Bill Curry -- who lost an election, honorably I might add, to John Rowland -- is usually aggravating, in the good sense, and pushing his party with Archimedean fervor to the left. It was Archimedes who said “Give me a spot outside the world where I may place my lever, and I will move the world.” The Democratic Party, most especially in his own state, has obliged Mr. Curry in one respect; it has put up between itself and Mr. Curry a political Berlin Wall that, in a recent piece in Salon, he valiantly and sometimes confusedly attempted to breach.
I should add at the outset a confession of sorts: I like Bill Curry. I still recall our last in-person conversation. Mr. Curry was at the time engaged in one of his lost causes – he was running for governor in Connecticut -- and we had a grand time talking politics. Our talk drifted around to Bill Buckley, then still very much alive, energetically hassling recalcitrant Republicans and sticking pins into pompous Democratic campaign dolls. Mr. Curry surprised me when he said he had appeared on Firing Line. I thought I had caught all the shows, but I had missed that one. He later met Mr. Buckley at the Hartford Library, where the founder of National Review was hawking one of his many indispensable books. Buckley told him, with that winking smile of his, “I want you to know that I plan to vote against you -- with the GREATEST possible reluctance.”
Reluctant or not, a sufficient number of people voted against Mr. Curry in (1994) to throw the gubernatorial election to John Rowland, who later went on to commit political burglary.
Following Mr. Rowland’s impeachment ordeal, Mr. Curry was interviewed in Northeast magazine, a Hartford Courant publication now defunct, in which he quite properly thumped his chest and, flinging caution to the winds, shook a crooked finger at moderates in his own party, not excluding the editorial page editors of the Courant who had endorsed Mr. Rowland:
“What is this about? What is the question for the people here? How did this entire state become this man's (Rowland's) enablers? Where were the editorial boards? Where was the state's attorney? Where was the Ethics Commission? How could the General Assembly's leadership refuse to take sworn testimony on any of these scandals for nine years? How could the state make a collective decision not to enforce its own ethics laws? Why was this left to a handful of people in the U.S. attorney's office?"
It was a fairly steamy and refreshing Dunciad. The progressive Curry and Conservatives, I noted at the time were united on one point: To each of the warring clans, moderates – “quislings, the principle trimmers, the custodians of the status quo in both parties” -- were anathema.
Any and every comparison between conservatives and progressives must end here, as Mr. Curry makes plain in his Salon pieces. Progressivism is the North Pole, conservativism the South Pole, and never the twain shall meet. Where the difference is directional – I want to go to south, your vehicle takes me north -- there can be no compromise that is not also a fraud. A progressive who believes that entrepreneurial capital must be taxed in order to achieve equity by re-distributing profits, cannot compromise with a conservative who believes that, beyond a certain point, the destruction of seed capital makes redistribution impossible through excessive appropriation of the profit that is to be re-distributed. As proof of the certainty of their proposition, progressives point to their hearts; conservatives point to history, crueler but more reliable, to justify their opinion. The heart, as we know, delivered Obama to the White House twice, but his history – he added $7 trillion to and already crushing national debt -- is bearing us into an altered and uncertain future.
What do progressives want?
The answer to this question is embedded in the cumbersome title of Mr. Curry’s Salon piece, a review of President Barrack Obama’s State of the Union speech: “He’s not suddenly Paul Krugman: Let’s not morph Obama into Elizabeth Warren quite yet.”
Progressives want what Mr. Krugman, Ms. Warren and Mr. Curry want: aggressive, unvarnished and unapologetic progressivism, which is rooted in two unalterable propositions: 1) that government, through regulations and taxes, can better direct he private economy than can Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” and 2) that only the private economy, never the governmental redistribution machine, need be regulated.
Mr. Curry is not convinced that Mr. Obama is a committed progressive, though he does acknowledge that Mr. Obama did in his State of the Union speech doff his hat in the right direction. Like most of us, Mr. Curry wonders on occasion whether Mr. Obama means what he says or says what he means. Mr. Obama, some of us have noticed, not infrequently engages in shamanistic speech, forms of address in which words magically change the shape of things in what politicians other than Mr. Obama refer to as “the real world.” Then too, dodging and weaving is an occupational hazard for politicians who find themselves “in the arena,” an expression used by one of the more important progenitors of the American progressive movement, President and Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, to distinguish himself from academic theoreticians and political commentators.
