Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rellism, Weickerism and Rowlandism

Henry Mencken, the great Baltimore sage and journalist, once defined democracy as that form of government in which “the people get what they want – good and hard.”

What is that form of government in which the government gets what it wants, good and hard? We might call it Rellism, or Rowlandism, or Weickerism. This form of government was perfected by Lowell Weicker, but his Republican gubernatorial accolades have followed the former senator and governor faithfully in his rather large footsteps.

The thing achieved perfection when Weicker, having shunned the prospect of an income tax in his campaign, then became governor and appointed as head of his Office of Policy Management William Cibes, who had run in and lost a primary as a pro-income tax candidate. Following this appointment, came the income tax, followed in turn by a decade long deluge of spending and a predictable seemingly endless bout of economic anemia. Elsewhere in the country during these years, the economy has been robust; here it has been flat.

A couple of years ago, before Weicker became fully engaged in an attempt, nearly successful, to replace Sen. Joe Lieberman with Weicker's doppelganger Ned Lamont, another Greenwich millionaire, Weicker was pondering state budget matters and permitted himself to wonder aloud, “Where did all the money go?”

Well, most of it went from the people to that form of government that gets what it wants – good and hard. And the government spent it. Now that the government’s credit card has been maxed out and the fortune Weicker took from the people and gave to them has been depleted, it is back for more, its unappeasable appetite unstated.

Still hotly defending his decision to hang an income tax albatross around the necks of his subjects, Weicker is inclined these days to defend the tax – which other less anemic states are now jettisoning – by pointing out that it has been “good for Connecticut.” But by “Connecticut,” Weicker means, and has always meant, the ruling classes – himself and the people with whom he has associated during his long and eventful life.

The people of Connecticut are suffering – from burdensome taxation, from business flight, from what is perhaps the longest bout of economic anemia in its history. These days, fathers and mothers travel south -- to states with more enlightened governments -- to visit their children, who might have remained at home in the bosom of their extended families were Connecticut not afflicted with a government that faithfully serves the government rather than the people.

The views of the people on spending and budgets in Connecticut, as opposed to the views of the ruling elite, have been most clearly expressed in municipal referendums, during which extravagant spending proposals have been vetoed and trimmed. A recent Rell proposal to cap municipal spending at 3%, while at the same time permitting referendums to carve out exceptions when necessary, brought this squeal from Speaker of the House Jim Amann: "Can you imagine 169 towns holding referendums on taxes?”

Quite a revolutionary idea, actually.

In past times, the answer to a preening government that claimed to represent the true interests of the people while feathering its own nest was – revolution.

The Sun King, Louis XIV, kept his head during his splendid reign by building flashy public monuments and burnishing his reputation as a faithful representative of the “true interests of the nation,” but other monarchs soon lost theirs when people discovered that parliaments more faithfully represented their real interests. The American nation offered a republican form of government, with checks and balances and a process that would insure a healthy turn over among the ruling elite, as a solution to the problem solved in France by the wet blade of the guillotine and the reign of terror.

In the age of revolution, arguments being used by the ruling elite to justify their monarchical and government enhancing enterprises would have been seen as measures that “eat out the substance of the people,” and heads assuredly would have rolled, both figuratively and in fact.

But we are far beyond the age of revolution. When Ben Franklin was asked after the Continental Congress had established the American government what sort of government it was to be, he replied, “You have a republic – if you can keep it.”

The defining characteristic of a republic is that representatives of the government serve the people, not the government.

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