like Cheshire cats. These were progressives, and progressives have had an answer to joblessness ever since progressivism spilled out of the speeches of Teddy Roosevelt during the 1912 presidential campaign. Most presidents, from TR’s second presidential campaign onward through FDR The Magnificent, were progressives, Cal Coolidge standing out as the most striking exception.
And the progressives have an answer to joblessness. Roughly, the answer is this: “So you want jobs do you? Well, you just wait right here in the antechamber and I’ll manufacture some for you. There’s a room in the executive office building, adjacent to the money tree room, where we grow jobs. Hang on, I’ll be right back.” Mr. Malloy's metastasizing “First Five” program is a practical elaboration of the progressive view on job creation, which is that new jobs are best created by political chief executives responding to political cues rather than by entrepreneurs responding to market demands.
We all know that’s not a solution that works; in fact, this prescription makes the illness considerably worse. But it is a popular delusion borrowed from the prairie populists of the early post-Civil War period who later were displaced by the progressives. On the other hand, progressives have no neat response to the conservative chief executive who cuts spending and ushers in years of robust economic growth, as did Cal Coolidge when he assumed the presidency. Here’s a modest suggestion: Move spending cuts from the back to the front burner of your campaign.
3) Don’t give up on the cities. In a very important sense, the major large cities in Connecticut are the canaries in the progressive minefield. You would never know it from the non-existent Republican campaigns in Hartford, Bridgeport or New Haven – Why would you? – that the Democratic Party in the state has simply given up on the urban poor -- who are now locked into state assisted poverty. The three cities I've mentioned have for decades been Democratic fiefdoms, one party towns; the state itself is becoming a one party operation. Many families in urban areas are irretrievably broken; gangs are rampant; the prisons in Connecticut are full of biological fathers who never married the mothers of their children; a “good education” in some of Connecticut’s larger cities is a laughable oxymoron. And yet, year after year, unchallenged Democratic politicians in these cities have consistently been voted into office. The Republican retreat from Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford appears to be permanent. Life in Hartford may offer us a foretaste of life in Connecticut: This is what happens in one party towns – and states. Political corruption occurs in states when the principal political actors are certain that they are invisible. And nothing is more invisible than a political actor operating in a one party environment. Suggestion: Bring these political actors out of the shadows. In your campaigns, talk about the bitter fruits of the one party state or municipality, and don’t assume that a conservative urban mission will fail.
4) Focus on the three M’s. There are three indispensable elements in politics. I like to call them the three “M’s” – Mission, Message and Money. The increasingly progressive Democratic Party mission in Connecticut, and elsewhere, is not a new project. Mr. Obama’s “change” is a throwback to the 1912 presidential campaign. The mission of progressives is, and always has been, to fold what Edmund Burke used to call the “little platoons of democracy” into what progressives regard as an omni-competent and, inevitably, an omni-present state apparatus. This is the dream of the post-Republican Roman Empire -- before the fall. It is also the nightmare of the 20th century in three of its evocations: Stalin, Hitler and Mao.
The mission of the Republican Party should be just the opposite: to advance policies that encourage the maintenance of competing social institutions, not the least of which are the family, the church, social and business associations, small self-directed businesses unencumbered as much as possible by “helpful” federal regulations, an educational system that educates, and people who are, as much as possible, free in our once glorious Republic to be their potty old selves.
The message of the Democratic Party is that the way to utopia lies through statism and the Democratic Party. The message of the Republican Party should be that utopias are the disturbing death-rattles in the chests of authoritarian regimes, most of which have been spectacular failures.
And finally, the last “M” – money. At some point in the coming campaigns, a politician who has caught your fancy will put the touch on you: He’ll be asking you for your money or your time -- perhaps both. Give him both if you can. One’s time, one’s life, is not unimportant in the political struggle for existence. Henry David Thoreau use to say: If a robber approaches me, sticks his gun in my ribs and demands “Your money or your life,” why should I be so anxious to give him my money? The oblique Thoreauian point is that time is often a more precious commodity than money.
The challenge that Sam Adams, justly called during his own day “The Father of the American Revolution,” put before his countrymen still rages like fire in the blood of Americans. This stirring Adams quote is featured on the masthead of Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A blue State:
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
Words to live by.
5) Leave utopia to the utopians. No one, C.S. Lewis observes, has ever invented a new primary color. We use the primary colors we have to create the picture we need. We should not want to make the world over. Leave that exhausting and fruitless pursuit to the crazed utopians. What we should want is a politics of limits that gives birth to liberty and ingenuity. The United States, at its founding, leaped into the future from the premise that men and women were bound by limits, by the laws of God, nature and man.
We have drifted very far in the course of more than two centuries from that lodestone of liberty. And we must find a way to return, perhaps through something resembling an American renaissance, to the paths made for us by others that will lead us to a bright and prosperous future. We are custodians not creators of liberty. A state, like a person, is not a tabula rasa, a clean sheet upon which you may write whatever pleases you. Connecticut has a character, and if you wish to operate here for the benefit of the state and its people, you must work within its character frame – to FREE men and women so that, once free, they will be able to contribute to the life of our state. That is the primary task that lies before everyone in Connecticut. And in this invigorating contest of freedom, if you love wealth and the tranquility of servitude more than liberty, you run the risk that the future will forget that ye were our countrymen.