Sunday, October 13, 2013

New Research Shows Connecticut Signed Bill Of Rights In 1790

It is commonly thought that Connecticut did not ratify the Bill of Rights Amendments until 1939, a pro forma ratification. But in fact, misfiled documents newly discovered in Connecticut’s archives show that Connecticut ratified the first 12 – significantly, not 10 – Amendments to the Constitution, commonly called “the Bill Of Rights,” in 1790.

The ratification document, discovered by researcher Eugene Martin LaVergne and misfiled under “Revolutionary Documents,” has been reported to Connecticut’s archivist. The newly discovered document -- misfiled in the year 1780, rather than in its proper year, 1790 -- is itself revolutionary because the earlier ratification dates of Connecticut and Delaware mean that at least one important long forgotten amendment – a reapportionment amendment, the real “First Amendment” to the Bill of Rights reported out for ratification by Congress – must now be considered an amendment lawfully ratified in 1790. In order to make the amendment operational, it must be reported to the U .S. Congress either by David Ferrierno, the Archivist of the United States, an office delegated with the task of accepting this amendment and presenting it to Congress. Alternatively, the ratification notice may also be presented to congress by a Connecticut U.S. Senator.

Mr. Ferrierno was apprised of the ratification, according to Mr. LaVergne, when in 2011he was presented with a lawsuit, Eugene M. LaVergne v. Rebecca Blank, Acting Secretary of Commerce, el al, No. 12-778, that detailed all the votes of the states, “including a copy of Connecticut’s voting record from 1790 on this amendment certified by the Archivist of Connecticut.”

In the original Bill of Rights, the so called freedom of speech amendment, presently the First Amendment was, in fact, the Third Amendment. The common understanding that the amendments were arranged in order of importance is simply not true; the ordering follows references in the Constitution. Every amendment in the Bill of Rights is equally important.

The history of the ratification in Connecticut is a bit of a winding road. Mr. Lavergne’s discovery puts a period, he believes, on a historical point – there is no doubt that Connecticut did, in fact, ratify the Bill of Rights shortly after the Constitution was offered for ratification. And the discovery leads to an inescapable conclusion: The first 12 amendments to the Constitution were ratified by both houses of Connecticut’s General Assembly in 1790.

If one adds Connecticut’s ratification vote to that of Vermont, it would appear that all 12 amendments to the Constitution were properly ratified: The votes for ratification of Connecticut and Vermont were the trip wires that affirmed ratification of the 12 amendments to the Bill of Rights. Once appropriately ratified, no amendment may be ungratified. The Civil War teaches us that the ratification votes that bind the disparate states into what Abraham Lincoln thought of as an indissoluble nation cannot be undone.  The un-ratification of one amendment would open the door to the un-ratification of any or every amendment to the Bill Of Rights.

For more than two centuries, we have been laboring under the misapprehension that passage of the 12 amendments to the Bill Of Rights, significantly including the apportionment amendment, had fallen short of ratification by one vote; we were told that four states, Connecticut among them, had never voted to ratify the original Bill Of Rights. Mr. Lavergne’s discovery upsets this historical apple cart. Given the earlier ratification date, Connecticut and Vermont become the two states that, having ratifying all 12 amendments, carry the vote across a threshold that established the First 12 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in 1790.

From a historical point of view, Mr. Lavergne’s discovery is astounding. A Connecticut ratification of the original Bill of Right lay sleeping in the wrong bed in Connecticut archives for more than 200 years. During the modern period, the commonly accepted wisdom was that Connecticut had spurned amendments to the Constitution, a charter of liberties guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and other rights and immunities familiar to many Americans.

The commonly accepted wisdom was wrong.

In addition, Connecticut’s fingerprints are all over the original First Amendment. The ratified original First Amendment as proposed and affirmed in the House and Senate reads as follows. The bracketed portions are Mr. Lavergne’s interpretive remarks:

“After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every forty thousand persons [sets a minimum of 100 Representatives thereafter, and creates a ‘floor’ of 40,000 persons per District], until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons [sets a minimum of 200 Representatives thereafter, and creates a “ceiling” of 50,000 persons per District].”

