Friday, October 11, 2019

The Depreciations, With Links

“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin” -- Samuel Adams

A surprisingly honest Otto von Bismarck is reported to have said of the politics of his own day, “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” Ironically, the attribution itself has been called into question.  In any case, the apothem applies with special force to egotistic politicians who garland themselves in glowing personal fantasies. We should believe their own accounts of their own heroic actions, they vainly suppose, because they fervently believe their own accounts of their own heroic actions, which many times are so mixed with fantasies as to be laughably improbable.

To take a recent example, former U.S. Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker believed in himself whole-heartedly and, despite his insistence that he cared little for public adulation, he wanted the right people to laud him, the more extravagantly the better. Weicker was awarded a “Profile in Courage” award by the Kennedy Center after he had imposed an income tax on his state. Declining to stand for re-election in Connecticut, Weicker moved to Washington DC for a time where he taught a college course on St. Thomas More and himself. Public acclaim is the ambrosia of godlike politicians. When politicians tell us they care little what the public thinks of them, provided they are doing what they can to save an endangered republic, we should resist the fraud by buckling on our Bismark or, better still, our Mark Twain. Here is Twain on the Congress of his day: “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.” 

If Weicker did not want to go down in history as a heroic politician, why ever would he have written Maverick, a mock heroic account of his life in politics? Thomas More, whom Weicker admired but misunderstood, wrote no autobiography. He was content to let God, rather than the New York Review of Books, have the final say on his life and times. Beheaded in 1535, More was not canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint until 1935 -- 400 years after his martyrdom.  Weicker, with some help from ghostwriter Barry Sussman, canonized himself, and an appreciative media in Connecticut has ever since busied itself burnishing his halo.

There are notable exceptions. No hagiographer, Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer reviewed Maverick under the title “Mr. Bluster Saves The World, a depreciation that somehow did not make the pages of the “all the news that’s fit to print” New York Times.

Weicker’s state income tax, forced through the General Assembly by both hook and crook, will be with us, of course, long after the “Maverick” has assumed room temperature. Weicker spent much of his time as Connecticut’s U.S. Senator -- a post he held for 18 years, until Republicans at long last tired of his barely concealed  anti-Republican animus and joined with Democrats in a senatorial putsch – inveighing again President Ronald Reagan, who appeared to have noticed Weicker but once, calling him a “fathead” in a diary entree.

The evil that politicians do lives after them -- such is the income tax, the gasoline tax, the cigarette tax, the tax on nail salons, the restaurant tax on ready to eat grocery items such as rotisserie chicken, six or less bagels, salads in plastic bags, only a partial list of Connecticut’s encumbrances, as numerous as swarms of locusts munching on the harvest. The good politicians do is oft interred within their autobiographies.

When journalists meet a politician whose ego fills the room, they sometimes say about him or her that they are “larger than life.” This plaudit is thrown at their feet, however, only when the politicians’ worldview conforms to the journalist’s own political predispositions. Politicians hawking alien and unwelcome wares are considered supreme egoists and a danger to the republic. The political lives of “larger than life” men and women who pursue policies recklessly without regard to hidden consequences is of short duration, a firefly’s light dying out in the night, with this difference: the firefly does not think itself a brushfire lighting the hearts of men.

“Why don’t you tell them to widen I-95 down there,” he [Malloy] quipped during a walk through the University of Maine campus in Orono, where his new office is.”

When Governor Dannel Malloy left office in January, 2019, having served two terms, he was not trailing clouds of glory. Malloy’s approval rating in office hovered around 25 percent, possibly because tax-whipped middle class workers in Connecticut did not appreciate his lashings. It does not take long for politicians of this kind to find a cozy berth once they have left off ruining states. Following his decision not to run again for governor, Malloy accepted a position as Chancellor of Maine’s university system.

The most progressive governor in Connecticut’s history, although the state has not often flirted with progressivism, Malloy and Maine appear to be a comfortable political fit.  Malloy once described himself, memorably and aptly, as a porcupine. How he got that way is a matter between himself, his God – Malloy is a Roman Catholic, sort of – and his confessor, if he has one other than Ben Barnes, the former governor’s Office of Policy Management Svengali. Now that Malloy has left the state, his victims – pretty much anyone in the state who pays taxes – might relish the peace and calm following his departure, were it not that he had been succeeded by Democrat millionaire Ned Lamont, whose policies are not substantially different than those of Malloy. Lamont’s dip in the polls, greater than a comparable point in Malloy’s administration, suggests that Malloy and Lamont’s disfavor with the general populace is not due to character traits – but rather to the abrasive policies that mark both the Malloy and Lamont administrations.  

Following in the well-worn track of former Governor and U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, Malloy resorted to tax increases, rather than permanent, long term cuts in spending, to discharge ever-mounting deficits. Revenue producers both in and outside the state took notice and, acting in their own selfish interests, adopted lifesaving measures. Connecticut, under the Malloy regime, began to bleed out, losing both entrepreneurial capital and entrepreneurs. And since the state’s expenditures, both before and after the Malloy administration, exceeded its assets, Connecticut lost revenue, prolonging a destructive recession, a gaping hole in the economic fabric of the state that many Connecticut governors and Democrat dominated General Assemblies strived to patch by passing off state debt to future tax stakeholders.  It takes Connecticut about ten years to recover from national recessions – principally because cowardly politicians in the General Assembly are loathed to bite the state employee union hands that feed them and institute permanent, long-term cuts in labor costs.

