Thursday, May 15, 2014

Weicker, The GOP’s Ahab

Connecticut Commentary,” as usual, anticipated former U.S. Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker’s remarks on WNPR by nearly a week.

On May 9, Don Pesci addressed Republicans in Westbrook and mentioned Mr. Weicker at some length:

“Both Mr. Weicker and Mr. Malloy are progressives. At the root of progressivism lies the sundering notion that if government is good, more government must be better. From here it is but a baby step to the equally absurd notion that government is the state. In fact, the state is all of us, the government merely an administrative apparatus designed, if you credit the U.S. and State Constitutions, to accomplish our reason informed will. Mr. Weicker, whose ego as U.S. Senator and Governor was infinitely expansive, took this absurd logic a step further and regarded himself as the state. I should like to call your attention to the hopeful tense in that last sentence: Mr. Weicker was, he regarded– past tense: There is a God.

 “But it never hurts to remind ourselves that there is a Devil too. 
“From time to time, Mr. Weicker shows up, most often at WNPR or in the op-ed section of the Courant, to advise Republicans what they must do to become a majority party. You will never guess: They must field candidates like Mr. Weicker. But these days only progressives pay him much mind...”

Mr. Weicker ought to have retired from politics -- eighteen years of which he spent as a Republican U.S. Senator -- an honored elder statesman whose opinions on his party should have been taken with less than a ton of salt. That did not happen, largely because Mr. Weicker thought it politically useful to define himself as a maverick within his own party. In this he was extraordinarily successful, and when a parting of the ways became necessary, no tears were shed within Republican ranks when Mr. Weicker retired from politics for good, shortly after he, as governor, had imposed an income tax on his state.

Connecticut’s slow and painful decent into a reckless spending ditch began with the Weicker income tax. Connecticut is now the only state in the union that has experienced negative job growth. Maverickism does have a dark side. It also has a bright side, at least for Mr. Weicker. Connecticut’s state Republican Party is Mr. Weicker’s  President Richard “You won’t have me to kick around anymore” Nixon. Even though Mr. Weicker’s notions of what is best for his cast off party are irrelevant to most Republicans, the maverick who once fittingly described himself as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl” will always have his version of Republicanism to kick around.  In pronouncing his party irrelevant, Mr. Weicker hardly noticed that his state party’s irrelevance coincided rather neatly with Mr. Weicker’s nineteen year reign as the nominal head of Connecticut’s GOP.

These bull bellowings are a little sad. Mr. Weicker is stuck in a time-warp groove: He repeats himself, and repeats himself, and repeats himself… No one, other than a few aged and crusty Jacob Javits Republicans or Democratic politicians eternally grateful for the Weicker income tax and the expansion of spending it occasioned pay him much heed these days.

Mr. Weicker’s views are set in mental concrete and do not change with the times.  As a U.S. Senator and the nominal head of his state party, Mr. Weicker favored opening his party’s nominating convention to non-Republicans, thus weakening the stranglehold on the state GOP of non-maverick, loyal Republicans. He now favors blowing up the nominating conventions altogether, because nominating conventions are, like all things Republican, irrelevant.  

When Teddy Roosevelt retired from politics, he shot a few water buffaloes in Africa. Mark Twain wrote up Roosevelt’s post presidential adventure as a mass slaughter of cows. Former President Jimmy Carter built housing for the poor and wrote books no one reads. Ronald Reagan, stricken with Alzheimer’s, retired to his ranch to await with his usual good humor the grim reaper. George Bush the younger took up painting and manfully restrained himself from commenting upon the idiocies of his successor.

There really is a life after politics. But not for Mr. Weicker. Like some raving Ahab, he has strapped himself to his own White Whale with his own harpoon lines, the victories and defeats of times past.  He and the whale, a metaphorical substitute for thwarted ambition, will go down together. Supported by the Republican Party in his state for nearly two decades in Congress, Mr. Weicker has no use for nominating conventions or political parties. The depth of his ingratitude is boundless, almost blasphemous.

When Starbuck in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” accuses Ahab of blasphemy, the old puritan cries out, “Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.”

On the last day, when the angels finally call Mr. Weicker, he will go out with a snarl on his lips and a curse against the fictional devils in his past he has not been able to exorcise. The moment will not be recorded by WNPR.

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