Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Grumpi Interviews, February 11, 2015

Q: Some people think you are a misanthrope.

GG: I must regretfully reject the compliment.

Q: Compliment?

GG: It’s no small thing being a misanthrope. You must dislike or mistrust everyone. Unfortunately, I haven’t the energy to be so democratic in my antipathies.
Q: I confess it was a politician who thought so.

GG: Ah. I wonder if it was a friend or foe. You may survive your enemies – your friends, never.

 Q: You have been very critical. I promised him I would ask you: Is there anything you like? Anything at all?

GG: A similar question was asked of Aristophanes, the Greek comic playwright, probably by a politician he had held up to ridicule in one of his plays. His critic stopped him on the street and demanded to know, “Isn’t there anything you take seriously? Anything at all?” Aristophanes retorted, “Of course I do. I take comedy seriously.”  I may say to the same purpose that I like misanthropes and cynics. The nature of the politician makes such preferences impossible. We’ve never heard of a glad-handing misanthrope or a contented cynic. For the most part, politicians are sociable, even likable creatures. Most politicians I know are utopian eupeptics, poor things. The desert for them is always on the verge of bursting into bloom. The critic must take up a position outside the world to move the world, and the political world, at least in Connecticut, is uniformly progressive. A “progressive” critic in this environment is an impossibility, which may be why there is such a deficit in Connecticut of critical commentary.

Q: Connecticut is a very small pond.

GG: Yes, but large enough to contain such moral epigones as former US Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker. And Governor Malloy, I have it on good authority, plans to re-invent the state. President Barack Obama’s re-invention of the United States is winding down; he has two remaining lame duck years to complete our national destruction, after which we may compete on a level playing field with Greece and Spain. Obama has been pursuing a Ouija board foreign policy, with predictable results.

Q: The politician you have been most cynical about, if I could put it that way, is former US Senator and Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker, and recently you appear to have been gnawing on Governor Dannel Malloy.

GG: Well sure, these are the politicians whose warped programs have affected me most directly. Richard Blumenthal, now a US Senator, was Attorney General of the Connecticut for twenty odd years. During his long run as Connecticut’s consumer protection attorney general, he only infrequently failed to disappoint me. US Senator Chris Murphy is ham-fistedly and unintentionally amusing. Both Blumenthal and Murphy are new to the US Senate. But yes, the two governors you’ve named are particularly trying.

Q: Weicker is still alive, I think.

GG: Yes. Unplugged politically, he’s a bit more bearable. Political giants such as Weicker and Malloy have one thing in common – audacity, a virtue Obama also claims.

Q: You’ve written columns for various papers in Connecticut for what, thirty five years?

GG: Yes.

Q: And naturally you’ve affected the nature of politics in Connecticut?

GG: Not in the least, so far as I can tell.

Q: Why then do you continue to write?

GG: Funny you should ask. I put that very question to Chris Powell, the Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, located in Manchester, Connecticut. I remarked that he had been writing even longer than I. He was the youngest Managing Editor of any paper in Connecticut. I could not help but notice that while his editorials and columns were always on point and his ideas unconventional but holistically beneficial, they had had no practical effect on politics. What keeps you going? I asked him.  There followed a very pregnant pause, a sly smile, a twinkle in the eye, and he answered, “Spite.”

Q: He was joking.

GG: A little bit. You don’t want to underestimate the foibles and fallibilities of mankind. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, was not so foolish. Jesus, remember, was harsh on the whitened sepulchers of his day. I know reporters and editors are fond of claiming a kind of objectivity proper to devils and angels, but most of that is for public show.  At home in their shops, they unfurl their progressive banners.

Q: Reporters are not objective? You shock me.

GG: They make attempts to be fair. But there are two kinds of “fair” reporters; fair liberals/progressives and fair conservatives. The reportorial swarm in Connecticut is – I’m guessing here – 98% liberal progressive, and 2% conservative. The fig leaf of objectivity can be abandoned in the case of commentators. We go nude, allowing all our private parts to show shamelessly in what we write.

Q: But would it be true to say that the number of people on your enemy’s list is far greater than a like number on your friend’s list -- if you even have friends?

GG: Well, most of my best friends are dead. Some of them have been dead for centuries: Lucian, the second century writer and misanthrope; all the ancient comics, Greek or Roman; Socrates sometimes;  Antisthenes the cynic, who was a pupil of Socrates, always; and, coming close to the modern period, I suppose Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky,  Kafka, Camus, Walker Percy and Bill Buckley. The list is random and by no means all-inclusive. It is better to be friendly with one whose work is finished, don’t you think?  Genghis Khan was intolerable when alive; dead, he is simply an object of study and curiosity. We can add together his plus and minuses; he can be summed up. Whereas, in the case of live persons, any summary is at best provisional. Dead and harmless, a mummy in a museum, it might be possible for me to cozy up even to Weicker.

