Monday, January 30, 2006

Welcome Back Moody

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool
– The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Elliot

Lisa Moody’s prospects appear to be improving. She took a sound hit in the side but didn’t go down. For partisan Democrats, she will be treated as Governor Jodi Rell’s black eye. Because Moody attempted to muscle commissioners to contribute to Rell’s political campaign, we are supposed to conclude that Rell is at least as corrupt as her predecessor, the execrable John Rowland; that is what the Democrats want everyone to think. This tactic probably won’t work for a whole host of reasons.

First of all, there is the difficulty of the pot calling the kettle black. Muscling people to contribute to campaigns is not an unknown practice among ambitious Democrats. Both Democrat contenders for state governor have been known to indulge. And painting an opponent as corrupt is fraught with danger, because it is an invitation to scrutiny. One notices the blackness of the kettle when it calls the pot black. The state, well on its way to illegalizing once ubiquitous political practices, has not yet criminalized what Moody did, though it is illegal for commissioners to use their positions to solicit contributions from their underlings, multiple investigations are in process, and some hapless commissioner yet may be found to have broken a law. Moody committed a stupidity rather than a crime. But sometimes stupidities are more fatal in politics than illegal acts; the legislature, we all know, is awash in lawyers adept in steering large crafts through legal loopholes.

It has been said that Moody is a micro-manager with a short fuse, a kind of larval Karl Rove. Svengallis are everywhere in politics these days. The tactic of painting the chief executive as a puppet whose strings are jerked by a superior intelligence – which may allow opponents to claim mental defects in their target – has its downside, as may be seen in the case of President Bush, the most underestimated politician in recent memory. If Bush’s brain lies in Rove’s cranium, people are likely to credit Rove, rather than Bush, both with the successes and failures of his administration. Voters do not blame puppets for errors in judgment.

Moody and Rell click because they share a community of interests. In Vernon, Moody had a reputation of upstaging Democrats. But the Democrats were unruffled because they got most of what they wanted from her. In political parlance, giving the opposition half a loaf in hopes they will not devour the whole loaf, is wrongly called pragmatism: Real political pragmatism is the application of scientific methods to politics and does not require the abandonment of sound principles. Political partisans tend to view a corrupted pragmatism as treasonable. The long term effect of giving ground to your opponent is to allow him to achieve his objectives over a longer period of time; better to die at once, said the philosopher, than to be trampled to death by geese.

Within the Republican Party, whose core constituency still is awakened by calls for small and efficient government, the governor’s attempts to outflank Democrats through her support for initiatives that, prior to her administration, had been owned by the Democrat Party, looks very much like treason rather than co-option. The same holds true for Democrat Party stalwarts on the left: To them, the so called pragmatism of a Sen. Joe Lieberman smells very much like capitulation.

Slowly but surely, we are witnessing a politics of parties being replaced by a politics of personalities. Co-option and collegiality are the hallmarks of a politics of personalities. These changes occur when parties lose their centrifugal force and people are no longer drawn to them. Here in Connecticut, the Democrat Party has been captured by special interests: feminists, labor unions and professional political staffers, including expatriates from the fourth estate. The Republican Party hardly exists at all. Released from any obligation to parties, incumbents are free to plot their own courses; politics becomes a contest between the ins and outs; and important political decisions are made by interest groups gravitating around the shriveled rumps of the major parties. The rise of the independent voter and the political prominence of attendant lords such as Moody follow the same arc. Prufrockians, they are no Hamlets -- merely attendant lords, glad to be of use.

We cannot complain too loudly of them. In functioning democracies, people always deserve the politics they get.

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