Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Weicker Template, Modern Politics, And Ressentiment

An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere – Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

The national and state elections have, unsurprisingly, intersected. Former U.S Representative Chris Shays not only announced he would not be supporting the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump; he also said he would be actively supporting Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party presidential nominee. Ditto Lowell Weicker, the “Maverick” Republican who ran for governor of Connecticut under his own party label, “A Connecticut Party.”

These defections are not at all surprising, and anyone writing about Connecticut politics who is surprised at them should have their press credentials revoked.

Weicker was always an “outside the box Republican,” even when he first ran for the Senate. He was heartily endorsed by then President Richard Nixon, who campaigned for him. Weicker, like Hillary Clinton, supported Barry Goldwater. He was an aggressive anti-anti-Vietnam-war pacifist hunter. In her earliest time as a political operative, Clinton was a Goldwater-girl.  She has learned to adapt several times since.

Of course, it does not take incumbent Connecticut Republicans long to discover that the math is not in their corner. Here in Connecticut, the bluest of blue states, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of two to one. This revelation induced Weicker to tack to the left, and in time he became the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, a policy Democrat flying under the Republican Party flag – not unlike, irony of ironies, Donald Trump, whose party affiliation is fungible.

Weicker’s opposition to Trump may best be understood as  a case of professional jealousy. Shays, a math-directed Weicker in a minor key, is not untouched by professional jealousy either.

Republicans may have noticed there are not many “maverick” or “moderate” Republicans in Connecticut's U.S. Congressional delegation – none in fact. They’ve all been displaced by Democratic progressives, progressivism being a step-up from liberalism on the way to socialism.

So then, how may Republicans stop losing?

There’s the nub. Connecticut Republicans, who have banged their thumbs blue countless times, should by this time have learned what does not work. And many Republicans – Weicker and Shays aside – are now asking, “Why not give conservativism a chance?” It’s not as if conservativism in Connecticut has been tried and found wanting; it has never been tried at all.

Historically, the template for a “successful” Connecticut Republican Congressman has been the “moderate,” fiscally conservative and socially liberal Republican – Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, Chris Shays – or the “maverick” Republican -- Weicker -- who for most of his years in Congress used his own party as a foil to curry favor with Connecticut Democrat voters. Weicker’s liberal Americans For Democratic Action (ADA) rating during his last years in office was higher than that of US Senator Chris Dodd, with whom Weicker enjoyed an intimate and imitative relationship.

So, the key to Weicker’s longevity as a Republican Senator lay in harrying his own party and joining with Senate Democrats often as possible. He also had a very intimate and warm relationship with US Senator Edward Kennedy. And Weicker was, of course, passionately opposed to all variants of conservativism. The Weicker template, Connecticut Republicans should now realize, no longer works. Tried countless times, it has been found wanting, which is why Connecticut’s US Congressional Delegation is made up entirely of Democratic incumbents.

Do Republicans realize the Weicker template no longer works?

That’s the million-dollar question. The template has become a fly trap for Republicans. Try as they might, it is virtually impossible for a “moderate” Republican to move to the left of a progressive Democrat – especially on so called "social issues."

Why “so called” social issues? Because at bottom even economic issues are social issues. The political problem for Republicans is that they have allowed Democrats, especially progressives, to define what is and what is not a “social (read: important) issue.”

Independents, exiled moderate Democrats and Republicans who have lived for the past two terms of the Obama administration with their eyes opened now know that Republicans have won the debate on economic issues – especially in Connecticut.

Directed for more than fifty years by General Assembly Democrats, Connecticut’s economy is by any measure an obvious failure. Obamanomics also is a failure that has added ten trillion dollars to an already insupportable ten trillion dollar national debt.

Obama won his elections on Democratic defined "social issues," and during the course of the Obama administration, the country has become more divided on issues of race, abortion, women’s rights – the usual campaign platform props defined by progressive Democrats as “social issues.” Like the proverbial  tail-wagging-the-dog, narrowly defined “social issues” are driving economic issues; that is the real import of Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist revolution, whose throat has been cut by Sanders' endorsement of Clinton.

Sanders’ entire campaign was rooted in what Frederic Nietzsche called “ressentiment,” a hostility – really, a transvaluation of values that turns morality on its head – that arises when envy mounts the moral throne.

The pathology of Nietzschean ressentiment rolls out like this: The cause of one’s weakness or hostility is misidentified and projected on others. Obama has perfected the art. The false cause of weakness and humiliation produces an entire system of false morality that short-circuits the real source of frustration, and this distorted moral system then is used to attack the misperceived source of one’s envy. In essence, our inner director – call it what you will, conscience or ego – creates a false enemy to avoid culpability.

Think of Weicker battle against Connecticut conservatives; there were no conservative politicians wielding political power in Connecticut during Weicker's entire senatorial term in office. This tendency of creating straw-men so that one might heroically strike them down may be seen everywhere in modern life, which is in full flight from personal responsibility. One of the reservoirs of personal responsibility, the traditional family structure – Dad, Mom and 2.5 kids – has all but disappeared in Connecticut’s larger urban areas, victims of the state's Democratic Party hegemon.

How does this flight from responsibility manifest itself in Connecticut politics? There is not sufficient space here to provide many examples, but one may serve for others.

The flight from personal responsibility usually involves some sort of demonization. You pluck the real cause of discomfort – say, a personal moral failing -- from your own personality and place it in others, or in inanimate objects. The demon usually is the person who has aroused my envy, my unconquerable jealously; better still,the demon is a collective or, best of all, an inanimate object. Pretty much anything can serve as a scapegoat upon which one may pin one’s sins, an anarchic term banished from the secular lexicon, and send the scapegoat off to the wilderness.

When conservatives inveigh against class warfare, they have in mind this crippling transference of personal responsibility from individuals to classes of people -- the rich, innately racists social structures, outworn prejudices, unfashionable political opinion, guns. In the political rhetoric of Connecticut two US Senators, Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, guns are immoral. And, of course, guns can never defend themselves from unjust charges that they present an existential danger quite apart from the criminals who deploy them against peaceable citizens. This may be the most dramatic example of scapegoating.

So then, what do Republicans in Connecticut have to do to gain political ascendancy?

One thing only: Say the truth and shame the Devil, always and everywhere.

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