A Self-Interview February 2017
Q: I’ve heard you say on Jim Vicevich’s radio program that progressivism as we’ve known it during the past few years of the Obama administration may be a spent bullet?
A: Yes and no.
Q: Give us the “yes” first.
A: Barack Obama is a spent bullet. Had Hillary Clinton been elected president, Obama might have had a brief afterlife. That did not happen; instead, the country turned, pretty resolutely and in anguish, to Donald Trump, the horse of a different color. The left continues to show its disappointment. Anarchists join a protest march at Berkley and succeed in storming a Starbucks; Trump’s cabinet nominations are delayed; and then there is that tar-bush speech by Elizabeth Warren in the course of which she quoted the late Edward Kennedy on U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, recently appointed Trump’s attorney general. Quoting Kennedy, Warren said, "Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past. It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a U.S. Federal judge. He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.” Warren had violated a Senate rule of decorum and was ordered to leave the podium. A momentary media spasm erupted.
It was the strangled cry of the defeated – Sessions’ appointment was ultimately approved, but not until he had been covered in mud by progressives such as U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal. Having lost control of the Senate, the House and the White House, Democrats had nothing but spite and bitter rhetoric left in their quivers. Particularly shameful was Blumenthal’s attack on Sessions, speedily following the complimentary bouquets he threw at the senator’s feet, in the course of which Blumenthal suggested that honorable men such as Sessions and David Horowitz were KKK sympathizers. It would not have been inappropriate for some ballsy Republican on the committee to address Blumenthal, the mud thrower, in the words Robert Welch addressed to Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
The choreographed protest that quickly flared into a mini-riot in Berkley signals the moral and intellectual decay in universities across the United States. What prompted this violent backlash, besides the usual imperative of anarchists to break windows and beat up attendees to a university sanctioned address? The protestors were trying to shut down an event that featured a gay conservative provocateur who had disturbed movements in the United States well past their prime. Such violent responses to free speech – and at Berkley, the home of the free speech movement -- are the last exhalations of a corpse. Connecticut voters who watched tail-gunner Dick’s interrogation of Sessions will wait in vain for him to come to the defense of gay provocateurs or to attack the Berkley anarchists. Horowitz quickly did both.
Q: You say Obama is a spent bullet. He plans to remain in Washington DC and snipe from the sidelines.
A: He’ll soon discover the difference between being in and out of power. The Obama administration died from a thousand self-administered cuts. His foreign policy, because it failed to distinguish properly between friends enemies, was a conspicuous failure. For eight years, Obama governed with his pen and phone. In a representative republic, that kind of governance is short-lived. What is done through executive orders may be undone through executive orders. His private and partly secret pact with the Islamic revolutionary mullahs in Iran strikes even a disinterested observer as rank and embarrassing capitulation to shows of force by Iran.
Q: Even so – though the progressive is dead, long live progressivism, no? Some people think Obama himself – now that he is free of the presidency and less restrained – will carry the progressive torch into the future.
A: Modern American progressivism is an odd bird, the dodo that cannot not fly. The original progressive movement began as a reaction of prairie populists to big banks who were crucifying them, as William Jennings Bryant said, on a cross of gold. The banks were refusing to lend money to farmers at reasonable rates. Bryant was a bible thumping demagogue; I am using the word here in its positive sense, as indicating a champion of the little people, the unrepresented majority. When was the last time you heard a modern American progressive, many of whom are libertines, quote Bryan? Here is the moral spout on education: “The parents have a right to say that no teacher paid by their money shall rob their children of faith in God and send them back to their homes skeptical, or infidels, or agnostics, or atheists.” It was the work of a day for Henry Mencken to impale Bryan on a Darwinian spear – even in 1925. Most of the issues supported by modern progressives are scarecrows stuffed with straw. In fact, secular humanism has won; feminism has won; the libertines have won; the anti-racists have won – long, long ago. The anarchists who attacked Milo Yiannopoulos for pointing to the straw in the new wave feminist scarecrow were venting at a gay conservative much respected by new vanguard that has just seized power in Washington. Milo’s boss at politically incorrect Breitbart, Steve Bannon, served as Trump’s chief strategist and has been appointed by Trump to the National Security Council.
