“The moderate eastern Republican fell victim to Republican extremists from within, such as William F. Buckley, and the party started to disintegrate,” so says former US Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker, who lost his position in the Senate when he was challenged by then Attorney General Joe Lieberman. Mr. Lieberman, a Democrat of long standing, was not an extremist conservative; neither, for that matter was Bill Buckley. But let us be generous and allow Mr. Weicker his point, for purposes of examination.
What practical effect, if any, has Mr. Buckley’s conservativism had on Connecticut, which is part of the eastern seaboard? The honest answer to the question would be next to none. If politics in Connecticut were a dog, conservatives would represent the tip of the tail. And tails wag dogs only in the fevered imagination of ideologues. All past Republican Party members of Connecticut's US Delegation – Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons and Chris Shays – were fiscal conservatives; all were “socially moderate” politicians, like Mr. Weicker and the late New York Senator Jacob Javits, Mr. Weicker’s ideal politician. And all the fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republicans who used to serve in the US Congress have been swept away by the onrushing tide of progressivism, which may briefly be defined here as Weickerism Plus. Nearly all the members of Connecticut’s US Congressional Delegation self-identify as progressives, none of whom have put into practice during their tenure in Congress the luminous prescriptions offered by either former President Ronald Reagan or Mr. Buckley or, for that matter, former President John Kennedy.
The historical facts in Connecticut point to a theory that is the direct opposite of that presented by Mr. Weicker in his Hartford Courant Op-Ed. In the state Mr. Weicker represented for more than twenty years in Congress, no fiscally conservative, socially liberal, Jacob Javits Republican member of the US Congress EVER has fallen in a political contest to an “extremist” Bill Buckley conservative in either a primary or a General Election. If such were the case, Mr. Weicker might have been able in his misleading Op-Ed to point to a name. There are no such names.
In his highly misleading Op-Ed, Mr. Weicker misidentifies Donald Trump, whose candidacy for President has been vigorously opposed by nearly all the writers of National Review, the magazine founded by Mr. Buckley, as a conservative. It suits his purposes to imagine that the round hole is a square peg. It is at least doubtful that Mr. Trump is a Republican; the leading Republican candidate for President has changed his party affiliation, some report, at least five times. This shape shifting may also be seen in the career of Senator Weicker.
During his last year in Congress, Mr. Weicker received a rating by the left-wing Americans For Democratic Action (ADA) that was twenty points higher than that of Chris Dodd, who was not in the habit of applying conservative principles to his own policy prescriptions.
So then, to summarize: Moderate Republicans in Connecticut did not fall to conservatives in elections; they fell to Democrats whose programs were socially liberal and, some would argue, ruinous. Mr. Buckley, who vigorously and successfully opposed the re-election of Mr. Weicker to the U.S. Senate was not a conservative extremist; he was a conservative’s conservative. The entire eastern seaboard has been captured by progressive Democrats such as Mario Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio in New York and Dannel Malloy and the progressive leadership of the General Assembly in Connecticut. Both states are under water because they did not listen carefully enough to the political prescriptions of Mr. Buckley. When Mr. Malloy, facing apparently unexpungable red ink, imposed on Mr. Weicker’s state the largest tax increase in state history, followed by the second largest tax increase in state history, Mr. Weicker – for reasons that ought to seem obvious to anyone who possesses a nodding acquaintance with the political career of the father of Connecticut’s income tax – praised Mr. Malloy for his great courage. Mr. Weicker is not the only “maverick” in Connecticut.
Connecticut has been on the skids since 1991, the first year of Mr. Weicker’s governorship. The state’s inexorable plunge downward had nothing to do with Mr. Buckley’s conservativism. Contra Weicker, Mr. Buckley would not have supported the Republican Party nomination of Mr. Trump as President and the standard bearer of the GOP. Neither did Mr. Buckley support the political career of Mr. Weicker.
Mr. Weicker is not an ideologue; he is a shift-shaping professional politician, motivated largely by what Fredrick Nietzsche called “ressentiment.” Nietzschean ressentiment is envy plus, according to Jonah Goldberg of NationalReview:
“Ressentiment is first and foremost the psychology of blame. It surveys the social landscape and blames the failures and hardships of the alleged have-nots on the successes of the haves. It is more than envy, which is a timeless human emotion — and one of the seven deadly sins. It is a theory of morality that says the success of the successful is proof of their wickedness.”
Perhaps in his retirement from politics, the saintly Mr. Weicker should permit himself at least one vice – and READ the magazine. At the very least, it would help him to escape from a deadly melancholic nostalgia that makes it impossible for him to advance his thinking beyond his Senate years.