The account above of the original First Amendment presented to and affirmed by Congress is the only accurate record we have of the committee proceedings. It was written by then “acting majority leader” in the Senate Oliver Ellsworth, who sat on the drafting committee. Ellsworth was a Connecticut senator who played a major role, along with Roger Sherman, also of Connecticut, in proposing to the Constitutional Convention the so called “Connecticut Compromise,” a bicameral arrangement in which members of the U.S. Senate were to be elected by state legislatures. Ellsworth’s version of the “Connecticut Compromise,” adopted by the convention and written into the Constitution, was later revised by Amendment XVII, which provided for the popular election of U.S. Senators.

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of a documentary find that so radically alters our understanding of the part played by the “Constitution State” in U.S. Constitutional history.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Red Flags Over Connecticut

A little more than a month ago, Jim Powell of Forbes Magazine did us the favor of pulling together in one piece – “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One Of America's Worst Performing Economies? -- a load of data much of which was already in the public stream. It’s useful to have all the festering lilies together in one bunch, so that one might get a good whiff of them.

Before and since the publication of Mr. Powell’s distressing news, some Republican opponents of Connecticut’s progressive governor and his helpmeets in the state’s General Assembly have been energetically flourishing some of Mr. Powell’s little red flags, hoping that the state’s sometimes inattentive media might awaken and take note that Connecticut is teetering on the brink.

Without mentioning all the points touched upon by Mr. Powell, here are a few worrisome indicators:

In Connecticut for the past two decades, out-migration has exceeded in-migration by about 300,000 souls; Connecticut no longer competes on a level playing field with other states for investors and entrepreneurs, both drivers of prosperity; Connecticut small businesses declined 2.2 percent BEFORE the financial meltdown; state spending has increased threefold since the Lowell Weicker income tax was promulgated in 1991, with much cheering from the state’s progressive media; Connecticut debt per capita, at $27,540, is the 4th largest in the nation, exceeding even that of California; Barron's tagged Connecticut’s financial condition as the worst in the nation; the state’s debt and pension liabilities exceed its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by an astounding 17.1 percent, compared with South Dakota’s 1 per cent, South Dakota’s financial condition being the strongest among all the states.

There is more depressing bad news, much of it omitted here for reasons of space. The figures are, as always, interesting but perhaps unnecessary in a state that has for more than two decades felt on its back the lashes of overspending and prosperity suppressing regulation. Looking around the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 20 years, one counts with a sinking heart the empty chairs once occupied by sons and daughters and nephews and nieces who have moved out of state in search of greener pastures elsewhere, carrying with them their very expensive Connecticut diplomas. Their aunts and uncles and fathers and mothers occasionally have joined the outmigration – to be with their grandchildren, once the fruit of prosperity in Connecticut, now gone.
The 2014 edition of the State Business Tax Climate Index released by the Tax Foundation at the beginning of October places Connecticut among the ten worst states. Our neighboring state, Massachusetts, formerly called “Taxachussetts, placed 25th. Connecticut weighed in at 42nd, number 9 on the list of the ten worst states.

The annual fiscal review of State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, generally a straight shooter, brings little solace.

The good news -- from the point of view of politicians soon up for election who fear that additional taxes might sink their ships – is that the state had closed its $20.5 fiscal year 2013 budget with a nifty surplus of $398.9 million. The bad news is that Connecticut’s current debt and liabilities gap is a gargantuan $46.5 billion, which amounts to about  $18,000 for every man, woman and child in the state. And of course the surplus is the result of a temporarily strong market fueled by high capital gains and estate tax revenue. Payroll tax revenue, an indicator of business growth, declined by 0.9 percent.

All these red flags point to an economically diminished and bleak future – unless and until the grown-ups take charge of Connecticut’s tax grubbing, high spending, crony capitalist government.

Far from being a solution to our economic woes, crony capitalism – in which Mr. Malloy and leaders in the General Assembly plunder the private economy of entrepreneurial capital they then bestow on favored companies – encourages polite bribery between tax dispensers and large corporations, while introducing toxic levels of moral uncertainty into a business-governmental relationship that should be even-handed and just. Crony capitalism tilts in favor of large, resource rich companies what U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal might regard, if he thought about it, as the economic “even playing field.” It is the work of a day for large politically connected companies to use the agencies of government to drive healthy competition from the field.

