Sunday, March 30, 2014

Social Issues And The Coming Campaign


A few weeks ago, Governor Dannel Malloy said that people in Connecticut would have to wait until May to discover whether he would run again as governor. He then surprised everyone by tossing his hat into the ring during a recent bond hearing meeting. In fact, the campaign had begun much earlier; the cake was baked even though it lacked the cherry on top. Before his official declaration, Mr. Malloy had said he was much too busy running the state to engage prematurely in a political campaign. He told one reporter that it would be inopportune for him to engage in a political campaign before Republican gubernatorial aspirants had an opportunity to beat up on each other? The pretense was a great tease, strategically necessary but still an obvious imposture.

The Republican gubernatorial field has now been fully fleshed out. Martha Dean, who previously had engaged in campaigns for the Attorney General, was a little late, but she got in before the door closed.

Many commentators feel that Ms. Dean and Joe Visconti, who once ran against Democratic fixture John Larson for the U.S. House, are second tier candidates in a crowded Republican field that includes Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows Mr. Foley leading the pack by wide margins when matched against Mr. Malloy.

Questions concerning campaign sustainability have arisen in connection with the candidacies of Ms. Dean and Mr. Visconti.

Mr. Visconti has vowed not to disappear. Ms. Dean said she might maintain her campaign beyond the nominating convention depending upon her support. Essentially, both have said, “We’ll see.”

Their campaign boats have been pushed from shore by three groups: Tea Party folk, gun owners and constitutionalists. In addition, they may expect to receive support from libertarians, who are chiefly interested in individual rights, and some establishment conservatives, who are interested chiefly in economic issues. Among all these groups, there are overlapping political interests. If it were possible to speak of them together as an alliance of interests, they very easily could decide a gubernatorial election in Connecticut. But, of course, there is an uneasy alliance among these separate groups. The trick is to bring them together somehow.

Democratic campaigns generally are better organized -- for obvious reasons. Democrats have conducted more successful campaigns than Republicans and now are strategically placed on what may be called “the political heights”: The governor’s office, both Houses of the General Assembly, all the constitutional offices and the entire U.S. Congressional delegation have been moved into the Democratic column. In addition, Connecticut’s media is temperamentally allied with the Democrat’s progressive putsch.

For all practical purposes, Connecticut has now become a one party state. In the past, the Connecticut Republican Party had relied upon so called “moderates’ to attain a place at the political table. But in recent years, Republican moderates have been replaced by Democratic progressives. When then U.S. Congressman Chris Shays lost his race to U.S. Representative Jim Himes, he was the last remaining Republican moderate in New England – which suggests that the moderate Republican message is no longer persuasive. In the U.S. House, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons also lost office. Moderate Republican campaigns were centered upon economic issues alone; which is to say, moderate Republicans ceded half their campaign ground to their opponents before a single shot in the campaign had been fired.  Mitt Romney surrendered a good deal of ground in his presidential campaign against President Barack Obama. This has not been a winning strategy. It did not take Dannel Malloy, the first Democratic governor elected since Governor Bill O’Neill, to absorb the message that Republicans were of no account. His first budget was constructed without any Republican input.

The steady, long term retreat on so called “social issues” has weakened Republican campaigns.

Retreat is defeat. Nationally – and especially after the Obama-Romney campaign – Republicans seem no longer inclined to allow progressive Democrats to define social issues. But it would appear that the glad tidings have not yet reached Connecticut, once the land of steady habits, many of which have been radically altered by an aggressive progressive juggernaut. Connecticut Republicans have permitted extremist progressives to define social issues in a very narrow way that suits their political objectives.

But in fact politics – most especially bill writing – is inescapably tied to “social issues” in the broadest sense. There is not a single piece of legislation written in Connecticut, or in the nation either, that has no social repercussions. All bills shape the social sphere; and if they did not, they would be redundant. Why is abortion and not the economy a “social issue?” In Connecticut, “socially moderate” Republicans have simply abandoned the field to progressives. This is a defeatist strategy. If you’ve surrendered half the political battlefield to the opposition, why should you be surprised when the war turns in their favor?  Abortion on demand during the late stages of pregnancy, except to save the life of the mother, is an extreme position. It is not at all unreasonable for politicians to insist that abortion facilities should have on hand a doctor who has admitting privileges in nearby hospitals; neither is it an extreme imposition for the state to require that abortion facilities meet the requirements for Ambulatory Surgical Centers. Surely a “moderate” position on abortion would fall short of infanticide? Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose seat upon his retirement was taken by Hillary Clinton, said he could not support partial birth abortion because it seemed to him a form of infanticide.

And Mr. Moynihan also had some ideas, considered politically risky at the time, concerning the effect that the disappearance of the father from the black family would have on social dislocations and urban poverty.

