Don Pesci: Progressivism is the opposite of thoughtful restraint

“The having made a young Girl miserable may give you frequent bitter Reflections, none of which can attend the making an old Woman happy.... [and Lastly] They are so grateful!!”

-- Benjamin Franklin in a letter toa friend in 1745

It probably is not true that older wives are by nature more grateful than, say, Melania Trump, soon to be the nation’s  First Lady. But, true or not, Franklin’s whiplash wit helps one to understand why the American ambassador, who lived in France for nine years, was so joyously received in French salons.

The Republican Party in Connecticut has for a long while been the old wife whom voters do not wish to marry. Registered Democrats in the state still outnumber Republicans by a ratio of two to one, and Democrats are outnumbered by party averse Independents, who, hopping from bed to bed, apparently do not believe in political marriages. This may be changing. Republicans will be very grateful if it does.

The change, if any, will be brought about in part by the mistreatment suffered by voters at the hands of their contractual spouse, the Democratic Party. Gov.  Dannel Malloy’s fling with Connecticut voters certainly changed radically after Mr. Malloy’s first honeymoon campaign was over.  Economically, everyone in the state but for those receiving tax payouts is poorer following the largest and second largest tax increases in state history. But the radical changes among Connecticut’s cutting edge progressives may best be appreciated when viewing social rather than economic issues.

The operative economic principle of progressivism is that laisse faire government is inherently unjust for reasons stated by Woodrow Wilson, a president who is viewed as marking an historical line of division between progressive government and the generally accepted pre-Wilson ideal that government governs best which governs least, a sentiment credited variously to Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine and Henry David Thoreau.

Wilson’s view on the prerogatives of the state was, well… different. Prior to the advent of the Wilson presidency, said Wilson, “the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with, except when he interfered with somebody else; and that the best government was the government that did as little governing as possible.” However, this arrangement, Wilson felt, leaves defenseless citizens at the mercy of predatory corporations. Limits on government should be expanded, Wilson thought, so that the “sphere of the state may reach as far as the nature and needs of man and of men reach, including intellectual and aesthetic wants of the individual, and the religious and moral nature of its citizens."

Government overreach under both outgoing President Obama and Governor Malloy is proof, if any were needed, that a government without limits that does everything will do everything poorly.

Is there any area of life into which the state may not intrude in order to redress perceived injustices? Apparently not, according to the modern progressive. Mr. Wilson, who had been a Princeton professor and the university’s president before becoming New Jersey governor and then president, had an aversion to Big Business; but the modern progressive has an aversion to anyone seeking to escape molestation by an omnipresent and omniscient state.

No red line may be drawn between a citizen and his solicitous state, which is why we are now debating whether it is proper for the state to order predatory businesses to allow men who want to be women to use women’s bathrooms. Progressives in Connecticut have protectively leapt aboard this new bandwagon, arguing that forbidding a transgender man-to-woman, or a man who fancies dressing up in women’s clothing, from bursting in upon women in public powder rooms is on a par with forbidding African Americans from being seated in public lunch counters and busses along with white folk. One can only wonder what the Rev.  Martin Luther King Jr. might have made of that proposition.

Connecticut has been for the past few years a vanguard progressive state. It provides sanctuary to illegal aliens, college educations to some of its convicted criminals, and its governor has proudly marched with union strikers, some craven few would say, to garner union votes during elections. Such was the case before Governor Malloy very recently detected retrograde conservative tendencies in his approach to governance. “Who is the most conservative governor that any of you have worked with in the last whatever period of time you’ve been here?” Mr. Malloy recently asked Connecticut’s media. The media, dumbfounded, could make no answer.

Mr. Malloy’s messaging is purposely confusing. Is his government fish or fowl, progressive or conservative? It cannot be both.

Mr. Malloy is quoted most recently in Politico to this effect in defense of sanctuary cities: “I am not a shy individual; I have opinions, and as long as people ask my opinion I will lend it.” No kidding.

And he continues, “There are these states that are progressive that have benefited from that progressiveness, that are going to be examples of restraint and voices of responsibility. I would urge right-thinking individuals who’ve benefited from the advances our society has made to not be quiet. We’re going to continue to do the things we can do, and the things we can afford to do. We’re certainly not going to backtrack on refugees. We’re certainly not going to backtrack on gay, lesbian, transgender rights. We’re certainly not going to give up on making sure our citizens have healthcare."

Sure, sure. Progressivism is the opposite of a doctrine of governmental restraint, and progressives in Mr. Malloy’s administration have been boisterously progressive, in word and deed. Connecticut is suffering from progressive overreach, the corrective for which is a large dose of conservatism or, as President Calvin Coolidge might have insisted, a return to economic and social traditional and normality. That is the message that was delivered by voters during the late lamented national elections. This unsatisfied longing for normalcy very well may deliver the political heights in Connecticut to Republicans in the near future. To be sure, Donald Trump, infested with some dangerous conservative tendencies, is no “silent Cal,” but neither is Mr. Malloy.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based political writer.