Teddy, in perhaps his best Nietzschean ubermensch pose, is always worth quoting:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address sent progressive tingles up and down Mr. Curry’s legs:
“His campaign began emphatically on Nov. 5. Instead of the ritual submission the media demands of defeated party leaders, Obama used his post-election press conference to renew his vow to enact substantial immigration reform by executive order. Days later, he announced a major climate accord with China and finally came down foursquare for net neutrality.
“These were big moves, but Obama was just warming up. In December, he announced the surprising end of our miserably failed Cuban trade embargo. Earlier this month, he unveiled a bold bid to make community college free for millions of students all across America.
“Still not impressed? On Tuesday night he called for paid family leave, equal pay for equal work, a minimum wage hike and a tripling of the child tax credit to $3,000. He’s also pushing a $500 “second earner” tax credit and wants to give college students up to $2,500 apiece to help with expenses. The best part is how he’d pay for it all, mostly by taxing big banks, raising capital gains rates and closing loopholes that allows rich heirs to avoid capital gains taxes altogether.”
It is an open question in Mr. Curry’s mind whether Mr. Obama’s programs, lustily approved by Mr. Curry, are “real.”
“Obama’s new program seems real enough. We can’t gauge its full impact without more numbers, but this much is clear: Do it all — equal pay, minimum wage hike, community college tuition, family leave, middle-class tax credits and taxes on big banks and the superrich — and we’d make a very big dent in income inequality. Add the financial transaction tax Ralph Nader and Rose Ann DeMoro’s California nurses have long been pushing — and that some House Democrats now embrace — and you have enough money on the table to reverse decades of wage stagnation.”
Quite apart from Mr. Obama’s sincerity – he sounds sincere; but sounds in modern politics may be misleading – the question never addressed by Mr. Curry is: Can Mr. Obama, a lame duck approaching the last two years of his presidency, inaugurate his futuristic program under the new political dispensation?
Mr. Obama, and progressives with him, has lost both houses of Congress, and his enforcer in the Congress, former Speaker of the House Harry Reid, has seen better days. In the highly partisan Congress that followed Mr. Obama’s progressive ascendency, Mr. Reid simply sequestered bills that, if passed, might have impacted his “lead from behind” strategy. That strategy has cost Congressional Democrats, not all of whom are progressives, both houses of Congress, important gubernatorial slots and not a few state legislatures.
Mr. Curry is rather hoping that Mr. Obama maybe able with is veto pen to hold off the onrush of bills, some of them non-partisan, held prisoner by his legislative jailer, Mr. Reid. There is, however, every indication that the Republican Congress will now be able to move from the gloaming to the noon-day sun bills that have been long gathering dust on Mr. Reid’s desk. And the lame duck’s vetoes will mean something – perhaps something untoward – for Democrats, some of whom may be anxious to cut the anchor that has attached them to Mr. Obama. Democrats in the Congress can still count, and Mr. Curry may not be privy to their councils. Is it not possible that some independent Democrats may at this point be willing to stop their ears to the tune piped by the presidential piper that has led so many of their comrades over the cliff?
Mr. Obama’s visions and revisions, as outlined above by Mr. Curry, represent a campaign program that has been highly successful for the president – he was elected to office twice – but there is a world of difference, as Mr. Curry well knows, between a campaign program and a governing program.
What gets you elected to office, usually bread and circuses shamelessly offered by politicians to an easily distracted electorate, is not always beneficial for the country or the wider world. Money pouring from the private sector into federal and state coffers may be good for the permanent government – which, in Mr. Curry’s home state would include a public sector enterprise larger than any other single business in Connecticut – but, because these funds are drawn from the public well, it is by no means certain that money lost to those who wish to save or invest their funds in a future of their own making will be more prudently or wisely spent by governors, hungry for campaign contributions, who wish to protect select companies from the ravages caused by their own getting and spending policies.
In Connecticut, Dannel Malloy is not only the state’s most progressive Big Bling governor; he’s the guy who imposed the largest tax increase in the state’s history on the small fish – nail salon owners, for instance -- so he might transfer the cash in tax forgiveness programs to one-percenters in the private economy such as United Technologies. Mr. Curry, writing an account of the Clinton presidency at the time, was perhaps too busy to comment in Salon on the massive transfer of money from small shop owners to mega companies such as UTC whose “superrich” CEO Mr. Obama now hopes to plunder by imposing upon him a tax the payment of which every CEO in the country may easily avoid after a brief chat with his tax attorney.