One of the solutions to state beggary might be for states to stop begging federal taxpayers for bailouts. And economic conditions in Connecticut could be greatly improved by cutting spending for all, reducing taxes for all and disencumbering Connecticut of the regulatory bonds that tie Gulliver to the ground. Those are solutions that really would level the playing field. Unfortunately, the state has been moving in the opposite direction for more than 20 years, and incumbent Republicans, satisfied with a token resistance, have winked at the decline for as many years.


Connecticut Voters: Don't vote for a single Republican in this year’s local elections

The Republican Party is a disgrace. Republicans in Congress have risked the health and safety of the country, as well as harmed our economy, by shutting down the government and threatening to default on our country's debts. Republican governors across the country have refused to extend Medicaid health benefits to more poor families and individuals, as permitted and paid for by the Affordable Care Act. Republican state legislators have voted to restrict abortion rights, limit access to the voting booth for the poor and elderly, deny basic rights and services to immigrants and condone murder through “stand your ground” laws.

A recent report on focus group studies of Republicans found that Evangelicals and the Tea Party, who together form 75% of today's Republican Party, say:

President Obama is a “liar” and “manipulator” who has fooled the country. They say the president is a socialist, the “worst president in history,” and “anti-American.”

More from the study:

Republicans shutdown the government to defund or delay Obamacare. This goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle. They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy—not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.

And while few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.

Voters in Connecticut can express their dismay over these radical attitudes, tactics and policies, and send a message to the national Republican Party, by refusing to vote for a single Republican in this year’s local elections.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Stink War

 “The ink war.” That is how Tom Dudchik of Capitol Report styled the controversy between Chis Powell, the icon busting editor of the Journal Inquirer and, following a rebuttal editorial in the Hartford Courant, pretty much everyone else manning the barricades on the left who ever lifted a pen or pounded a keyboard in defense of the liberal view of the decline of print media.

The controversial pieces are printed here as they appeared, in chronological sequence; first, Mr. Powell’s initial column; then the Courant’s editorial rebuttal; then, an interview with Jim Romenesko; then Mr. Powell’s response to what he regards as the distortions of his critics; and finally a Courant rebuttal accusing Mr. Powell of having defended the indefensible – namely, himself. Unprinted here are a slew of editorials and commentary pieces all, more or less, bearing the same message: that Mr. Powell has attacked all single parent moms; that he is a holdover from those glorious days of yore when print media enjoyed a monopoly on dispensing information; that he has failed to understand properly the regrettable inroads made on the monopoly by the internet and the loss of advertising that has impoverished many newspapers; that he is a closet misogynist who has unjustly denigrated the poor.

The whips and scorns the left is so eager to brandish have been left out of this account for space reasons.

In the good old days of print journalism – when, for instance, George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton were pulling each other’s hair in British papers – newspaper editors thought it proper to print in full both the newspaper’s points on some controversy of the day and hearty rebuttals written by controversialists who defended an opposing point of view.

This is no longer done. Instead, editorialists and commentators generally summarize whatever points they wish to demolish in print, running in full only their own invaluable opinions.

In a bow to old and perhaps more just journalistic processes long abandoned, the remarks of Mr. Powell and some of his critics are here published in full – without additional remarks.   

Journalism's problem may not be the Internet 

By Chris Powell

Journalism is hailing the acquisition of The Washington Post by Internet retailing entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, figuring that he has both the genius and wealth to develop a new self-sustaining model of journalism. This may be a bit presumptuous.

For as much as Bezos' company, Amazon, has done remarkable things, its decisive business strategy was only sales tax evasion, an advantage that seems to be coming to an end as Congress prepares to enact legislation allowing states to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases. If the future of journalism rests with the Internet rather than with the old business models of declining profitability -- newsprint and the broadcast airwaves -- the Internet model of profitable journalism still hasn't been invented yet. And if such a model was even close at hand, the Post under its longtime owners, the Graham family, could have well afforded to undertake it without any help from Bezos.

Further, while the decline of journalism coincides with the rise of the Internet, the Internet may not be the primary cause at all.

