Contemporary American politics display some of the most important distempers Federalists of the 1780s intended to tamp down by creating the US Constitution. Among those are manipulation of voters through disingenuous electioneering arts and vote-buying by means of “agrarian”—that is, redistribution—laws. The coming of modern media of communication has more or less negated one of the positive effects of the Madisonian “extension of the sphere of republican government.” Nowhere is this clearer than in my state, Connecticut.
Our governor, Dannel Malloy, just won re-election to his second term. NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE ran a column on October 8 designating him the worst governor in America. Although not familiar enough with the other forty-nine to echo that judgment, I find it hard to believe that NR was mistaken.
In 2010, Malloy won election for the first time largely on the basis of personal attacks on his Republican opponent and lies about what Malloy would do as governor. His vow not to raise taxes proved no obstacle to his early signing off on the largest tax increase in state history.
Evidently recalling Rahm Emmanuel’s injunction never to let a crisis go to waste, Malloy exploited the Newtown Massacre as an opportunity to push through the completely Democrat-dominated legislature a very draconian gun law. He publicly stated that he would not regret seeing the gun manufacturers which since before the Civil War have called Connecticut home leave the state—and some took him up on it.
They were not alone. Connecticut was the only state in the Union whose population actually declined in the first years of this decade. A recent Gallup poll showed that 49% of Connecticut residents—forty-nine percent—would leave the state if they could.
This was not the end of Malloy’s low-ball politics, but only an augury of things to come.
Governor Malloy’s reelection campaign came to center on two types of advertisement. One looked exactly like ads run by the Barack Obama campaign against Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Tom Foley, Malloy’s allies said, was not for people like us. The evidence? Foley’s company bought a company down south and laid off workers. It also offered some of its workers a $.10/hour pay raise. Meanwhile, Foley made millions of dollars.
Another television advertisement said that while he was a millionaire, his campaign filings showed that Tom Foley did not pay any federal income tax last year. This, too, proved that Foley did not “care about people like us.”
Here we see the Democratic Party’s perpetual motion machine at work: denizens of Democratic precincts in Connecticut receive poor educations—notably in economics. Seemingly, they then can be counted on to think that the purposes of businesses are to remain open even when losing money and to pay employees as much as possible. If Tom Foley got rich while his company’s employees didn’t, then that can be expected to seem immoral to a typical Connecticut Democratic voter.
Why would one think so? Because this kind of appeal is splashed across Connecticut television screens every election cycle. The gullible buy it—just as they bought his 2014 vow not to raise taxes again.
For his part, Foley proved to be the classic Connecticut Republican—easily caricatured and incapable of responding. Malloy’s rhetoric, which in England or on the Continent would come from a pre-Blair left-wing party, drew no refutation from Foley. Rather than explaining that of course a business would not keep an unprofitable operation in business, Foley just let the attack ads go unanswered. He seems to be a less intelligent Mitt Romney.
Another ground on which Malloy and his affiliated groups asserted that he should be reelected was his signing the aforementioned gun-control bill, which Foley said he considered to be ill-conceived. Recall that facility of legally obtaining guns in Connecticut had nothing to do with the Newtown Massacre, which was perpetrated by a man who had stolen weapons from his mother in New Jersey and brought them to Connecticut for the purpose of performing his execrable deeds. Nothing in Malloy’s gun law would affect another such criminal in any way. Yet, more than one of the gun-related pro-Malloy ads featured ominous music behind a matronly voice bewailing the fear that children would be unsafe without Malloy’s gun regulations and that Foley did not care—while images of children heading to the bus stop flashed across the screen.
Pretty subtle, eh? Little kids, dangerous guns, going to school, worried moms. Tom Foley: public menace.
One particularly insulting ad showed a graph of murders in Connecticut, which have been lower since the gun bill’s adoption than immediately before. Apparently the Malloy campaign’s target audience was not to recognize that any such comparison would have a 26-murder head start, since the Sandy Hook shooting was unlikely to be duplicated. Apparently it also was not to realize that the shooter had broken existing laws against murder and robbery in obtaining the guns he used that day, and so another law was unlikely to have deterred him.
Never did Malloy’s campaign note that the most significant step taken by Connecticut Democrats in relation to murder cases since Sandy Hook was to eliminate capital punishment. That’s right: since the shootings, they have reduced the maximum punishment that might be meted out to criminals such as the Newtown murderer in any future case of the same kind. Inexplicably, Foley never mentioned this step.
The campaign to ban capital punishment happened to reach fruition just as a pair of notably noxious rapists/arsonists/murderers came to trial. Connecticut Democrats therefore made their repeal prospective; that way, constituents disgusted by the murders in the headlines could be told that capital punishment would be available in those cases. Seemingly, future such acts will not merit the same punishment. If this common-sense observation ever escaped a Connecticut Republican’s lips, I must have missed it. Constituents of the reigning Democratic Party could be expected to fail to put two and two together: these are the people Prof. Gruber had in mind.
Connecticut political campaigns are simply wearisome. Each of them rests on demagogic propagation of economic illiteracy combined with appeals to envy. On the side, there never fails to be a heaping helping of pandering regarding guns, sexual license, etc. In federal campaigns, candidates otherwise hostile to the military budget fall all over themselves in vowing to support continued production of submarines at the Groton Shipyard.
In “Vices of the Political System…,” his pre-Philadelphia Convention correspondence, his speeches in the Philadelphia Convention, his correspondence during the ratification campaign, his contribution to The Federalist, and his speeches in the Virginia Ratification Convention, James Madison forecast that the larger electoral districts created by the US Constitution would mean the end of demagoguery like that of Dannel Malloy. One might read this as implying that gubernatorial elections would be of a different nature from elections for state representatives as well. What television and radio facilitate, however, is use of “electioneering arts” such as Madison decried even in such elections. Not eminent qualification, but widely disseminated quackery and exploitation of people’s fears (notably women’s fears—a factor never mentioned in media analyses of a “war on women”), wins many a Connecticut election these days.
Commentators commonly lament that American politicians do not work across the aisle to solve America’s problems. Campaigns like Dannel Malloy’s are one reason that partisans are so disgusted with the opposite camp. They make one despair for republicanism itself.
Kevin R. C. Gutzman is the New York Times best-selling author of four books. These include his latest title, James Madison and the Making of America. Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University, Gutzman holds a bachelor’s degree, a master of public affairs degree, and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as an MA and a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia.