Thursday, February 23, 2006

Viva DeStefano

It gets "curiouser and curiouser," as Alice said in Wonderland. Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven, one of two Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls, is taunting Gov. Jodi Rell with “being more concerned about George Bush’s politics than about the needs of families in Connecticut.” How so?

Hugo Chavez, the duly elected president of Venezuela, has made DeStefano an offer he couldn’t refuse. Here’s the deal: Venezuelan oil companies controlled by Chavez will sell oil at a reduced price to an American distributor; the distributor – Citizens Energy, a corporation controlled by former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II of Boston, Massachusetts – will sell the oil at market prices, thus realizing a profit, the difference between the market and purchase price; the profit then will be shuttled to the poor in Connecticut through 12 private non-profit agencies that administer the state’s energy assistance program.

Perhaps smelling a political rat, Rell has referred the matter to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who also has proposed a plan to deal with Connecticut’s high energy costs. In her letter to Blumenthal, Rell referred to the generous socialist autocrat of Venezuela as a “dictator” and speculated that the acceptance of oil from Chavez “may be extremely distasteful because of the nation’s strident criticism of the United States government.” However, the governor suggested in her letter, if the arrangement was legal and “If there is no problem, if it’s perfectly OK, it may be something we would like to pursue as a state. Anytime we can get reduced oil, we would like to take advantage of it.”

The ball, as the political prognosticators like to say, has now been batted by the governor into Blumenthal’s court. Sure, Chavez is a larval Castroite who, somewhere down the road, may be troublesome for U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. And sure, Chavez is likely to outlast the Bush administration; Latin American dictators, be they leftists or rightists, usually die in their beds with smiles on their faces, never mind the havoc they have caused. And sure, people hung up with morals and ethics might pause just a bit before they consider doing business with socialists who suppress political opposition and inevitably fall into the nasty habit of nationalizing all private – i.e. non-government controlled – enterprises, including churches and newspapers. But, if acquiring oil at a lesser price from dictators is legal, the governor said, why not give it a spin?

Spoken like a true blue-blooded Republican businesswoman.

A moral reluctance to do business with tyrants is an emotion bluenecks in Connecticut have come to associate with the left -- remember Pinochet. Except in this case, it isn’t, because the tyrant is a man of the left. If Castro had proposed early on in his career to ease the lot of the poor in Connecticut by furnishing through a distributor Cuban cigars at a lesser price than is usually paid by millionaires in Greenwich, the difference to be passed on to the poor, would DeStefano have accused those who doubted the propriety of the arrangement of being more concerned with political matters than the lot of the oppressed?

What’s going on here is politics as usual, with an unusual twist.

DeStefano wants to be governor. To set his foot on the rung of the latter that leads upwards to heaven, he must first vanquish in a primary his Democrat opponent, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy. Castro, after attaining totalitarian powers, would simply have shot Malloy; or he might have packed him away in the Cuban gulag for thirty years. But we live in a democracy, and the vanquishing must be done democratically, which means that DeStefano must round up in the primary a plurality of votes from party activists by priming their ideological pumps.

How better to pump up loyalists than by putting Rell between a rock and a hard place? The rock is Bush, who tends to view as menacing colorful characters such as Chavez and Evo Morales, the duly elected President of Bolivia who has vowed to be a colossal pain in the neck to the imperialistic and capitalistic USA. Morales has not yet been introduced to DeStefano. The hard place is Chavez’s offer: Do we really want to see the poor and destitute freeze? New England winters are at least as harsh and unforgiving as Bush.

Rell has attempted to slip the noose by draping it around Blumenthal’s neck and suggesting that if Chavezian socialism is okay with Connecticut’s mayors and the attorney general, it’s okay with her. The whole thing easily could backfire: Might not Chavez be supplying pro-socialists like DeStefano the rope that voters in Connecticut, many of whom are incurable capitalists, will use to hang him?

It’s something to think about.

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