“No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders”― Samuel Adams

In the modern period, knowledge is disbursed by such educational goliaths as Yale University and Harvard. Ivy League students would benefit from a close reading of Bill Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, first issued in 1977. Students in Yale and Harvard are not universally ignorant. Here and there, one finds among them disturbing pockets of rationality and common sense: Yale, for instance, boasts a William F. Buckley Jr. Program, its stated mission “… to promote intellectual diversity on Yale's campus.”

Fortunately for the nation, not everyone has had an opportunity to attend such universities. Still, debauchery is a tender shoot, at least in the lower grades in Connecticut. Libraries are now inviting drag queens to read children stories to pre-school and kindergarten innocents. In politics, social affairs and even prison, there still are lines that may be approached but not crossed. In the past, one did not allow educators to impose certain manners and ideas on pre-pubescent children. That appears no longer to be the case. Then too, manners -- socially approved behaviors -- have run aground on the rocks of Twitter. Leftists have crossed the bar from progressivism to socialism, manners are no longer enforced by an ambivalent, morally confused ruling class, and atheism appears to be slouching towards paganism. People who cease to believe on God, do not therefore believe in nothing, G. K. Chesterton warns us – they believe in everything. And, in any case, the default position for those who have sworn off Christianity is not atheism – it is the modern variants of an ancient paganism.  

Dwight Macdonald used sometimes to wonder: If the United States had entered a new Dark Age, how would anyone know it?

Governor Ned Lamont is, policy-wise, Dan Malloy without the quills.

Everyone agrees that the ebullient Lamont  is a nice man. Recently, the governor conceived the idea of replicating the late 1960’s Woodstock fest in – this should come as no surprise – Woodstock, Connecticut, and Lamont, a millionaire several times over, generously paid the tab himself. Many of us, rising from nightmares early in the morning, ask ourselves tremulously, “Are the 60’s over yet?” Lamont, living in his own little walnut shell, has no bad dreams.

Lamont’s political career, prior to his runs for governor – there were two, the first unsuccessful in a 2010 Democrat primary against Malloy  – was jump-started by Weicker’s distaste for all things conservative, a passion shared by  successive Editorial Page Editors of the Hartford Courant, a left of center Weicker-liker.

Weicker was defeated in his run for the U.S. Senate by former Attorney General Joe Lieberman, who managed to capture a seat firmly possessed by Weicker for nearly three decades by pummeling his opponent from both the left and the right. In 2006, Lamont, Weicker’s Hector, challenged the former senator’s old nemesis, Lieberman, in a Democrat primary and, astonishingly, won. Both Weicker and Lieberman defended their seats at a time when national political parties were undergoing ideological renovation, the Democrat left drifting further left and the Republican right drifting further right. Primaries also had long made a wreck of party puissance.

Lamont lost the senatorial general election to Lieberman who, spurning the party that had spurned him, ran as an independent. Weicker, also spurning the party that had spurned him in a general election, ran for governor of Connecticut and won in a three candidate race that featured future Republican Governor John Rowland and Democrat Bruce Morrison. Weicker garnered 40% of the vote, Rowland 37% and Morison 20%, a clear demonstration of Weicker’s prior political support among Democrats.

To put it in the least painful terms, Weicker’s political predispositions had long placed him in the Democrat Party camp. Towards the end of his last term in the Senate, Weicker’s liberal ADA rating was ten points higher than that of Democrat U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, and when, later as Connecticut’s Governor, he imposed an income tax on his state, Weicker received the coveted Profiles in Courage Award by the Kennedy Center.  Although Weicker lost the Senate race to Lieberman in Fairfield and New Haven County, he ran strong in the Hartford metro area, largely because of his strong support by the Courant and state employee unions.

It is no wild exaggeration to say that Lamont is a Weicker-Malloy protégé. What the income tax was to Weicker, tolling is to Lamont and, underlying both, is a dangerous common misperception – that “the state” is its governmental apparatus rather than the larger universe of political and societal institutions and interactions that touch us all.

A recent Hartford Courant/Sacred Heart University poll sums up the general discontent with Lamont, whose approval rating remains at a bargain basement 24%. But, the Courant advises, 47% of respondents said they disapprove of how he is handling his job, a seven-point increase from a poll conducted in May. Lamont’s honeymoon with tax tortured Connecticut residents appears to be over; divorce seems imminent. However, if Republican hopefuls feel they can coast into office in 2020 owing to the general discontent with high taxes, over-regulation and ever mounting state budgets, they should recall 2016.

