Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Republican Resistance, Themis Klarides

Themis Klarides, the leader of a much reduced Republican contingent in the Connecticut House of Representatives, is fair-minded, but not the sort of woman who will suffer fools – and, more importantly, political frauds – gladly. She may allow two strikes, but three strikes and you’re out.

Very early on, Klarites drew a bead on the Malloy administration, which sought to marginalize Republican influence over political affairs by loudly shutting the door on Republicans such as Klarides. A shrewd judge of character, she carefully catalogued the quills Governor Dannel Malloy had been throwing about.

Malloy had described himself as a bristly porcupine, a self-designation that stuck and struck because it was inconveniently true.  As a Republican leader in the House, Klarides did not suffer gladly Malloy’s lordly indifference. It was either Malloy’s way, Republican leader in the Senate Len Fasano noted early in Malloy’s first term, or the highway. But then, what is the point in having absolute power, a well-known caricaturist once said, “if you are unwilling to abuse it?”

After years in the desert – Malloy was the first Democrat governor since former Governor Bill O’Neill turned over the reins of government to former Governor and US Senator Lowell Weicker in 1991. Malloy was fully prepared to shut down Republican opposition. Nationally, former President Barack Obama followed the same course. Why struggle with the oppositionists if you can politically marginalize them?

Klarites knows that people whose life’s blood is power -- Obama in Washington and Malloy in Connecticut – fall neatly into two categories: truth-sayers and imposters. Between the two are crowded any number of sub-categories.

The typical political fraud is animated by a hunger for notoriety and approval. But this pathology must be carefully disguised, sometimes, notably in the case of Malloy, as an indifference to public opinion.

Before he left office in January 2019, Malloy let loose upon the general public, as well as reporters who could not help but take notice of his absurdly low approval rating, a self-celebratory 300 page manifesto accounting for his abysmally low approval rating. Malloy bottomed out, before he left office, at 15 percent, the lowest approval rating of any governor in the nation.

“I purposely chose to be unpopular,” Malloy boasted to CTMirror. “I did every time I took up an issue that someone else had failed to take up. I knew what the response was going to be. And you haven’t talked to a politician who can answer that question in that way. I wasn’t afraid of it. It doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. But I was absolutely not afraid of it. That is the difference,” between Malloy and lesser politicians.

Malloy was his own best – and worst – advisor. As Thomas More pointed out to Thomas Cromwell, the good advisor “ever tell[s] [the king] what he ought to do,” never “what he is able to do.” The king always knows what he is able to do – whatever he chooses. Malloy had no Thomas More at his elbow telling the chief executive of Connecticut what he ought to do; this was both his blessing and his curse.  At the height of his power, Malloy and members of his Democrat Party controlled the governor’s office, both houses of the General Assembly, all the state’s constitutional offices and the entire membership of the U.S. Congressional Delegation. In view of this suffocating correlation of forces, it would have taken a saint to impose restraints upon himself, and “the porcupine” was no saint.

What Malloy ought to have done was -- rein in spending. This would have required real courage, the courage to confront and deny the inexhaustible political appetites of his Democrat associates, including the pleas of union leaders. Malloy was at least as imperious as Weicker, his nearest autocratic Republican predecessor, celebrated in Connecticut journalistic lore as the Moses of his people.

One thinks of Weicker, pushing his income tax through a largely resistant legislature after having vetoed three balanced non-income tax budgets, wading through the largest crowd of resisters in Connecticut history on his way to the governor’s office in the state Capitol building, braving a human Red Sea, parting before his august presence. This was, the Connecticut political commentariate advised, Weicker’s finest hour.

And Malloy’s finest hour was  that disapproval rating, his red badge of courage.

Both Malloy and Weicker are recipients of the Profile in Courage Award dispensed by the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts.  Malloy received his at the beginning of his second term in office for having resisted “a wave of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim proposals by local, state and national politicians” three days “after the Paris [terrorist] attacks, and in a direct challenge to those calling for the U.S. to close the doors on Syrian refugees, Malloy announced that Connecticut would continue to accept refugees from Syria. Two days later, he personally welcomed a family of Syrian refugees to New Haven after the governor of Indiana [now Vice President Mike Pence] turned them away.” And Weicker received his accolade in 1992 for having “shocked many residents of [Connecticut] by proposing a first-time-ever personal income tax as part of his fiscal year 1992 budget package.”

Among progressives, unpopularity would be a mark of divine favor, but only if, implausibly, modern progressives had fallen into the bad religious habit of crediting the divine in the affairs of men. The Kennedy award then is a mark of secular progressive favor. Weicker lards it with lauds this way: “For the scientist, the moment is the Nobel or the Lasker; for the journalist, the Pulitzer; the actor, the Oscar. For those in government, it is the Kennedy."  In 2009, the Kennedy award went to Edward Kennedy, the hero of Chappaquiddick, for having “weathered every storm” that came his way as a US Senator.

However, we may now speak of both Weicker and Malloy in the past tense, so many suppose. They may be wrong -- and would be right only if the Lamont administration represented a policy break with its predecessor. On this score, there is both bad and good news.

Shortly before his State of the State Address, Republican Leader in the Senate Len Fasano smiled faintly upon Governor Ned Lamont.

The good news, Fasano proclaimed, is that Lamont is not Malloy. There is a vast temperamental difference between the two. The important open questions are these: Is Lamont Malloy without the porcupine quills? Does temperament matter more than or as much as policy affirmations? Would Malloy have been Malloy if his temperament had been similar to Lamont’s and his policy prescriptions had remained the same?  In awarding Malloy an approval rating of 20 percent, were his subjects reacting to the quills or the policies? Would different policy prescriptions have rendered Malloy more acceptable if he had retained his quills and adopted less ruinous policies?

Governors are called governors because they govern, and governing is the art of producing policies that benefit the governed. Temperament is overrated in politics. A governor is nothing but his policies, just as a judge is nothing but his judgements. Malloy’s failure is a policy failure, quills or not. In him, sentiment overruled reality. If Connecticut had been attending to reality, it would not have tripled its spending in the space of four governors.

There are truth-sayers out there in the public square, Cassandras whose messaging is left unattended because it will occasion unwanted change. Chief Economist and Director of Research Don Klepper-Smith of DataCore Partners is one of them. “Revised data shows that Connecticut ranked 50th in real GDP growth in 2017, last in the nation, down 1.1 percent, and the state still has the lowest job-recovery rate since the Great Recession in New England at 90.4 percent,” Klepper-Smith writes in Hartford Business. “Between 2007 and 2017, the U.S. economy as measured by real GDP has risen 15.5 percent. During this same period, new revised data shows that the Connecticut economy has declined 9.2 percent.”

Quasi-socialists in the General Assembly’s strengthened Democrat progressive caucus will not pay heed to Klepper-Smith's analysis or policy prescriptions: “Bottom line: This ‘economic stagnation’ is likely to continue as long as we adhere to state economic-development policies that are predicated on outdated, anachronistic economic fundamentals that were prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Lamont might easily survive a much diminished Republican opposition in the General Assembly, but can he – or, more importantly can Connecticut – survive  Democrat outdated and anachronistic business-as-usual pushed forward by 60’s progressives?

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