Q: What is it that sets you off about him?

GG: His oversized pomposity, his gasbaggery. And then, of course, there is the income tax, which saved state government the necessity of cutting spending and ruined Connecticut.

Q: Several times in your columns, you have mentioned Chris Powell’s review of Weicker’s autobiography, Maverick.

GG: It’s masterful. It takes the measure of the man much more accurately than the autobiography itself. We must bring every ounce of our cynicism to autobiographies especially. George Bernard Shaw used to say that the best biography of Napoleon would be one written by his butler – or perhaps his wife, in one of her darker moods. May I wander a bit here?

Q: Sure. We have all day.

GG: There is an account of Napoleon written by his first wife’s lady in waiting. Naturally, she is intemperate towards Napoleon, who abandoned his wife, Josephine, for reasons of state. This account, Memoirs of the Empress Josephine, written by Madame de Remusant, likely would never have seen the light of day were it not for the efforts of her grandson, who made sure his grandmother’s memoir was published nearly eight decades after she had died, when it had become safe to say critical things about Napoleon. It is an enticing account of the court of the Emperor Napoleon as seen by someone with a critical eye who had a brief against the emperor. The point I wish to underscore is this: Point of view – an expression often used by Kierkegaard – affects reality; it is not possible to separate the viewer from the thing viewed. The corrective to Maverick, the title of Weicker’s autobiography, is provided by Powell’s review of Maverick, which he titled, appropriately, Mister Bluster Saves The World. If you want to know the truth about Napoleon or Mr. Bluster, you must take a bead on the subject that includes varying points of view. Among Connecticut commentariate, there is no rounded view of the man. One commentaror said he had “balls that clang.” But not larger than Ghengis Khan’s surely.

Q: Isn’t that what a good reporter does, present differing views?

GG: It is. But the reported story itself is produced by someone who strives mightily to present objectively alternative points of view on a matter he himself has selected. And the selection of subjects is, I may say, open to the same objection. Let us suppose that the reporter is a conservative who has chosen to report on, say, the ill effects and dire unintended consequences of the Weicker income tax, an untilled field. That choice itself depends upon the reporter’s subjective view of economics, politics and the world. Why should we suppose that a liberal or progressive would have chosen to report similarly on the same subject? If we had the advantage of a Napoleon autobiography, which we do not, why should we suppose that the narrative would be the same as that found in the Memoirs of the Empress Josephine? Most assuredly, the two narratives would be radically different – because Madame de Remusant is NOT Napoleon. The only way to handle this structural ideological distortion would be to hire for your newspaper two reporters, one conservative and one progressive.  That will not be done, at least not here in Connecticut. The state used to have two newspapers one of which, the Hartford Courant, was more conservative than the other, The Hartford Times, which closed for business in 1976. The Courant since has become much more liberal, especially on its editorial page. I suppose if one goes in search of a more conservative editorial point of view, the Waterbury Republican American might do, but the Courant’s reach, and therefore its influence, is more extensive. The interesting question is: Why have most of the editorial pages in most Connecticut papers moved to the left? Indeed, why has state government moved leftward?

Q: And your answer is what?

GG: Answers are what. The question “Why did Mr. Smith commit suicide?” is both impertinent and pointless – if Mr. Smith had two or more reasons for committing suicide. One answer surely is that news writing is a business, and nearly all the business’ clients in Connecticut are progressive Democrats. Connecticut now has a progressive governor in Dannel Malloy and a progressive Democratic dominated General Assembly; all the constitutional officers in Connecticut are progressive Democrats, and all the members of Connecticut’s US Congressional Delegation are progressive Democrats. Naturally, the reportage will have a leftist character. One hardly expects Blumenthal or Murphy to issue conservative memoranda to Connecticut’s media.  I suppose if all the politicians in Connecticut were to become followers of the Marquis de Sade, reporting in Connecticut would have a sadistic tinge to it. De Sade is remembered today mostly for his eroticism. He was also a revolutionary philosopher , a child of the enlightenment much interested in sexual liberation, violence, criminality and an extreme freedom that had at long last cast off the shackles of religious prohibitions – a man, one might say, of the far left, an fetal canary in our modern sexually liberated, progressive mineshaft. There are loads of reasons that may account for the left turn of reporting in the state. Too many news outlets are simply following the political piper, when they themselves should be piping the tune. The cognate question – Why has the state moved left? – may be more easily answered.

Q: And the answer is…?

GG: Bad options. If all the roads in the state turn left, one must turn left, whether one wants to go west or east. Lowell Weicker may serve as the prime example of Connecticut’s leftward tropism. Here, I must become a wee bit critical, even cynical. I hope you don’t mind.