Certainly the Internet has given journalism a powerful competitor for public attention, just as radio and then television did. The Internet is a far more powerful competitor because, unlike radio and TV, it allows people to indulge their particular interests at any hour of the day to the exclusion of everything else, to live always in the narrowest of worlds rather than in a broad one. For example, thanks to the Internet someone well might know nearly everything about the Boston Red Sox, Miley Cyrus, and sunspots and yet be unaware that an airplane had just crashed a few streets away, that the governor had just been sent to prison for corruption, and that town government had just raised property taxes again.

That is, traditional journalism, especially newspaper journalism, remains indispensable for conveying local and state news and providing some understanding of public policy, there being few exclusively Internet-based sources of information about those things. But do local and state news and some understanding of public policy remain indispensable to most people?

Even in a supposedly prosperous and well-educated state like Connecticut, how strong can demand for those things be now that half the children are being raised without two parents at home and thus acquiring developmental handicaps; 70 percent of community college and state university freshmen have not mastered what used to be considered basic high school skills; poverty has risen steadily even as government appropriations in the name of remediating poverty have risen steadily; and democracy has sunk so much that half the eligible population isn't voting in presidential elections, 65 percent isn't voting in state elections, and 85 percent isn't voting in municipal elections?

This social disintegration and decline in civic engagement coincide with the decline of traditional journalism just as much as the rise of the Internet does.

Indeed, newspapers still can sell themselves to traditional households -- two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such. But newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they're living in, and couldn't afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read. And such households constitute a rising share of the population.

These days in Connecticut if you want to know what's happening in your geographic community -- your town and your state -- rather than just your virtual community, the Internet is of little help; you still have to read newspapers or their Internet sites.

If you don't want to know or couldn't care less, that's your right, but then the problem is much bigger than journalism.

Chris Powell Can't Pin Newspaper Woes On Welfare Moms

6:07 p.m. EDT, October 2, 2013

It is no secret that print journalism faces enormous challenges today, but we don't think these challenges were brought about by welfare moms. That puts us at odds with the Manchester Journal Inquirer's managing editor, Chris Powell.

Many students of the industry ascribe the decline in print journalism to the rise of the Internet and the migration of classified advertising to sites like Craigslist. In a column that's getting a lot of attention online, Mr. Powell instead proposes that the real villain is a breakdown of the social fabric, epitomized by rent-cheating, barely literate welfare mothers.

Mr. Powell says, and here we agree, that newspapers are still indispensable for conveying local and state news and providing understanding of public policy. But he seems to think many people cannot comprehend this information "now that half the children are being raised without two parents at home and thus acquiring developmental handicaps." He's wrong: Nearly 70 percent of Connecticut children live with two married parents and have since 2008, according to the Census Bureau. We couldn't substantiate his claim about developmental handicaps.

He says newspapers can still market themselves to "traditional households — two-parent families involved with their children." But newspapers "cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they're living in, and couldn't afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read."

Aside from his stereotyping, and general nastiness, newspapers never relied on people who couldn't afford to buy the paper, and fortunately there aren't many such people. Mr. Powell says such families are increasing, but the numbers say otherwise. There are 28 percent fewer households getting welfare today than a decade ago. Many of them are headed by grandparents, not single women, and many recipients are working, according to the state Department of Social Services.

And journalism readership is greater than ever. More readers saw Mr. Powell's column online than in print, and that includes caring single moms.

The challenge for the industry is to create a business model that supports quality journalism, however delivered. We're working on it.

The challenge is also to chronicle and change with the times, not hearken back to supposed good old days. Journalism needs to evolve, be dynamic, embrace the future, not run to a mythic past, while insulting people and getting facts wrong to boot.

The media's job is to portray the world as it is, not as Ronald Reagan might have seen it. Mr. Powell often is an effective provocateur and commentator, but this rant is unworthy of responsible journalism. 

Controversial Journal Inquirer Editor: “If My Opinion Is So Wacky, Why Bother With It?

October 4, 2013

Manchester (Conn.) Journal Inquirer managing editor Chris Powell was blasted earlier this week after he wrote that “newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read.”

The Hartford Courant said “this rant is unworthy of responsible journalism.” It’s “off-base on many levels,” added Matt DeRienzo.

Will Bunch put Powell down “as Exhibit A for exactly how NOT to save newsrooms.”

Kirsten Lambertsen ‏nominated the managing editor “for @WhiteWhine of the month. Make that, the year.”

What does Powell have to say about his critics and the online reaction to his column?

