I happen to be writing something on Mark Twain’s politics, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he might have thought rather than written – for Twain was fairly cautious, some would say over-cautious, while his wife and censor Olivia was still alive – about recent Connecticut politics.
Surely Twain would have noticed that the flight of progressive politicians from their sinecures have followed the flight of businesses and entrepreneurial capital from his beloved state. There’s got to be some heavy levity, Twain’s specialty, in there somewhere. Not even Olivia, the keeper of Twain’s reputation, could have prevented him from poking fun at Connecticut’s political Grand Guignol. Following a fatal dip in the polls, Gov. Dannel Malloy has chosen not to run again, and he has been followed out the door by his lieutenant governor, a promising Democrat gubernatorial prospect who has not spent time in prison, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Atty. Gen. George Jepsen, and other Democrat celebrities, all banging their tushies, frantically attempting to put out pant fires.
We don’t have Twain with us anymore. But Chris Powell, whose retirement from his job as managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn., is still pending, will be with us for some time to come. Though he will be leaving the paper as a regular employee after 50 years, Powell will maintain his column – good news for the good guys, bad news for the bad guys.
State Sen. Joe Markley said on Facebook that Powell was Connecticut’s “indispensable man,” and this flushed out some doubters. One would think in the era of President Trump, country and state would have gotten used to a little hyperbole. A little rich, one guy thought. We hauled that guy off to a dark corner and gave him a public thrashing, because Powell really is the indispensable man. It’s OK; you can do this sort of thing on Facebook and, if you are president of the United States, on Twitter, which has become a kind of tumbril used to transport distasteful politicians to the guillotine.
I provided half a dozen items -- all written by me; interviews with Powell on Connecticut Commentary, mentions of him in past columns, his indispensable review of Lowell Weicker’s autobiography Maverick, which Powell titled “Mr. Bluster Saves The World,” and such like -- to support Markley’s thesis.
At the same time, I received from my nephew Craig Tobey, who is living in California – please don’t ask me why – a message on LinkedIn congratulating me for having spent 38 years writing columns. Powell is wholly responsible for this. So, I wrote Craig back saying “Thanks. It’s a long time to have been writing on water.”
When the waves break, when time passes, all of it is writing on water. You try to say some things that will stay fresh on the shelf, and Powell is better at this than most. He’s quotable and memorable, always the sign of a superior intellect. And he likes all the right thinkers -- Frédéric Bastiat, for instance, and G.K. Chesterton. Tethered to either of these sane anchors, you cannot wander far from the truth.
There are, as we know, two kinds of truths, pleasant and unpleasant -- mine and yours. It is the unpleasant but necessary truths we all instinctively retreat from.
We all are servants of the truth, not its masters. Writing in “The Examiner” in 1710, Jonathan Swift said it best: “Besides, as the vilest writer has his readers, so the greatest liar has his believers; and it often happens, that if a lie be believ’d only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it; so that when men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale has had its effect.”
It is the business of honest journalism to see to it that the truth is not washed away by lies. To lie is to say the thing that is not, and journalists should avoid this too common practice like the plague. For fifty years in journalism, that has been Powell’s honorable trade. He will never receive a Pulitzer – neither did Bill Buckley, astonishingly – but he has retired from the paper only, and during his long haul he has kept faith with Joseph Pulitzer’s ever-fresh observation that “good journalists should have no friends” -- in the political world, I should hasten to mention. Isn’t it uplifting to think that we will have Powell with us to kick around threadbare politicians a bit more?
Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist, and, like Chris Powell, a frequent contributor to New England Diary.