One Party Rule in Connecticut
Reading about Connecticut politics in the news is a bit like listening to one side of a phone conversation. You realize you must interpret the substance of the conversation between vocal Democrats and muted Republicans. And then you discover, to your dismay, that the parties talking on the phone are Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, and the Democrat leaders of the dominant party in the General Assembly, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter and President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney. These privileged Democrat caucus discussions are not for public consumption, and Republicans, as usual, are not invited to participate in the shaping of important legislative measures.
The Democrat hegemony in Connecticut is, as journalists sometimes say, comprehensive. Democrats in the General Assembly have nearly a veto proof margin over Republicans. Republican minority leaders in the legislature are sometimes called upon by journalists to provide a counterpoint to Democrat hegemonic rule. But the counterpoint is simply that – an opinion on a motion in the General Assembly that cannot materially be adjusted by minority Republicans. And opinions on bills are very different than effective opposition to destructive legislation or, more likely these days, to a grand vision of the way we want to be.
To put it in the briefest terms, The Democrat Party’s view of Connecticut’s future is a reassertion of the status quo. If hegemony is good, more hegemony will be better. Thus far, Democrats have been inordinately successful in keeping things the way they have been in the state for the last three decades and more. The Democrat Party is – especially in the state’s culturally crumbling cities – the party of stasis.
The visionaries in Connecticut’s Democrat Party hegemon are postmodern progressives. Visionaries in the Republican Party tend to be conservatives or libertarians. For the last half century, the media in Connecticut has vigorously opposed the rise to power and influence of conservatives. Most political writers in the state are moderate Democrats, postmodern progressive Democrats or registered Independents – i.e. postmodern Democrats who find it convenient to hide behind an “unaffiliated” flower pot. Republicans have long been forced to ride in the back seat of Connecticut’s tax supported political bus. But it is the Republican Party in the state that is now what Orestes Bronson, a transcendentalist expat, used to call “the party of forward movement.”
The status quo will not change unless numbers in the General Assembly change. And numbers in the General Assembly will not change unless the media in Connecticut becomes far more confrontational with respect to the party in power.
Thoreau’s Assault on Slavery in Massachusetts
Antagonism to the party in power has been the usual posture of a useful media.
When, in response to the recently enacted pre-Civil War Fugitive Slave Law, Henry David Thoreau delivered in one of the many salons of the day his fiery response to the law, “Slavery in Massachusetts,” he was acting in place of somber journalists and ministers who had abandoned the missions of both journalism and Christianity.
“They who have been bred in the school of politics,” Thoreau thundered, “fail now and always to face the facts. Their measures are half measures and makeshifts merely. They put off the day of settlement indefinitely, and meanwhile the debt accumulates. Though the Fugitive Slave Law had not been the subject of discussion on that occasion, it was at length faintly resolved by my townsmen, at an adjourned meeting, as I learn, that the compromise compact of 1820 having been repudiated by one of the parties, ‘Therefore,... the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 must be repealed.’ But this is not the reason why an iniquitous law should be repealed. The fact which the politician faces is merely that there is less honor among thieves than was supposed, and not the fact that they are thieves. As I had no opportunity to express my thoughts at that meeting, will you allow me to do so here?
“Again it happens that the Boston Court-House is full of armed men, holding prisoner and trying a MAN, to find out if he is not really a SLAVE. Does anyone think that justice or God awaits Mr. Loring's decision? For him to sit there deciding still, when this question is already decided from eternity to eternity, and the unlettered slave himself and the multitude around have long since heard and assented to the decision, is simply to make himself ridiculous. We may be tempted to ask from whom he received his commission, and who he is that received it; what novel statutes he obeys, and what precedents are to him of authority. Such an arbiter's very existence is an impertinence. We do not ask him to make up his mind, but to make up his pack.”
Readers will note the absence of ambiguity here. Ambiguity is the last refuge of rhetorical scoundrels, and Thoreau, who astonished his contemporary Unitarian transcendentalists by writing “A Plea for Captain John Brown” – Yes, THAT John Brown – was an enemy of ambiguity, the plush nest in which politicians seek refuge to maintain their status and power.
Brown, Thoreau wrote, “did not go to the college called Harvard, good old Alma Mater as she is. He was not fed on the pap that is there furnished. As he phrased it, ‘I know no more of grammar than one of your calves.’ But he went to the great university of the West, where he sedulously pursued the study of Liberty, for which he had early betrayed a fondness, and having taken many degrees, he finally commenced the public practice of Humanity in Kansas, as you all know. Such were his humanities, and not any study of grammar. He would have left a Greek accent slanting the wrong way, and righted up a falling man.”
It is a pity postmodern high schools do not take the two above cited writings as seriously as they do Walden Pond, all written by the same hand and mind. But protesting modern students, some of whom appear to want to start the Civil War all over again, are taught, many of them, by Harvard-like faculties Thoreau slathered with contempt. With some financial help from Emerson, Thoreau, a privileged white male whose father owned a pencil factory, built himself a shack on Walden Pond and lived there, where he wrote such things about nature and the nation as this:
“The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.”
The debt-burdened postmodern graduate, leading a life of unquiet desperation, is content to place himself at a safe remove from the problems he inveighs against. Thoreau “went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
One doesn’t expect recent high school graduates on their way to college -- some of whom, poorly taught, have not mastered the three “r’s -- to live in the quasi-socialist utopias they present to others frequently in their showy demonstrations.
Thoreau was of course a pre-Civil War abolitionist agitator. The moral cordite that set him off was the all too apparent inability of his contemporaries to see slaves escaping slavery in the relatively free North as MEN whose principal desire was to be allowed, as other men were, to support themselves and their families independent of the slave master and his near cousin, a solicitous state and nation.
One admires from afar Thoreau’s merited moral indignation. Etymologist will notice the word dignity – from dingus, "worth, proper, fitting" -- tucked into the word “indignity,” i.e. “without worth.” Only a baboon, though he be a Harvard graduate, could possibly regard an escaped slave as other than a MAN. But if the slave is a MAN, by what authority in Heaven or earth do we strip him of his manly due?
From a safe distance, we tend to regard such splenetic opposition to slavery as praiseworthy and fully justified in our more enlightened post-Civil War period. Indeed, were we living cheek by jowl with Thoreau in Walden Pond, we have little doubt that we would have been his brother in spirit. President Abe Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – not to mention the oceans of blood spilled over the slavery question by non-Harvard graduates at Shiloh and Gettysburg – has certainly vindicated Thoreau’s view on the Fugitive Slave Law, and to some extent even John Brown’s martial opposition to slavery.
Good, very good. Slavery is gone, and it is always well to place oneself on the side of the moral angels. None of us any longer believes that Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, was but half a man. That was always errant nonsense designed expressly to support both slavery and the agrarian south, heavily dependent, as Lincoln pointed out at the time, on low cost slave labor.
Urban Blacks and Postmodern Indignity
There appears to be little sign of a cleansing indignation concerning the condition of our cities here in Connecticut and elsewhere.
New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a prophet unloved in his own country, noted, nearly six decades ago, that the Black African American family -- Mom, Pop, and 2.5 kids -- was disappearing. Black families that had painfully recovered from the many indignities of slavery in the post-Civil War period were in danger of extinction. Fathers were leaving the institution in droves following the passage of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. Others noted that if you finance single motherhood, fatherless families would soon become a cottage industry
Moynihan might have been Thoreau shouting from Concord rooftops, “They who have been bred in the school of politics, fail now and always to face the facts. Their measures are half measures and makeshifts merely.”
The Moynihan Report stirred the political pot somewhat in 1965 when it first appeared, but it did not take long to defuse the bomb. “Black Families and the Moynihan Report, a Research Evaluation” appeared a scant nine years later in 1974.