During his first four years in office, UConn has been one of the principle beneficiaries of Mr. Malloy’s largess; yet, when President of UConn Susan Herbst came aboard, one of the first items on her “to-do” list was to raise tuition rates. Public education, once thought to be a municipal and state obligation, has now fallen to the tender mercies of Mr. Obama, who is promising a “free” education for the first two years to community college students. Subsidization inflates costs, which is why conservatives often say: If you think “fill in the blank” (community college education) is costly now, just wait until it is free. Among progressives, many of whom graduated from progressive colleges, free public education has become little more than a campaign fetish. In many urban centers, public education is a dismal and expensive failure. Vouchers, proposed by reformist Republicans, would help far more than progressive moral uplift in reversing years of pedagogical neglect in urban public schools.
“Obama used his post-election press conference to renew his vow to enact substantial immigration reform by executive order,” Mr. Curry writes in his Salon piece. But as much as immigration reform should be enacted by an ACT of Congress, the president being a constitutional facilitator of bills passed by the legislative, there is some doubt as to whether immigration reform – if it is indeed reform -- may be ordered by the president in the absence of a Congressional bill authorizing what he is pleased to call his executive action. There should be a constitutional warrant for executive action, a matter that will be addressed -- soon, one hopes – by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Curry writes “His [Mr. Obama’s] campaign [to shape the future, possibly for Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the likely (2018) Democratic Party presidential nominee] began emphatically on Nov. 5. “Campaign” – see the difference between “campaign” and “governing program” above – is precisely the right word.
Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is a messy affair. Elsewhere, I’ve styled his amorphous foreign “policy” as “inscrutable.” No serious critic of Mr. Obama could help but notice that here are more twists and turns in Mr. Obama’s “lead from behind” policy in the Middle East than might be found in the average slinky. His foreign policy lacks an indispensable center because every foreign policy in history rests firmly on a “friends and enemies” distinction. We celebrate the foreign policy of Winston Churchill because he was able early to distinguish first Hitler and then Stalin as enemies, which perception was later to shape the foreign policy of the United States. American philosopher Walker Percy used to say – If you cannot name your enemy, you are already dead. Mr. Curry will have noticed that Mr. Obama has a naming problem.
The al-Qaida terrorists who murdered the US ambassador in Benghazi were protesters, not terrorists. Mr. Obama has declined to call “terrorists” ISIS murderers who are responsible for beheading idolaters in northern Iraq and who sawed off the heads of American journalists after they raped and enslaved women and children taken as prisoners. The ISIS Salafists were pushed out of Syria into northern Iraq by Bashir Assad, a murderous tyrant and a client of Russian President Vladimir Putin who, only a few months ago, annexed a large chunk of Ukraine. Mr. Obama is friendly with Mr. Putin and his doppelgänger, Dmitry Medvedev, possibly because neither of them are Republican congressmen.
Following the murder in Paris, the city of lights, of more than a half dozen cartoonists, Mr. Obama declined to send his Vice President or Secretary of State to a chorus line of world leaders who were protesting the murderous activities of two Parisian followers of the religion of peace. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to put in an appearance. Later, Mr. Netanyahu was denounced by a “Senior American official” for having “spat in our faces publicly.” Mr. Netanyahu offended the thin-skinned Mr. Obama by accepting an invitation to address a joint session of the US Congress concerning the peaceful practitioners of Islam in Iran, which for some time has been uninterruptedly developing a nuclear capability that may be useful to the imams in Iran who, along with other villains in the Middle East, want to push Israel into the sea, kidnap their women and children and perhaps saw off a few heads with a dull butter knife. The religion of peace is on the march.
None of this is mentioned in Mr. Curry’s Salon columns. Mr. Curry may feel, along with Mr. Obama, that to do so would be to “spit in the faces” of those peaceful citizens of the Middle East who imprison women in burqas, forcibly castrate them, murder or insult American ambassadors, the personal representative of the President of the United States, accept succor from the enemies– that nasty word again! – of the United States such as Mr. Putin, breaker of Ukraine, crucify Christians on crosses, burn their churches to the ground and read with great amusement ardent professions from Mr. Obama that al-Quaid has been destroyed operationally, even as al-Qaida associated groups take over Mosul, murdering everyone in their path, and Yemen, once friendly to the United States.
After all, why make a fuss in a civilized Salon?