Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Moderate Democrat Returns


For the past eight years of the Barack Obama Presidency, the moderate Democrat, perhaps best represented by the much reviled former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, has been an endangered political species. Having lost a Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Mr. Lieberman won in the general election as an Independent, incurring the enmity of progressives whose heads even today explode at the mere mention of his mane.

But following the unexpected rise to the Presidency of Donald Trump, the species is making a comeback in the person of U.S. Rep Jim Himes, who has been chosen to lead the New Democrat Coalition, “a group of about 50 Congressional Democrats that calls itself moderate and fiscally responsible,” according to the Hartford Courant.

Boastful progressives in Connecticut, hardly a hotbed of progressivism before the advent of Barack Obama, are now fading into the woodwork. Up for re-election in two years, one expects U.S. Senators Chris Murphy to be less like a caterwauling Elizabeth Warren, the scourge of Wall Street, and more like Mr. Lieberman, Chris Dodd or Abe Ribicoff, none of whom considered themselves progressives.


Mr. Lieberman first won office by polishing off former Senator Lowell Weicker, a Republican whose liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) rating during his last years in office was higher than that of Chris Dodd. Mr. Weicker’s secret to political success was to run within the Republican Party as a liberal Democrat. He was to the Republican Party in his state what the guillotine was to the French monarchy. Eventually state Republicans tired of Mr. Weicker’s maverick ways and hopped in bed with Mr. Lieberman, if only to be rid of the pestiferous scourge. Years later, Mr. Weicker avenged himself on his state by forcing an income tax upon it, opening Connecticut to years of reckless spending, bloated budgets, demanding union bosses, business flight and continuing deficits.

Moving to the left, the state Democratic Party touted progressivism and quickly marginalized moderate Republicans. Connecticut’s present U.S. Congressional delegation is uniformly Democrat, all the moderate Republicans having been displaced by progressive Democrats.

In the first half term of Mr. Obama’s Presidency, national Democrats commanded all the political heights – the White House and both houses of Congress. The more progressive Mr. Obama became, the greater the losses suffered by Congressional Democrats, state legislatures and governors. Mr. Obama constructed his progressive utopia by dispensing with Constitutional standards; he ruled with his phone and pen, rather than the advice and consent of Congress. The problem with an executive order presidency is that a president of an opposing party may reverse course by the simple expedient of rescinding the executive orders. Presidents who live by the pen and phone, die by the pen and phone. A presidency that intentionally excludes Congressional affirmation is built on a foundation of sand and can be quickly overthrown. President-Elect Donald Trump, blustery and supremely confident, can repeal much of the Obama administration's executive orders with the stroke of a pen.

National and state losses would seem to suggest that progressivism has not been a successful vehicle for Democrats. In true blue Connecticut, a state in which registered Democrats outnumber their political opponents by a two to one margin, Republicans have made astonishing advances. During Mr. Malloy’s years in office, state Republicans have gained more than a dozen seats in the House; the State Senate is now divided equally, 18-18, between the two parties. Mr. Malloy’s approval rating has plummeted to 24 percent as deficits mount and job production tumbles; according to Department of Labor figures, Connecticut has lost 14,900 positions over the last four months. Even so, Mr. Malloy has been re-elected as Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, an organization not inclined to allow defeat to interrupt its forward progress.

In all the fairy tales, the deep forest represents the unknown, the unintended consequences of our sometimes robotic actions. Here is what we do not know. We have only an inkling of what kind of President Donald Trump will be in office.

The near future is seen by us through a glass darkly. We do not know whether, coming to their senses, state Democrats will veer to the right and in some cases make common cause with a right of center state Republican Party establishment. Thus far, Republicans have offered a stiff resistance to spendthrift Democrats; they have offered little or no opposition to extreme libertine Democratic notions on faith and morals. If there is a thaw between establishment Republicans in the General Assembly and Mr. Malloy, a frigid, highly partisan, pro-union governor who in the past has tossed Republican leaders from the budget discussion room, will the ensuing entente reinforce a status quo that does NOT include permanent spending cuts and significant changes in the way the state does business with powerful unions, Connecticut’s fourth branch of government? Are the three members of Connecticut’s moderate Democrat coalition – U.S. Reps. Himes, Joe Courtney and Elizabeth Esty -- progressives in moderate clothing?


In two years’ time, six of the seven Democratic members of Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional Delegation will be up for re-election. By then, the scales will have fallen from everyone’s eyes, as will the money from their pockets.


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