According to the author’s abstract, “The Moynihan Report contends that black families will produce more antisocial behavior, ineffective education, and lower levels of occupational attainment than white families. This study employed data collected from a random sample of the 14-18 year old population of Illinois and examines the joint effects of race, gender, social class, and family organization on a number of indicators of family interaction, antisocial behavior patterns, educational aspirations, and gender role conceptions. Few differences were found in the ways that families treat their children, and these differences were not concentrated in the lower class. Even in the lower-class broken family, there was no indication that black families are dramatically different from white families. Thus, it is concluded that in terms of delinquency, educational expectations, perceptions of the education desired by the parents, self-conceptions, and notions of appropriate gender role behavior of adults, the empirical evidence does not provide adequate support for the conclusions of the Moynihan report.”
Americans never solve their more pressing problems, a cynical observer of the American scene once said. Instead, they “amicably bid them goodbye.”
But this one will not go away. Time has shown that Moynihan was right in almost every particular. And the Research Evaluation, a crude attempt to make a painful problem disappear, is tragically wrong. Today, the abstract reads like a cruel parody. Chicago, an anti-social graveyard, is in Illinois. Fatherhood, as an institution, has all but disappeared in poor cities that depend, in Tennessee William’s haunting phrase, “on the kindness of strangers.” And decades of pumping money into the crevasses of a ruined familial urban architecture is proof beyond doubt that “in the lower-class broken family” life is nasty, brutish and short, quite unlike life among of middle class white families living outside the circle of want and despair in the center of Chicago’s heart of darkness.
A year ago, at the end of December, the Hartford Courant noted in its top story of the year, Hartford has deadliest year since 2003, “capital city had more killings than in any year since 2003, when 16 people died in a nursing home arson. Four of this year’s homicide victims were children — one only 3 years old… Hartford’s homicide rate exceeds that of the biggest city in the state, Bridgeport, which had 21 homicides as of Dec. 17, and New Haven, which had 25 homicide victims as of Dec. 19.”
Randell Tarez “Jun Jun” Jones, 3 years old, was killed, the paper noted, “in a drive-by shooting April 10 while sitting with his two sisters, ages 4 and 5, in a parked car at Nelson and Garden streets in the city’s North End. Police said the shooter was aiming for the man in the front passenger seat.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who recently decided not to seek another term, commented, “This was our most difficult and heartbreaking year in recent memory when it comes to homicides, and the fact that our experience was shared by cities across the country is little comfort… The effects of violence like this are devastating to families, to neighborhoods, and to our whole community, and my heart is with everyone who has lost a loved one or a friend, or simply been exposed to this trauma.”
Bronin will move on. His wife, Sara Bronin, nominated by President Biden to chair the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, seems to be firmly planted in Washington DC., and it would not be irregular should her husband join her, perhaps having secured a suitable position in LaLaLand.
The devastated families in Hartford will not, any time soon, be mounting middle class ladders to success, self-reliance and independence. They are rooted to their cross with nails of public compassion and financial rewards that will keep them, and perhaps their children, on a cross of dependency deplored by both the Reverend Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
And none of it will end until the urban Black African American family is restored to a condition that makes invisible men visible as fathers who will love and treasure their children, protect them from antisocial behavior, and raise them to the level of occupational attainment enjoyed by middle class white families – and, be it noted, intact, functional, prosperous, Black families throughout Connecticut.
Don Pesci is a political columnist of long standing, about 40 years, who has written for various state newspapers, among them The Journal Inquirer, the Waterbury Republican American, the New London Day, the Litchfield County Times, the Torrington Register Citizen and other Register Citizen papers. He maintains a blog, among the oldest of its kind in Connecticut, which serves as a repository and archive, for his columns; there are approximately 3,000 entrees in Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A Blue State, virtually all of them political columns stretching back to 2004. He also appears once a week Wednesdays on 1080 WTIC Newstalk radio with Will Marotti.