“Well, for starters, I was surprised to find myself becoming so important,” he tells Romenesko readers. “After all, the world is full of opinions, including wacky ones, so what makes the opinion of an editor in Connecticut who is of no particular renown so deserving of criticism nationally? If my opinion is so wacky, why bother with it? Hell, the federal government has just been incapacitated. Aren’t there a few more important things to upset commentators?”

He says he never blamed welfare mothers for the decline of the newspaper business.

Rather, I correlated the decline of the newspaper business — the decline of the news business generally, really — with the social disintegration all around us, and cited quite a few examples, including the collapse of public education and participation in elections. The disintegration represented by childbearing outside marriage, a frequent topic in my writing, was a prominent example because it underlies so much of the social disintegration generally, as it is child abuse and neglect. Even the liberal-originating social science has been confirming this lately.

Many single mothers took the now-infamous paragraph of criticism about welfare mothers as an attack on them, but the paragraph criticized only WELFARE mothers in some VERY SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES.

Powell says he’s not surprised by the “abusive” emails and calls that the Journal Inquirer received after his column went viral. “That’s always the case when there’s controversy and when people don’t have to identify themselves,” he writes in an email. “More disappointing to me is the continuing general refusal to recognize the social disintegration.”

Will he address his critics in a future column?

There’s a possibility, he says, “but I can live with letting the column speak for itself. ….Besides, while criticism can sting, my 15 minutes of fame will be up today or tomorrow.”

So social disintegration isn't a problem for news?

By Chris Powell

Journalists from Bangor to Salt Lake City and from Philadelphia to Miami have launched themselves into smug ridicule in recent days, their headlines proclaiming that an editor in Connecticut had blamed single mothers for the decline of the newspaper industry. It seems to be the national journalistic pile-on of the month, overshadowing even the shutdown of the federal government.

It is also a distortion.

Rather, that editor -- this writer -- wrote in a column that the decline of newspapers and the news business generally may correlate less with the rise of the Internet than with social disintegration, as represented by the collapse of public education and voter participation, the failure of government to alleviate poverty, and the growth in welfare-dependent households, particularly those headed by unmarried, unskilled, and largely illiterate women who have several children by different men.

It was the latter example that set everyone off.

It was said to be an attack on all single women, all single women with children, and all households with unconventional parenting. But the column criticized an entirely different group.

It was said to be "misogynist," as if in the era of women's equality certain women are not to be held responsible for their anti-social behavior.

It was said to be "racist," as if the inability of much of the population to speak and read the national language does not impugn immigration policy and risk disunity.

Some critics disputed the column's assertion that half the children in Connecticut are being raised in households without two parents. The figure is arguable but the Washington-based research group Child Trends reported last year that more than half of children nationally born to women under 30 are now born outside marriage. Meanwhile the fatherlessness rate approaches 90 percent in Connecticut's cities and exceeds 50 percent in many public schools in inner suburbs, dragging education down.

So why argue the exact percentage if not to suggest that this phenomenon is not a problem? And if it is not a problem, why is Connecticut spending $800 million a year on its Department of Children and Families?

For many years now even the liberal social science research has reported that childbearing outside marriage is far more than a problem -- that it is a society-wide catastrophe.

Poverty and the ignorance it imposes are not environments for selling newspapers or any news -- nor for preserving democracy.

Disputing the column, the Hartford Courant said welfare rolls are down. But food stamps, government disability benefits rolls, and earned income tax credits are way up. Indeed, as National Public Radio reported in March, disability is the new welfare.

The Courant's dismissal of the relevance of all this to civic life and journalism is refuted by the newspaper's own circulation figures, its long having had more home-delivered subscribers in suburban West Hartford than in Hartford itself though Hartford has a far larger population -- one far more dependent on welfare.

The Courant also faulted the column for "general nastiness," as if the newspaper's own premier columnists, Colin McEnroe, Kevin Rennie, and Jim Shea, have achieved their audiences with a devotion to subtlety.

The challenge to the news industry, the Courant says, "is to create a business model that supports quality journalism, however delivered." But there can be no such model if society keeps impoverishing itself.

The news industry, the Courant adds, should "embrace the future, not run to a mythic past." But of course for the Courant's parent company, Tribune, which is selling its newspapers, the future is television -- a future without any need for literacy. And there was nothing mythic about a past where Americans were educated, read, participated, and voted.

