This may be the first time in Connecticut history that an irrelevant former Republican U.S. Senator of long standing has warned his former party that it faces irrelevancy.
The new crop of Republicans in Connecticut – young, brash, conservative and determined to remember but overcome their past – may have trouble recalling who former U.S. Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker was. The past tense is important because Mr. Weicker, who once dubbed himself “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl,” scooted out the political door after he had, as an independent governor, imposed the second largest tax increases on young Republicans he now seductively courts in the op-ed pages of the Hartford Courant.
The First Prize in tax increases belongs to current Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy. When Mr. Malloy put the tax yoke around the shoulders of young Democrats, Republicans and Independents in Connecticut, someone, probably a left of center former Weickerite, corralled Mr. Weicker and pumped an opinion from him. Mr. Weicker said he quite understood the necessity of such a tax increase. The Democratic Party, after a long pregnancy, had finally given birth to a Weicker clone in Mr. Malloy: The two progressives were simpatico.
Throughout his career, both in the Senate and as Governor, Mr. Weicker has shown himself to be constitutionally unable of making a proper distinction between the state – i.e. all the people in Connecticut – and the state apparatus, or state government, which sometimes does and sometimes does not serve the interests of the people. The megalomaniacal politician will assume he is the state; it should not surprise serious students of history that democracy on occasion may produce a “Sun King” whose operative principle is "L'etat, c'est moi (I am the state)."
Mr. Weicker continues to defend his income tax as a boon to the state. And here lies the root of his confusion. The income tax was a boon to progressive politicians who would rather cut their own throats than cut taxes or trim spending. But such politicians are NOT the state.
Since the imposition of the Weicker tax, spending in Connecticut has increased threefold -- within the short space of four governors: Governor Weicker, an Independent, Republican Governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell, both moderate and far less vitriolic towards their own party than “Sun King” Weicker, and Dannel Malloy, a progressive.
The arc in Connecticut politics since Mr. Weicker was “booted from the GOP in 1988, when I lost my Senate election,” Mr. Weicker’s formulation in his Courant Op-Ed, has been from centrist politics to progressivism. Former Governor Ella Grasso, a moderate Democrat, fought tooth and claw against an income tax. The line of Democratic succession from Mrs. Grasso to Mr. Malloy is a movement from the kind of fiscal conservatism favored by William Buckley, Mr. Wicker’s nemeses, to the kind of progressivism once lauded by prairie populists and Woodrow Wilson progressives.
Where in Connecticut politics is the breaker that will prevent Connecticut from sliding absent-mindedly back – not forward – into the progressive era? Progressivism is the old, tried and failed thing; conservatism, at least that brand of it recommended by Mr. Buckley, is the new thing, and Mr. Weicker, who professes in his Op-Ed that he once took a lesson from Barry Goldwater, the Storm Petrel of the modern conservative party, HATES it, absolutely HATES it.
The reference to Mr. Goldwater in Mr. Weicker’s Op-Ed is precious: “I remember chatting with Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, one day in the Senate cloakroom as he commented on a photograph in The Washington Post of my friend Sen. Bill Proxmire, D-Wisconsin, with his new hair transplant. In Barry's conservative words, ‘I don't mind what's on his head. I worry about what's in it!’ Well, so do I when it comes to the Republican hierarchy in Connecticut.”
One hardly knows where to begin in commenting upon Mr. Weicker’s comment on Mr. Goldwater, historically the red carpet to President Ronald Reagan and the author of “The Conscience of a Conservative,” said to be ghostwritten, at least in part, by Mr. Weicker’s chief Connecticut nemeses, Bill Buckley, who was partly responsible for booting Mr. Weicker from the GOP in 1988.
Mr. Goldwater, it will be recalled, was the guy who said about Mr. Weicker’s brand of left of center Republicanism as practiced in New England, “If you cut off New England and California, you’ve got a pretty good country.” But here in his Op-Ed, Mr. Weicker is appropriating Mr. Goldwater’s NAME only to give unction to Mr. Weicker’s deathless dream – the utter and absolute destruction of the Connecticut Republican Party that in 1988 gave Mr. Weicker the boot. In point of fact, it was Mr. Weicker who, during his long senatorial run in office, continually gave his state party the boot.
And in his latest advice to his cast off party in the current Courant Op-Ed, Mr. Weicker offers what he perceives to be a dying party a final and deadly sip of hemlock: The Republican Party should open its primaries to Independents. That proposal was first made by Mr. Weicker’s now diseased dear friend, Tom D’Amore, at a time when Mr. Weicker, the self-professed “turd in the Republican Party punchbowl” saw, if only in his imagination, the approach of a Democratic Party opponent who might spoil his game and succeed in booting him out of office. Enter Attorney General Joe Lieberman, and the rest, as the historians say, is history.
It may help the Connecticut Republican Party to remember that Mr. Weicker also is history, and that those who do not remember their history correctly are doomed to repeat its errors.