In the 2016 off-presidential-year elections, Connecticut Republicans in the General Assembly lost all of their hard-won gains, chiefly because Democrats, with an invaluable assist from Connecticut's left of center media, were able to make the elections a referendum on Trump -- even though the President was not on the election ballot. Malloy had left the state, Lamont was, as yet, an unknown quiddity, and no prominent Republicans in the state rose to a defense of Trump. Silence – in politics and law – signifies assent. All this occurred, it should be mentioned, before the published Mueller report had vindicated Trump from a charge of collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

When Dick Blumenthal moved – after 21 years as Connecticut’s Attorney General – into the U.S. Senate, he took his moral high horse along with him. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say the senator was born on a high horse.

He early on showed a proficiency in burn-and-conquer journalistic jargon. Blumenthal was the editor of the Harvard Crimson, where he learned the importance of demeaning adjectives. His background in journalism made his media releases, both as attorney general and senator, highly printable “as is.” Lazy journalists in Connecticut currying favor with a powerful attorney general more or less rented a permanent spot in their papers to Blumenthal; he gave them the adjectives, and they gave him a permanent berth. So frequent a presence in the media was he that journalists began to mutter that the most dangerous spot in Connecticut was that between Blumenthal and a television camera. Stampedes occurred weekly, sometimes daily. Later, when Blumenthal began to feel comfortable in his own artificial political skin, he would joke that he was known to have attended “garage door openings.” Nodding approvingly, if wearily, Connecticut journalists unfailingly showed up at every one of Blumenthal’s  garage door openings.

The Blumenthal way was paved by his predecessor, Attorney General Joe Lieberman, who changed the office from a sleepy gaggle of lawyers whose statutory mandate was to serve as the legal representative of the executive department and its agencies in cases at law to a consumer protection brass band designed to afflict comfortable businesses – and, by the way, crown the attorney general with moral unction that would serve him well should he decide to move from the most comforting spot in Connecticut politics to a more adventuresome slot, say, the U.S. Senate, where his past practice would stand him in good stead. Both Lieberman and Blumenthal moved from the attorney general’s office into the U.S. Senate, Blumenthal taking with him all of his vices and few of his virtues.

Upon leaving his Attorney General sinecure, Blumenthal deeded to incoming Attorney General George Jepsen more than 200 cases whose principals had been stretched on judicial racks in Blumenthal’s litigation chamber for years. Jepsen quickly dropped the cases and pledged, if only to himself, that he would not use the office as a self-aggrandizing instrument in which victims were impoverished through years of costly, needlessly prolonged litigation.

In the U.S. Senate, Blumenthal has reverted to strategies that had proven successful in his past. We are all the victims of our past successes. He still performs weekly, sometimes daily, before Connecticut cameras. More than any congressman, Blumenthal continues to fancy himself a consumer protection senator. He has thrown up obstacles to appointees to the Supreme Court who follow in the originalist footsteps of the late Justice Scalia, and he lustily cheered on some of the more unsavory opponents of both Justice Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Perhaps following the precept that the exception proves the rule, Blumenthal has resisted any and all attempts, however reasonable, to regulate abortion, at one point intimating that anyone who presumed  to regulate abortion was immoral. Given that Blumenthal favored endless regulations on businesses in his state, his public posture on abortion, as a coitus-unfriendly Englishman one said, is ridiculous.

When Cardinal Richelieu died the news was brought to the Pope of the day, who was asked, in modern parlance, to comment on the death of the prelate-politician..

“If there is no God,” the Pope said, “Richelieu will have lived a successful life. And if there is a God, he will have much the answer for.”

The same is true of Blumenthal.

The road to communism, we know by consulting history, has been paved with socialism. Before Karl Marx was a communist, he was drinking deeply from the socialist well. In fact, fascism also sprang from  socialist underpinnings. Mussolini, who most accurately defined fascism as “everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing above the state,” was a socialist – and a journalist! -- before he became a fascist, and the fascist regime in Germany-Austria called itself the National Socialism Party (NAZI).

The worm that turns in all these apples is the same: the notion that people, left to their own devises, could not properly and organically become a successful nation. The purpose of the totalitarian state is to save people from even the appearance of libertarianism.  Liberty is to be secured by an omnipresent and omnicient state for people.

Sanders has been bold enough to define himself as a socialist and, since twice running on the Democrat ticket for president, a progressive, we are to understand, in the fashion of presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.

It happens that there was a prominent socialist running for president during the progressive era in American politics. Eugene Debs ran for president on the socialist ticket in 1912. Debs had challenged Wilson’s World War I draft, as well as the war itself.  He was jailed for subversive activities, with the approval of Wilson, in 1918. Among prominent politicians of the day, only William Jennings Bryant made much ado over his imprisonment. When Roosevelt’s Vice President, John Nance Garner, teetered too far left, Roosevelt exchanged him for Harry Truman. 

Socialist Sanders has not similarly been treated as a pariah by modern Democrats, nor has he run for president on a socialist party ticket. Democrats have been anxious to retain Sanders within the Democrat Party paddock because, should he run as a third party candidate, Sanders would undoubtedly throw the election to the Republican presidential candidate – President Donald Trump.

To be continued…

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