Q: Well, there are limits …

GG: He is touched on frequently in Connecticut Commentary because Weicker has been the Winter of the Discontent of the state Republican Party. Until he ran for governor as an independent, Weicker had been what he himself once called “a Jacob Javits Republican.” He served two years in the US House of Representatives and eighteen years in the US Senate, a long run, during which time he was the face of the Republican Party in Connecticut. Weicker was far less moderate than any of the long serving Republican members in Connecticut’s US Congressional delegation. Indeed, according to Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal rating service, Weicker was, in ADA’s 1986 rankings, 20 percentage points more liberal than fellow Democratic Senator Chris Dodd. Weicker called himself, approvingly, “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl” and reverenced his own bristly, maverick nature. Weicker’s bete noir in Connecticut was Bill Buckley, the founder of National Review magazine and the architect of the modern conservative movement. An uber-liberal Republican, Weicker was at last defeated by then Attorney General Joe Lieberman, a liberal Democrat. Conservatives never were able to gain a foothold in Connecticut until Lieberman, with an assist from Buckley, was able to cut short Weicker’s over-long political career in Congress. Soon after he was deposed, all the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” Republicans in Connecticut’s Congressional delegation disappeared, replaced by fiscal and social progressives. Now, Weicker always pretended to be unalterably opposed to President Ronald Reagan but unaccountably friendly to Barry Goldwater, Reagan’s red carpet. Reagan, beset by larger problems – how, for example, to make the Soviet Union go poof -- hardly noticed Weicker. There is but one brief reference to Weicker in Reagan’s diary; the president called him a “no good fathead.” And we know that Goldwater did not react kindly to the liberals in California and the Northeast, about whom he said, “If you lop off California and New England, you’ve got a pretty good country.” There was no opposition to Weicker in Connecticut among active conservative Connecticut politicians -- largely because there were no active conservative politicians in Connecticut during Weicker’s twenty year reign -- when he was bawling loudly about Reagan, conservativism and Buckley. In the end, Weicker was tossed aside by a) Democrats who decided to vote for a real liberal Democrat rather than a liberal Jacob Javits Republican, and b) Connecticut Republicans whose ribs had been battered for years by a maverick who had been using his own party as a foil to secure election in a state in which Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a margin of two to one. Weicker was a fake Republican; even his maverickism was largely political bling and tinsel. And so he got the bum’s rush. Weicker had a second act as governor, allowing him to wreak vengeance on a state that had cavalierly given him the boot. After forswearing the income tax in his campaign, his first business as governor was to “pour gas on the fire” by forcing an income tax through the General Assembly. The income tax was long a cherished dream of progressives. It is no wonder that within the space of three governors – Weicker and two moderate and accommodating Republican governors – the income tax had tripled. If you make it easier for state or national government to tax, you make it easier for such governments to spend.

Q: It’s the more traveled path.

GG: That’s right. Rivers and politicians both have this in common: They flow along the path of least resistance. Weicker was a more liberal US Senator than Chris Dodd, who was no piker himself, because that path offered him assurance of re-election. Malloy, following Weicker, imposed upon Connecticut the largest tax increase in state history because he wanted to cobble together a coalition that would assure his re-election. Resistance to higher taxation in Connecticut among reporters barely exists, except as a benighted position regularly condemned in editorials. All the power brokers in the state, among whom must be included Connecticut’s media, simply assume that, upon recovery from a national recession, things in Connecticut will go along swimmingly, as in times past: Taxes will increase, spending will increase, and all the politicians responsible for what may be a sea-change in the state’s economy will be handily reelected.

Q: You don’t think so?

GG: Reality is always the wolf at the door. Ignore him often enough and he will blow your house down.  In 1991, Connecticut was suffering from a recession; Weicker slapped an income tax bandage on it, and it took Connecticut ten years or more to recover its lost jobs. Similarly, Malloy pasted a huge tax increase bandage on the state’s lingering recession, thereby prolonging it. Off in a corner somewhere, Weicker murmured his approval and Buckley, a Stamford resident like Malloy, turned in his grave. Two years ago in 2013, Jim Powell, writing in Forbes magazine, pulled together all the depressing economic figures in a fairly comprehensive article he titled "How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One Of America's Worst Performing Economies? All the red flags were flapping in that piece. They are flapping still. But what struck me most forcefully about the two campaigns – Weicker’s and Malloy – were their similarities, the sinking sense of Yogi Berra’s “deja-vu, all over again." This was the second time we had traveled this road, and the road would deposit us in the same place. 

Q: Dick Blumenthal seems to be a nice guy. Why don’t you leave him alone?

