Friday, November 07, 2014

The Grumpi Interviews, November 8, 2014

Girolamo Grumpi, obviously not his real name, is a retired journalist who lives north of Hartford and who wishes to remain anonymous.

Q: It’s the day after the day after in Connecticut. On V-Day (Vote Day) everyone marched to the polls and reelected Dan Malloy governor. Since then, we’ve been pelted with the usual after the vote analyses, all suspiciously similar. I was hoping you might be able to offer a fresh light on the winners, almost all Democrats, and the losers. In Connecticut, very little has changed politically – not so in the nation.

GG: Nationally, Republicans did well. It would be difficult to underestimate the extent of the Republican victory. Harry Reid (the Speaker of the U.S. Senate) is gone, and a beaver’s damn has been broken.

Republicans will now be putting  before the president bills withheld by Reid, a new obstacle for him; so far, Reid has been able to protect (President Barack) Obama from noticing Republican objections to many of his more disruptive programs. Massachusetts, a state we here in Connecticut used to disparage as “Taxachussetts,” now has a Republican Governor, and the position of the Massachusetts with respect to taxes has slipped considerably. As a state first in taxes and burdensome regulation, Connecticut now far outpaces all but two other states in the nation, which helps to explain why young people, Connecticut’s entrepreneurial capital, and businesses are moving south.

Q: The opposite is true in Connecticut. Democrats swept the boards. Why?

GG: Well, the obvious answer is that more people voted for Democrats than Republicans.

The vote differential in the governor’s race is still a slim 3 percent, but you only need 51 percent of the vote to win elections. In a state in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a two to one ratio, acquiring 51 percent of the vote is a walk in the park.

When (Tom) Foley (the Republican Party nominee for governor) said that in his non-concession speech the day after the election, he was pilloried in Connecticut’s left of center media. No surprise there. The percentage of editorial page editors in Connecticut who “voted” for Malloy on their endorsements pages was – if I can take an unscientific stab at a figure – 99 percent. The same people who endorsed Malloy by lopsided margins are now discussing the matter among themselves, and a consensus is forming that Foley lost the election because he owned a yacht and stubbornly refused to pay heed to the same clever out of state analysts who commandeered Linda McMahon losing $50 million campaign.

The Democrats had a better ground game than the Republicans, and they were more accomplished demagogues. That’s why they won.

Q: You’ve said that before.

GG: It’s been true before.

Perhaps the most effective charge made by Malloy in his campaign, echoed repeatedly by most commentators, was that Mr. Foley’s vision of the future was imperfectly articulated.  Mr. Foley said he would freeze spending at current levels for a couple of years and offer targeted tax cuts; also, he would not renegotiate stated employee contracts. His plan, it was said, lacked details.

But Mr. Malloy put forward much the same propositions:  no tax increases, no rejiggering of state employee contractual arrangements and a freeze on spending. Malloy also strongly disputed a budget shortfall projected by the state’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA). Need I mention that Malloy is not non-partisan? The Out Year projections of the OFA show mounting deficits through 2018.

The details demanded from Foley by Connecticut’s left of center media were not demanded of Malloy. But there was an important difference between the two planners; of the two, Mr. Foley was the more credible.

Why? In his first campaign for governor, Mr. Malloy borrowed a leaf from Governor Lowell Weicker, who indicated during his campaign that tax increases were not in consideration. Weicker, the father of Connecticut’s income tax, said that increasing taxes during a recession would be like pouring gas on a fire, and then proceeded to pour gas on the fire. The consuming fire has been burning brightly ever since. First time gubernatorial campaigner Malloy said raising taxes would be the last thing he would do. It was the first thing he did as governor. His tax increase was larger than Weicker’s.

Now, none of this is ancient history; it all happened yesterday. And it could not have happened without the willing concurrence of the state’s left of center media. Weicker intended to draft an income tax incubus when he was campaigning. The Weicker income tax saved state government from the arduous and unpleasant task of cutting spending, which is why Connecticut has tripled its budget within the space of three governors.

Malloy intended to impose on Connecticut the largest tax increase in its history when he was campaigning. This is what makes improbable Malloy's assurance during his second campaign that he will not raise taxes and that he will maintain current spending levels. It’s not just that the details in Malloy’s vision of the future are lacking – though they are. His past practice throws doubt on his claim. You cannot fire up crony capitalism or use state government as a bank from which failing companies may draw funds not available to them from more discerning banking institutions without pouring tax gas on the fire. It can’t be done. Every dollar taken in taxes, from whatever source, is a dollar lost to entrepreneurial activity. Foley iterated all this in countless ways during his campaign – indeed, it was almost the only thing he said – and he lost.

So then, my conclusion is that you cannot win elections by promoting sound economic policies alone. And that also is the lesson of the second Obama campaign. Obama was not re-elected to office because his economic plan was superior to Mitt Romney’s. It wasn’t. He should have addressed the collapsed mortgage bubble during his first term.  Instead, he set his sights on destroying the U.S. Insurance industry as we know it. A significant part of that industry, by the way, employs a significant number of Connecticut workers. Obama won because a) he was the better demagogue, and b) his vision had in it an ethical and spiritual element that was never serious questioned by Romney.

Q: Some Republican analysts have said the themes advanced by the Obama administration during the president’s first term are hackneyed. The “War On Women” has lost much of its oomph, for instance.

