Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Perpetual Progressive Campaign

So, the elections are over -- for a too brief interlude.

The grumps who have been complaining all along that there is no longer a breathing space between elections are right. Forward! as they say in the progressive Beltway. In our time, politics itself has become a form of electioneering. That’s what is wrong with it. President John Kennedy governed; President Barack Obama campaigns.

Campaign finance reform was supposed to settle some of these problems.

Karl Kraus, a great German critic and a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, use to say that psychoanalysis WAS the disease it purported to cure; so with campaign finance reform and other political bromides. There are only two ways to shorten the political season. The first is borrowed from Shakespeare, with an important revision: “First thing we do is shoot all the lawyers,” Shakespeare’s Dick the Butcher said. A modern Butcher might be inclined to say the same of politicians, a good number of whom are lawyers. The second less dramatic solution is to term-limit politicians. While this more practical measure may not eliminate political corruption – neither does campaign finance reform, by the way – it will distribute political corruption more fairly among yet uncorrupted new political recruits and weaken the stranglehold incumbents have on political office.    

One reporter wrote in a story about Mitt Romney’s failed campaign that the campaign for governor of Connecticut begins the day after Romney’s concession speech. And so it has. Governor Dannel Malloy has claimed that Obama’s victory in some sense vindicates his own political program.

That is a weak argument. In Connecticut, there was little to no turn-over in the General Assembly following the election, although Republicans in the state made some of Malloy’s questionable initiatives the center piece of their own campaigns. Actually, Republicans have been too cautious in their criticisms, and programs are vindicated, ultimately, by their consequences.
Mike Lawlor’s early release program, for instance, is a ticking time bomb. Once a prosecutor for the State's Attorney Office in New Haven and later co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2011, Lawlor is Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and the chief architect of Connecticut’s early release Earned Risk Reduction Credits program.

It’s only a matter of days, weeks and months before another violent criminal let loose early under Lawlor’s ill-conceived program murders another store clerk: So far, that has happened twice since the program was launched, ineptly and without proper political vetting. Republicans are right to insist that early release should apply only to non-violent criminals. But Malloyalists operating under a one party regime tend to be hard-headed about their palliatives. Like most politicians, they are effectively reproved only after the plane has crashed into the mountain.

Some parallels may legitimately be drawn between Malloy and Obama.

Both are chief executives; both are progressive Democrats. During the early part of Obama’s first term, Democrats controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress. Malloy, the first Democrat elected governor in more than twenty years, presides over a General Assembly controlled by Democrats. Obama has yet to produce a budget, and this has alarmed some people who believe that state and national budgets define both political programs and the nation’s destiny.  Malloy stiffed Republicans during his first budget negotiations, as did Obama, and hammered out a budget in collusion with SEBAC, the union organization charged with negotiating contract terms with the governor and Connecticut’s ex officio third party. Malloy, the Malloyalists, the Democratic dominated General Assembly and union representatives pushed through a “fair share” budget that relied – unfairly, say its critics – on the largest tax increase in state history, following close on the heels of the second largest tax increase in state history, the Lowell Weicker income tax. Obama is promising a “fair share” budget as well. So far, he has not been able to pass any budget. Both in Connecticut and in the nation, recent elections have not substantially changed political configurations. These are the obvious parallels.

There are important differences as well.

Here and there, one glimpses hints, foggy intimations, that Malloy is not willing to surrender the WHOLE of Connecticut’s government to progressive sans culottes who favor the despoliation of the rich, the one percent of those in the state who believe in a kind of egalitarianism that differs only in degree from that of Sylvain Marechal, the utopian socialist who declared in his Manifeste des Égaux (Manifesto of Equals, 1801) "Let the arts perish if needs be. But let us have real equality!" Antoine Lavoisier, the "father of modern chemistry," was executed during the French Revolution in 1794. The revolutionary judge who sentenced Lavoisier to death proclaimed, "The Republic has no need of chemists." Such was the purity of egalitarianism, a modern construct, at its headwaters.

Here in Connecticut, we yet tremble before such perfection. Hope and change beckons.

1 comment:

Bruce Rubenstein said...

Good article...

The perpetual campaign cannot be pinned on one party or another,so one must look to see who benefits from the purpetual campaign.It is clear that the political consultant class of both parties have absolutely no interest in shorter campaigns as their largesse depends on long campaigns.These "consultants" during the campaign also moonlight as lobbyists in the off campaign season and influence the laws to make it logical to have a state of a "purpetual campaign" to further their own interests.

As an after thought,if you have term limits then the power within the governing class will tend to shift to the unelected beaucrats,which would be worse then having an elected elite that is in theory accountable to the voters.