GG: It’s not the business of commentators to leave active politicians alone. I don’t think most political writers in Connecticut have taken a close and critical look at Connecticut’s first consumer protection senator. I know they've faithfully printed in their papers virtually all of Blumenthal’s approving press releases. But here again we bump into the question raised above – how much confidence can we place in press releases about Napoleon written by Napoleon?

Q: You think that reporters uncritically print his press releases as is?

GG: I do. I've had the advantage of reading the same press releases. Those made available when he was attorney general possibly were written by one of the more than one hundred lawyers who worked in his office. The lawyers also prosecuted most of the cases for which he claimed credit. Under Blumenthal’s direction – make more money, the prime directive of most large law firms -- the attorney general's office was more interested than it should have been in realizing yearly profits, and not a year went by that he did not claim that his office paid for itself. The office – which is constitutionally obligated to represent state agencies in legal matters – became, under the direction of Joe Lieberman, a consumer protection agency with subpoena powers, and Blumenthal used his authority to harass Connecticut businesses. If his name had been the Reverend Jesse Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton or the Reverend Al Capone, he would have been accused of shaking down businesses to support his own operation. As a student in Harvard, Blumenthal was the editor of the Harvard Crimson and in that capacity learned the uses of adjectives to cast a criminal glow on business activities. The companies he selected for prosecution were effectively destroyed as soon as his press releases made their way into various newspapers. On occasion, some of the information supplied to his office was wrested from his victims by means of questionable affidavits submitted to judges in ex parte proceedings. He used the powers of his office to terrorize small business owners, and they coughed up   requisite “settlements,” after which he could boast that his office paid its own way. Large businesses generally submitted to “settlements” because perpetual litigation would have been more of a nuisance than prompt settlement fee payments; small businesses paid up because they could not afford court costs at all. If Al Capone had had the use of subpoena powers and ex parte judicial warrants, he could easily have bullied his victims into surrendering to him a reasonable percentage of company profits. During the year 2013-14, the attorney general’s office generated $565,455,445 for general and special funds, not a bad haul. That report, incidentally, is very light on whistle blowing. Under the heading “Whistle Blower Matters,” the report says, “The [Attorney General] department, in co-operation with the Auditors of Public Accounts, continued to investigate a variety of complaints alleging corruption, unethical practices, mismanagement, gross waste of funds and abuse of authority.” That’s it. It really is shameful that the Attorney General’s office should be, once and at the same time, representing both state agencies and people working in those agencies who blow the whistle on administrative wrongdoing. What should we say if the farmer should employ a weasel to guard the hen-hose from foxes?

Q: Do you believe that over the past, say, thirty years things in Connecticut have gotten worse, better or remained the same?

GG: All the significant data suggests that things have gotten much worse. A reporter for Forbes, Jim Powell, pulled together all the statistics in a summary article he wrote titled “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One Of America's Worst Performing Economies?” It’s a depressing read.

Q: Well then, from your point of view, how did rich Connecticut morph into one of America’s worst performing economies?

GG: We are overtaxed. Whatever you tax in an economy tends to disappear.  Just now, Malloy and other tax prone Democrats are knotting their brows and worrying that if they raise taxes on Connecticut’s multi-billionaires, significant suppliers of the state’s revenue might pull up their very shallow roots and move elsewhere. Over taxation and over regulation –which is really a hidden tax on goods and services – have pushed entrepreneurial capital outside the state. Malloy is now seed-bedding enterprises that he HOPES will be good investments with tax money that ought to be used to repair Connecticut’s old rusting bridges. But the problems the state faces are also political.

Q: Meaning?

GG: Politically we have become a one party state. And one party states are notoriously inept, wasteful and corrupt – wherever they are found, whether in Soviet Russia, communist China, communist Cuba, the soon to be Islamic State of the Levant or Bridgeport Connecticut. Many of us have seen for a long while the destruction of the Republican Party in Connecticut steaming down the tracks. The Republican Party in Connecticut – by which I mean minority Republicans in the state legislature – have simply become accommodated to failure. The party never stretches its muscle; it is an accommodationist party, a trick the party perhaps learned from Weicker. Today the Connecticut GOP is seriously considering opening its primaries to unaffiliated voters; that will be the death pill of the party. It will stop all vigorous conservative (read: corrective) opposition in its tracks, which may be good for accommodationist Republicans in the state legislature; they will keep their positions. But it’s bad for the rest of us. It’s bad for the state – I mean the real state, not state government.

Q: It all seems so cynical.

 A: If you've been pushed to the bottom of a well, the sun you see overhead that points the way out of the well will seem a cynical vision reminding you of your own helplessness. But cynicism, under such circumstances, is the beginning of wisdom.

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