GG: Democrats have overplayed that card. The last time it was employed successfully was in 2013, when Terry McAuliffe in Virginia won single women voters by 42 points. This time around, women preferred Democrats by only 4 percent. The poster girl for the “war On Women”, Sandra Fluke, lost her bid for office. Among Republicans sent by voters to Capitol Hill are Barbara Comstock, Mia Love, Shelley Moore Capito, Elise Stefanik and Joni Ernst, a military veteran who knows, among other things, how to make pigs squeal. Hispanic voters appear to be drifting away from Democrats, according to a Pew poll, despite craven campaign appeals from Democrats. The mass exit of African Americans from cities to surrounding suburbs in Connecticut show, at the very least, that the doors of the gilded cages in urban centers built by Democrats to hold a reliable Democratic constituency have burst open. The takeaway here may be that you can’t fool all the people all the time. New times demand new policies.

Q: And have Republicans in Connecticut put forward new policies?

GG: Republicans in Connecticut don’t know how to fight in the trenches. They could learn a few things from The Porcupine.

Q: The takeover of the U.S. Senate by Republicans has opened the door, some say, to an Obama-Congressional compromise. Up to this point, Majority Leader of the Senate Harry Reid and (President Barack) Obama have been able collectively to snuff Republican bills.  Now that the Congress has been captured by Republicans, Obama, so the theory goes, will be forced to consider bills put on the shelf by Reid, even though he may veto them.

GG:  On some issues. Obama already has drawn a red line in connection with programs he regards as important, including Obamacare. It may be useful to bear in mind that Obama need not compromise, in which case he may find himself on occasion facing a hostile Congress. There are indications that some Congressional Democrats are inching away from Obama; it’s not possible at this juncture to determine how stiff their spines might be. Given these circumstances, while it is true that an uncompromising president will have no future, one might ask so what? Obama is a lame duck president.

Q: What about his legacy?

GG: Domestically, Obama’s legacy is bound up with Obamacare, his signature achievement. He cannot retreat from Obamacare without trashing his legacy. Some compromises, he has given us to understand, are possible. The jury is out on all that. Obama’s foreign policy legacy has been entrusted to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iran’s patron. Bashir Assad, another Putin client, is rather hoping that the United States can be persuaded to destroy ISIS, his nemesis. ISIS is actively constructing a Caliphate in pats of Syria and northern Iraq. The whole Middle East is, to put it charitably, in flux, and the bad guys are in the ascendancy. In foreign policy, nearly everything Obama has touched – leading, as always, from behind – has turned to ashes. Obama may think he is in charge, but events are in the saddle, and they are riding him. You cannot have a coherent foreign policy unless you are prepared to distinguish between international friends and enemies. Putin has shown himself to be an enemy; he should be treated as such. These foreign policy matters may trouble the sleep of some members, all Democrats, of Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional Delegation, but Malloy can wink at it all. He is not directly concerned with foreign policy, and he is the padrone of a unitary state. I mentioned that last time.

Q: You mentioned it in passing. It lies at the center of your political analysis.

GG: It certainly matters a great deal. There is an intimate connection between political corruption and unitary political structures. Joseph Stalin could cheat in politics without fear of retribution because he had eliminated his opposition; so too with all the great tyrants of history.

Q: You are not comparing Malloy to Stalin.

GG: No, not at all, except to say that corrupt leaders love enforced solidarity, and it is the elimination of political opposition that facilitates corruption. I am not using the word “corruption” in some grand sense. At the very least, corruption is a departure from political norms that leads to ends injurious to the state. C.S. Lewis says nothing stinks so powerfully as a festering lily – a good thing gone bad. In the past few years in Connecticut, we have jailed for corrupt activities one festering mayor in Waterbury, another in Bridgeport and a governor. The governor, John Rowland, is up for re-incarceration. When he was put away for the first time several years ago, Connecticut decided to strike a blow at corruption by reforming campaign laws so as to prevent state contractors from sending campaign donations to politicians who were in a position to boost their prosperity. The two mayors and the governor were found out because the truth will out in any governing configuration in which there is a measure of political competition. In our political system, power is divided among three co-equal branches of government because the founders of our Republic were shrewd students of history. To prevent a tyrant from co-opting power, they undertook the construction of a constitutional government in which power would be shared by three separate branches: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Samuel Adams, known even in his own day as the Father of the American Revolution, went to school with John Locke. Our state constitution incorporates the principles of the U.S. Constitution, which is a rebuke to all forms of tyranny. And we should be mindful that the tyrant does not perceive himself as bad in any sense; he is, in his own eyes, a force for good. But to bring the matter to earth -- what happened to Connecticut’s grand effort to purify campaign financing?

Q: What?

GG: It was made inoperative, the Malloyalists say, by a Supreme Court decision. Federal law trumps state law, and federal law allows contributions to be made in state campaigns by contractors doing business with those whose campaigns they are financing. There is nothing in federal law that would have required Mr. Malloy to accept contributions from state contractors. He easily and honorably might have chosen, if he liked, to doff his hat to the Connecticut law that still forbids such transactions and refuse tainted contributions. This he did not do. He accepted contributions from a one-percenter campaign financier whose prospects Mr. Malloy already had advanced, possibly in return for the contribution. It was not the devil who made Malloy snub his nose at a state law that campaign purists in his own party had passed years earlier. No – it was the remote possibility that Republicans would do as he did. He did not wish to compete with Republicans on an uneven playing field. If you are a tyrant who has transcended laws, you may look down upon them from the heights with a certain godly dignity.

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