Chris Powell Doubles Down On Blaming Poor Moms

Journal Inquirer Editor Bemoans 'Distortion' Of Earlier Column, But Message Seems The Same

5:57 p.m. EDT, October 7, 2013

Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, seems intent on finding a fall girl for the woes of newspapers. Once again he's blaming women.

He wrote in a Sept. 28 column, "Journalism's Problem May Not Be The Internet," that newspapers' real problem was "single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they're living in, and couldn't afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read."

This bizarre theory was trounced nationwide. We'd hoped it had been put to rest.

But now it comes again.

In his latest column, Mr. Powell accuses critics of "distortion." He says he was really saying the culprit for newspaper woes is "social disintegration," as represented by a host of ills, including "the growth in welfare-dependent households, particularly those headed by unmarried, unskilled, and largely illiterate women who have several children by different men."

Sounds like the same argument.

There are some worrying socioeconomic trends in the U.S. But unwed and welfare-dependent mothers aren't responsible for newspapers' fate. The rise of online journalism is. Rather than bemoan this, journalists have to jump on the jet.

Mr. Powell has been a zealous advocate for open government and other worthy causes. If only he could harness that energy toward engaging in the future of the news industry rather than blaming the blameless.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Political Corruption And The Media

Real political corruption – the most corrosive kind – involves the use of governmental power to advance private or purely political interests, which is why, come to think of it, Lord Acton said “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A watchful student of history, Lord Acton added, “Great men are almost always bad men.”

When great republics collapse, “great men” step into the breach. Caesar rose from the ashes of the Roman Republic, and a string of monarchs in Europe was followed by the revolutionary anarchs of France and the guillotine. They, in turn, were supplanted by Napoleon, one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “great men.” The idea of the republic usually suffers some form of corruption before its ruin.     

The sentiment that power corrupts is of course not original with Lord Acton. More than a hundred years earlier, William Pitt the elder had said in a speech to the House of Lords “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it," and Acton himself may have improved a sentiment expressed in an essay, France and England: a Vision of the Future, by Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine: “It is not only the slave or serf who is ameliorated in becoming free... the master himself did not gain less in every point of view,... for absolute power corrupts the best natures.”

In any case, is it not obvious that unchecked power is a corrosive, unmitigated evil? This is one of the reasons why monarchical power in Europe was balanced, before and after the enlightenment period, by the rise of parliamentary power. Here in the United States, the founders of the American Republic, recognizing the corrosive effect of a concentration of power, established a written constitution that dispersed among the three co-equal branches of government the centralized power of potential autocrats and dictators. They thought, some think naively, that the innate virtue of the people would also serve as a check upon the aggregation of power.

It is the unitary, one party state – whether that party is a single man or a group of men -- that tends to corruption; or, more precisely, it is the aggregation of state power among special interests inimical to the public good that paves the way both to political corruption and the rise of “great men.” The slave master both corrupts and is corrupted by his slavery. This kind of political slavery can only happen when the innate virtue of the people has been sufficiently compromised. The collapse of Roman civic virtue preceded the collapse of the Roman Republic.  The brief rebirth of the Florentine Republic under Girolamo Savonarola, did not survive the return to power of autodidacts such as the fabulously wealthy and powerful members of the Medici family, one of them a pope, another a ruler of Florence exiled by robust Florentine republicans. It is the real republican, the chronic disturber of the peace of those who subvert the public good, who always goes up in a bonfire after great men have seized political power.

THIS is political corruption -- this subversion of republican forms to undermine the republic. We like to think of the media as so many watchmen on the towers of the republic, guardians of the public virtues of the people, without which no republic can stand against the sappers of political corruption, the inexorable pull of the one party state. Republics such as ours cannot survive in the absence of a virtuous, politically disinterested and energetic media.

In 1748, more than a quarter century before the founding of the American Republic, Sam Adams, justly called in his own day “The father of the American Revolution” and without question the most influential journalist of his time, mapped the connection between public virtue and an authentic republic:

“[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man. We must not conclude merely upon a man's haranguing upon liberty, and using the charming sound, that he is fit to be trusted with the liberties of his country. It is not infrequent to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it but their own liberty (Italics original) — to oppress without control or the restraint of laws all who are poorer or weaker than themselves.”

THIS is the public duty of a free media – to warn and admonish the people that liberty depends on public virtue, glaringly absent in politicians who most loudly and clamorously claim they are virtuous and whose undisclosed aim is to “oppress without control or the restraint of laws all who are poorer or weaker than themselves.”

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Some Advice For The Loyal Opposition

In the course of writing political columns, a bad habit I’ve been nurturing for more than 30 years, people have sometimes ask me, with a note of desperation in their voice, will things in Connecticut ever change? These people generally are either conservatives or libertarians and therefore immune to the usual political nonsense. The Democratic Party has been in charge of the state roughly since the Mesozoic Era. Will we ever sniff change in the air, they wonder?

It’s a serious question: What will it take to shake people in Connecticut from their lethargy – to wake them up before the plane we’re all traveling in finally crashes into the mountain?

We’re perilously close to that. Only a month ago, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) released its 12th annual survey of businesses in the state, and the news was bleak. The organization surveyed 377 in state companies and found that 82 percent had a negative or somewhat negative opinion of Connecticut as a place to do business. Only 11 percent of in state businesses said Connecticut was a somewhat or very positive place to do business.

Here are some points that the loyal opposition Republican Party might consider:

1) The ground game has to change. You can’t go to war with an army you don’t have. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by a 2-1 margin and, as we all know, the state is gerrymandered, an incumbent protection racket. The chance of John Larson losing his seat in the 1st District is about the same as the chance that Governor Dannel Malloy will kiss unions goodbye and begin seriously to attack the chief problem in the state he is mismanaging – which is overspending.

Democrats now own the gubernatorial office and both houses of the General Assembly. So, in the absence of a third party – the dream of starry-eyed revolutionists – the Republican Party, the sometimes too loyal to the opposition party, must come together around some politically popular points and kiss goodbye in their campaigns to the usual campaign strategy. We all know what that is: Run as a moderate and lose.

As a political animal, the Republican moderate, a vanishing species in all of New England, is someone who strides the principles of both the left and the right. It’s difficult to do this and maintain credibility among people who are looking for what I've called many times in many columns “authenticity.” Then too, when the plane is on the point of hitting the mountain, you want to raise a lucid shout, not a muffled moderate cry.

During the days of Charles Lamb, the best social critic and essayist of his day (1775-1834), a woman wrote a poem called “Love Is Enough,” and it was reviewed by Lamb in a single line – I’m quoting: “No, it isn't.” Someone should tell the Republicans that the economy is not enough to get you elected. It just isn't. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney made the economy the central pillar of his campaign. President Barrack Obama, the Samson of the Democratic Party, soon pulled the roof down on his head. Lesson: With the right accomplished populist – someone who, for purposes of election rather than governing, can fashion a new and, one hopes, temporary coalition -- social issues can trump economic issues. Republicans in Connecticut will either take the lesson, or they’ll take the beating. They need some social issue arrows in their quivers.

2) It’s the spending, stupid. When Republicans made jobs – or rather the lack of them – the central, and some would say the ONLY, pillar of their campaigns, Democrats in the shadows were smiling like Cheshire cats. These were progressives, and progressives have had an answer to joblessness ever since progressivism spilled out of the speeches of Teddy Roosevelt during the 1912 presidential campaign. Most presidents, from TR’s second presidential campaign onward through FDR The Magnificent, were progressives, Cal Coolidge standing out as the most striking exception.

And the progressives have an answer to joblessness. Roughly, the answer is this: “So you want jobs do you? Well, you just wait right here in the antechamber and I’ll manufacture some for you. There’s a room in the executive office building, adjacent to the money tree room, where we grow jobs. Hang on, I’ll be right back.” Mr. Malloy's metastasizing “First Five” program is a practical elaboration of the progressive view on job creation, which is that new jobs are best created by political chief executives responding to political cues rather than by entrepreneurs responding to market demands.

We all know that’s not a solution that works; in fact, this prescription makes the illness considerably worse. But it is a popular delusion borrowed from the prairie populists of the early post-Civil War period who later were displaced by the progressives. On the other hand, progressives have no neat response to the conservative chief executive who cuts spending and ushers in years of robust economic growth, as did Cal Coolidge when he assumed the presidency. Here’s a modest suggestion: Move spending cuts from the back to the front burner of your campaign.

