In card games, the country and western song tells us, “you gotta know when to hold them and when to fold them.” In politics, you gotta know when and how to take a victory lap after you’ve folded.
Following Connecticut’s remarkably jam-packed “short” legislative session, Republicans and Democrats took the usual victory lap in their rhetorical chariots. But winners and losers there were.
Republicans in the General Assembly were rolled over by superior numbers; nothing unusual there. They lost. And they will continue to lose pending that day when voters in Connecticut unite to “throw the bums out,” an American version of the Marxist battle cry: “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win.”
Karl Marx may have been an economic dufus, but he certainly was a suburb ad-man and, were he alive today, might have made a valuable contribution to the 5th District U.S. Congressional ambitions of, say, Chris Donovan – also a loser. In a Machiavellian power struggle with Senate President Don Williams, Mr. Donovan held hostage, in a vain attempt to force Senate leaders to bring his doomed minimum wage increase bill to a vote, a bi-partisan jobs bill that some say likely would have passed. As time ran out in the session, both bills sunk beneath the waves. The jobs bill –a pearl of great price for Democrats who had hoped to be able to use the bill to convince voters in the upcoming elections they were not hostile to business interests – was the cause of some recriminations following the close of the session.
The Democrat’s “social agenda” is dancing in the winner’s circle: In this and previous legislative sessions, Democrats were able to repeal Connecticut’s rarely used death penalty; pass legislation that will facilitate to unionization of some health care workers; legalize the medical use of marijuana; codify marriage for gay partners following a court imposed order; and pass an omnibus tax bill that in the future will be used to finance more left of center social legislation.
Generally, the expression “social agenda” is most often used by left of center politicians and commentators to thwart the feeble attempts of social conservatives to retain the remnants of Western civilization, but both parties strenuously support much different social agendas, and the term itself is useless except as a political battering ram to breech and lay low social norms, a perennial occupation of the left following the French Revolution. Robespierre's battle cry, it will be recalled, was that men would lose their chains only when “the last monarch is strangled with the intestines of the last priest.”
All legislation – but perhaps most especially budgets bills – have social implications. The term “social legislation” is at best a misleading redundancy: No bill passed in the General Assembly is without social effect; and if there were such a bill, it would be wholly unnecessary, because legislation that produces no change at all leaves the status quo undisturbed. A more accurate, though less politically charged descriptive tag, would make a distinction between various kinds of change.
Mr. Malloy’s glowing summary of his 16 months in office is a celebration of what he calls “positive, meaningful changes.”
One may dispute the figures offered by the governor that in his view demonstrated a Connecticut economy blown forward by progressive gusts of political winds issuing from a forward looking General Assembly.
Mr. Malloy paused in his victory lap to salute “Design Build legislation” and “project labor agreements,” both of which certainly will make life more placid for unions, and in the process “create thousands of good paying jobs.”
Both “positive changes” will increase the price of labor and create a closed shop environment for private bidders on state construction jobs. Since construction jobs such as these are financed through taxes, one may expect taxes to increase proportionally – not a problem for a governor and Democratic dominated legislature that together have imposed on Connecticut the largest tax increase in the state’s sometimes parsimonious history.
Neither the governor, who has put himself before the public as a forward looking progressive, nor progressive Democrats in the General Assembly may reasonably object when they are called men and women of the left. Both the left and the right believe in the efficacy of what the governor calls “positive meaningful change.” They most often come to blow concerning the instruments of change. Broadly speaking – there are, of course, exceptions – the right affirms that social norms should inform politics, while the left affirms that politics should reform social norms. This is why Mr. Malloy feels so comfortable in his summation of the recently concluded short legislative session using the word “change” and its variants no fewer than 15 times in a brief ten minute address to legislators who had, said the governor, “Over the course of the last 16 months… pushed through more change through these two chambers than has occurred in Connecticut in a long time.”
Somewhere off in the distance one hears an insistent voice whispering in the whirlwind: Not all change is efficacious.