Mr. Moynihan was a prophet unloved in his own party – but, for all that, a superb social analyst.  Most fair-minded people would call him a “moderate” Democrat. His kind has completely vanished in Connecticut. It is now considered the greatest impertinence to talk sensibly about the effects that progressive programs have had on the marginally poor in cities, and those who do make a correlation between social programs and the disappearing traditional black family are shouted down as obscurantists at best, racists at worst. These are the “social issues” moderate Republicans have abandoned to Democrats, along with issues of public safety. Is public safety a social issue?

In urban areas in Connecticut, where Mr. Moynihan’s prophecies have gone unheeded and come true, mothers and children sometime worry about the public safety, the quality of education in cities, and the difference that life without a father can make on young boys – all social issues. In Chicago, where unemployment among African American boys is ninety-two percent, the city is considering an increase in the minimum wage from $8.25 to $15.00 an hour. It is not likely that unemployed African American boys in Chicago seriously suppose that artificial increases in the price of labor will increase their employment rate. In the long run, the absence of jobs may be a worse social curse than poverty. People can elevate themselves from poverty by getting jobs, keeping them, improving themselves by degrees through education, delaying childbirth until they are married, staying married; that is the usual route out of poverty.

 But what if there are no jobs?  What then? What if most urban  schools are underperforming? What then? What if marriage as a live option has all but disappeared in cities among African Americans? Then what? These are the prevailing conditions in many cities in Connecticut. What if, further, much of what a progressive government has done to ameliorate conditions brought on by poverty has only worsened the problems? What then? It was possible nearly fifty years ago, in the age of Moynihan, to ask such questions and expect a reasoned debate on social issues.

But not now. Audacious questioners are shunned, most especially by the establishment media. This is the social fire that has singed the pants of Republicans. Such topics are whispered in private. They flee the field, and leave the poor and dispossessed to progressive Democrats. The Republican Party is a ghostly presence in Connecticut’s largest cities. Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are one-party cities and have been such for decades. Are the poor less poor in one party cities? And why should anyone suppose that a one party state would be more successful than major cities run for decades by single parties?

Democrats in the General Assembly just voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. The governor – and President Barrack Obama, who has been fulsome in his praise of Mr. Malloy's energetic embrace of Mr. Obama’s failed programs -- argues that the wage increase will trickle down to businesses in the state because those making a minimum wage will spend the increase immediately, thus stimulating Connecticut’s economy.

We don’t know exactly how many people in Connecticut make minimum wage, or who they are. The rhetoric coming from Malloyalists suggests the governor thinks most of them are women. An increase in the minimum wage therefore will help to mitigate the baleful effects of the Republican Party’s alleged “War On Women.”

Now, let’s just pause here to examine these few propositions. First, the “War On Women” is little more than Orwellian Newspeak. Much of the data suggests that an increase in the minimum wage adversely affects African American teenagers in cities, yet no Republican in Connecticut running for governor has yet said that by supporting an increase in the minimum wage Mr. Malloy and the mostly white Democratic caucus in the General Assembly have declared war on urban African American boys. The majority of working women in Connecticut draw salaries above the minimum wage. As such, they are in the same economic boat as most working men in the state. Does Mr. Malloy believe that these women – all victims, like men, of the largest tax increase in state history – would be conducting “a war on women” should they, on sound economic grounds alone, resist the Malloyalist urge to buy votes by artificially increasing the price of labor?

The most efficient way to stimulate the economy is through payroll tax reductions. A tax reduction, because it leaves the salaried worker with more of his own money, has the same simulative effect as a state mandated salary increase. Why then does Mr. Malloy suppose that only some increases in disposable income are returned to the economy as economic stimulators? Mr. Malloy has given millions of dollars in tax receipts taken from middle class workers to multi-billion dollar companies. He has given low interest loans and tax rebates to companies he feels might bolt Connecticut without such tax relief, a grudging admission that companies flee both the regulatory state and high taxes.  And it has been Mr. Malloy’s tax increases on nail salon owners, among other female entrepreneurs, that has made it possible for him to generously dispense tax funds to companies he believes are worthy “investments.” Investing money in companies is essentially a stock marketing function best done by people whose business it is to pick winners and losers in a competitive marketplace. Sometimes they make good choices, and sometimes not. But the money they invest does not come from nail salon owners they have taxed for the purpose of crafting tax reductions, rebates and low interest loans for non-profit entities such as Jackson Laboratories.


These are all social issues; they all effect the future social, political and economic configuration of Connecticut. And the state will not be directed towards a more just and equitable path if the Republican Party lacks the courage to confront Democrats on pressing social issues of the day.
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