3) Don’t give up on the cities. In a very important sense, the major large cities in Connecticut are the canaries in the progressive minefield. You would never know it from the non-existent Republican campaigns in Hartford, Bridgeport or New Haven – Why would you? – that the Democratic Party in the state has simply given up on the urban poor -- who are now locked into state assisted poverty. The three cities I've mentioned have for decades been Democratic fiefdoms, one party towns; the state itself is becoming a one party operation. Many families in urban areas are irretrievably broken; gangs are rampant; the prisons in Connecticut are full of biological fathers who never married the mothers of their children; a “good education” in some of Connecticut’s larger cities is a laughable oxymoron. And yet, year after year, unchallenged Democratic politicians in these cities have consistently been voted into office.  The Republican retreat from Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford appears to be permanent. Life in Hartford may offer us a foretaste of life in Connecticut: This is what happens in one party towns – and states. Political corruption occurs in states when the principal political actors are certain that they are invisible. And nothing is more invisible than a political actor operating in a one party environment. Suggestion: Bring these political actors out of the shadows. In your campaigns, talk about the bitter fruits of the one party state or municipality, and don’t assume that a conservative urban mission will fail.

4) Focus on the three M’s. There are three indispensable elements in politics. I like to call them the three “M’s” – Mission, Message and Money.  The increasingly progressive Democratic Party mission in Connecticut, and elsewhere, is not a new project. Mr. Obama’s “change” is a throwback to the 1912 presidential campaign. The mission of progressives is, and always has been, to fold what Edmund Burke used to call the “little platoons of democracy” into what progressives regard as an omni-competent and, inevitably, an omni-present state apparatus. This is the dream of the post-Republican Roman Empire -- before the fall. It is also the nightmare of the 20th century in three of its evocations: Stalin, Hitler and Mao.

The mission of the Republican Party should be just the opposite: to advance policies that encourage the maintenance of competing social institutions, not the least of which are the family, the church, social and business associations, small self-directed businesses unencumbered as much as possible by “helpful” federal regulations, an educational system that educates, and people who are, as much as possible, free in our once glorious Republic to be their potty old selves.

The message of the Democratic Party is that the way to utopia lies through statism and the Democratic Party. The message of the Republican Party should be that utopias are the disturbing death-rattles in the chests of authoritarian regimes, most of which have been spectacular failures.

And finally, the last “M” – money.  At some point in the coming campaigns, a politician who has caught your fancy will put the touch on you: He’ll be asking you for your money or your time -- perhaps both. Give him both if you can. One’s time, one’s life, is not unimportant in the political struggle for existence. Henry David Thoreau use to say: If a robber approaches me, sticks his gun in my ribs and demands “Your money or your life,” why should I be so anxious to give him my money? The oblique Thoreauian point is that time is often a more precious commodity than money.

The challenge that Sam Adams, justly called during his own day “The Father of the American Revolution,” put before his countrymen still rages like fire in the blood of Americans. This stirring Adams quote is featured on the masthead of Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A blue State:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

Words to live by.

5) Leave utopia to the utopians. No one, C.S. Lewis observes, has ever invented a new primary color. We use the primary colors we have to create the picture we need. We should not want to make the world over. Leave that exhausting and fruitless pursuit to the crazed utopians. What we should want is a politics of limits that gives birth to liberty and ingenuity. The United States, at its founding, leaped into the future from the premise that men and women were bound by limits, by the laws of God, nature and man.

We have drifted very far in the course of more than two centuries from that lodestone of liberty. And we must find a way to return, perhaps through something resembling an American renaissance, to the paths made for us by others that will lead us to a bright and prosperous future. We are custodians not creators of liberty. A state, like a person, is not a tabula rasa, a clean sheet upon which you may write whatever pleases you. Connecticut has a character, and if you wish to operate here for the benefit of the state and its people, you must work within its character frame – to FREE men and women so that, once free, they will be able to contribute to the life of our state. That is the primary task that lies before everyone in Connecticut. And in this invigorating contest of freedom, if you love wealth and the tranquility of servitude more than liberty, you run the risk that the future will forget that ye were our countrymen.