Q: And the Bernie Sander’s wing of the Democratic Party? They are progressives still. Are they not still what William James used to call “a live option”?
A: To be precise, Sanders is a boastful socialist. And how’s that working out in the Americas? Only a few years after socialist-communist Hugo Chavez passed the baton to former bus driver President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela, once regarded as the Paris of South America, is a wreck. There’s no toilet paper on the shelves, and starving Venezuelans are now eating flamingoes. Sanders had no moral qualms in hobnobbing with the Ortega brothers in communist Nicaragua, then supported by the Castro brothers, both communists, who were supported by the Soviet Union, a socialist Ponzi scheme, now kaput. There is a live connection between socialism and progressivism in the United States, but it is not possible to sustain for long a morally, economically and politically noxious progressive system in the United States once the reins of power have fallen from progressive hands. There are many work-a-day, honest, non-progressive Democrats in government, but they’ve been led by a progressive pied piper off the ideological cliff. Nationally, Republicans now control the U.S. House, Senate and the White House. Here in Connecticut, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has nearly ruined the state and, in consequence, Republicans have made historic gains in the General Assembly. Viewing the rubble honestly and objectively, why is it improper to think progressivism in Connecticut is a spent bullet? Governor Dannel Malloy’s approval rating, when I last looked, was about 24 percent. The approval of Connecticut among national rating agencies, one hopes, is higher than that.
Q: But in answer to the question “Is progressivism a spent bullet?” you said “yes and no.” In what sense is progressivism not a spent bullet?
A: The underling rhetorical appeal of progressivism is convincing even when the application of its principles fails spectacularly. The progressive message is rooted in the Christian ethic: lead a blameless life, shuck off self-regard and care for the poor. The social ethic of Christianity is woven into our politics, and most Americans will approve the message even when it is distorted by anarchists, practical atheists, fire-breathing atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens – who was, my nephew told me, his favorite atheist – and incoherent politicians who want other people to think well of them, even as they support policies that lead to social disintegration. Jesus said of the poor, you will always have them with you. The same is true of progressives.
Q: What does the future hold for Connecticut progressives?
A: It doesn’t look good, does it? I don’t think Chris Powell, the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, is any less Christianized than, say, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, who is also the Education Coordinator for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 4. But both have different views on democracy, representative government and the proper place of unions in Connecticut’s government. Powell has argued many times in many forums that unions play a disproportionate role in state government.
Q: And so have you.
A: True. I’ve called public employee unions “Connecticut’s fourth branch of government.” Powell’s criticism is more powerfully focused and pertinent. He worries about the democratic/representative idea and what he calls the cannibalization of state resources. An administration that colludes with powerful unions to inflate union salaries and benefits cannot represent the general interests of the state. One of the instruments of collusion is binding arbitration, an administrative escalator that drives up government costs. Powell long has called for the abolition of binding arbitration, and there are many Republicans in the state, most of them quivering in dark closets, who would agree with him, if they could summon the courage to do so. I’ve called for a change in the way the state and unions interact with each other. A contractual interaction makes the judicial department the final arbiter in disputes between unions and the state as represented by its chief executive. The union-state nexus in Rhode Island is governed by statute, not contract – which means the legislature retains control over the disposition of its revenue; it can change the distribution of resources by means of a change in statute. A change from contract to statute governance in Connecticut would place union salary and benefit awards where they belong – with the legislature, the body that is responsible under Connecticut’s Constitution for revenue receipts and expenditures.
Q: Is anyone listening to either of you?
A: One can only hope.
Q: How do you like this snow?
A: I don't ski and favor returning it to Justin Trudeau.