Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Government Of The People, By The People And For The Senators

“You cannot restore the fiscal integrity and competitive posture of this state unless you do three things: first, reduce state spending in absolute dollar terms; second, renegotiate state employee benefit arrangements in a manner that is fair to employees, retirees and the taxpayers who must pay the tab; third, right size state government and revise its operational practices. We also need to engage in regulatory relief and tax reform and other actions, but these three actions are critical.”

That is Dave Walker, speaking more or less off the cuff. This is standard conservative – i.e. Chicago School – economic doctrine.

A Republican running for Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Walker does not pull his punches. But because he is vying for a position comparable to John Nance Garner’s colorful description of the office of the Vice President, the punches land softly on the opposition. Mr. Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President, once described his largely ceremonial duties in scatological terms that would be frowned upon even today: He said of the Vice Presidency-- “It isn’t worth a warm bucket of spit.” Cleaned up by the usual Puritans, this is how Mr. Garner's estimation of the VP office has come down to us. Mr. Garner had not mentioned “spit” but rather another unmentionable body fluid.

Within the state, the lieutenant governor’s position is comparable to that of the Vice Presidency. Some people think it’s not worth much more than Mr. Garner's estimation of his own position. The Lieutenant Governor, like the Vice President, is at the beck and call of the chief executive; he presides over the legislature when it is in session and may decide split votes, a remote possibility in Connecticut’s one-party state. The Democratic hegemony in the state’s General Assembly is longstanding, and Democrats now control the chief executive office for the first time in twenty-three years. Republicans are within striking distance in the Senate, and some polls indicate that the gubernatorial slot may be up for grabs.

Mr. Walker is highly overqualified for the position he is seeking. Asked why he is not running for governor, he tips his hat genteelly to precedence. It is very unusual, not to mention ungracious, in Connecticut politics for newcomers to successfully storm the Bastille. The normal practice is to wait your turn in the usual line of succession.

Because the position is not an appointive one, Lieutenant Governors run independently of governors, which means that the governor occasionally may be yoked with a partner whose political vision is at cross-purposes to his own.  When Governor Jodi Rell, herself a Lieutenant Governor, stepped into former Governor John Rowland’s empty shoes, her Lieutenant Governor for a time was, by the luck of the draw, Kevin Sullivan, a Democratic Party stalwart who served in the slot for three years before being replaced by Republican Michael Fedele. Because the Lieutenant Governor position traditionally has been for the most part worth little more politically than a warm bucket of spit, the Democratic Party interloper was not able to do permanent damage to Mrs. Rell, still the most popular governor of the last four, including Governor Dannel Malloy, whose popularity ratings during his first term in office may accurately be termed worth little more than a warm bucket of spit.

Mr. Malloy’s problem is more than the economy -- stupid. The national economy recovered from the Great Recession three years ago, but Connecticut has not, and it is instructive to ask why.

The “Great Recession” was caused chiefly by the bursting of the housing mortgage bubble. If President Barrack Obama had dedicated his first term in office to an effort to restore the bruised housing market, Mr. Obama, and all Democrats running for office this year, would have been untouchable. But Democrats, following Mr. Obama’s lead,  decided instead to reach for a rusty brass ring that had been clanking around in the progressive attic since the days of Eugene Debs – universal health care. Obamacare, one of its variants, is simply a baby step in the direction of a universal healthcare system, a Veterans Administration for the nation at large. The result was, and is, chaos and progressive economic anarchy.

Crises, however, are the sort of thing that energize progressives. Here in Connecticut, and elsewhere in the nation, progressives have employed such crises to corral special interests – women persecuted by Republicans, unions, academia, sloppy thinkers in the media, African Americans imprisoned in wondrously gilded welfare cages, Latinos used to quasi-socialist political systems in their home countries, permanently duped molecular Democrats – and so advance their own cause. The watchword of progressive musclemen is: Never let an artificially caused crisis go to waste, and any crisis that does not enhance electability is wasteful.

In “Democracy” -- a novel by Henry Adams, begun in London in 1867 but published anonymously much later in 1880; Adams had  instructed his publisher to bring the novel out on April Fool’s Day -- one of the supporting characters, possibly speaking on behalf of Mr. Adams himself, describes the Washington D.C. scene, even then, during the post-Civil War period, full of lobbyists and cagey congressional incumbents, this way: “The government of the United States is a government of the people, by the people, and for the Senators.”

And THAT is the problem.

No Republican in Connecticut has thus far articulated the problem compellingly. But Mr. Walker has come close. Proper articulation is the first step in problem solving.
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