(Dateline: Boston) When Lord Cornwallis marched his defeated British Army out of Yorktown in 1781 after surrendering to George Washington he regarded this turn of events as so unthinkable that he ordered his regimental bands to play an old music hall tune entitled “The World Turned Upside Down”.
Today, that 18th century ditty would be a perfectly apt theme song for Liberals in that hitherto unassailable fortress of Progressivism called New England where a series of absolutely unthinkable things have befallen them within the last year.
The high water mark of Liberal dominance in New England came in the 2008 elections and was best symbolized by the Republicans losing every single U.S. House race in the entire six state region for the first time in 150 years. The Boston Globe editorialized that in the “dawning Age of Obama” New England was leading the nation to a new world in which the Republican Party “might become extinct” as a “New American Majority” finally understood the “superiority of Progressive ideas and policies.”
For a flavor of how dramatically things have changed since last November’s election consider the following items garnered during a pleasant southerly loop through five New England states:
The spectacular beauty of Maine’s rocky Atlantic coast was complemented by the enduring afterglow of the most stunning political turnaround in any of the 50 states with long dominant Democrats losing control of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers. In less than six months new GOP Governor Paul LePage has pushed through a reduction of state income tax, Maine’s first ever Charter School law, and reform of public sector pensions.
One of the joys of any trip through New Hampshire is seeing all those auto license plates bearing the liberal infuriating state motto “Live Free Or Die” and reading the Manchester Union-Leader arguably the country’s most conservative newspaper.
At 400 members the Granite State’s lower house is the fourth largest legislative body in the English speaking world topped only by the Indian and British parliaments and the U.S. House of Representatives. Today 254 of those members are Republican and together with a GOP controlled Senate (16 to 8) they are riding roughshod over a Democratic Governor having compelled him to sign off on draconian budget cuts including major state pension reform while also approving a wildly popular reduction in the tax on alcohol. Additionally if a handful of House Democrats sign on the legislature will have the votes to override the governor’s anticipated veto of a popular labor reform bill that would end the mandate on employers to collect union dues and make New Hampshire the nation’s 27th “Right to Work” state.
In the southern tier of New England Democrats still hold the Governor’s offices and lop-sided legislative majorities,but the cumulative burdens of a lingering recession, growing debt, bloated pension obligations, unaffordable union contracts, and a constitutional requirement to balance their budgets have forced elected officials at every level to accept heretofore unthinkable degrees of fiscal retrenchment.
Politically the screams of pain from financially strapped cities and towns have drowned out howls of outrage from union bosses as they see their once untouchable contracts hammered by their Democratic “friends”.
This cold shower of reality is reflected in the changing tone of flagship liberal organs like the Hartford Courant, Providence Journal, and Boston Globe where editorials are conceding – albeit grudgingly- that perhaps spending had been a bit excessive and union contracts a tad too generous.
Don’t for a minute however think that all New England Democrats have suddenly got religion regarding fiscal realities. Probably the poster child for the “They Still Don’t Get It” crowd would be Connecticut’s new Democratic Governor Dan Malloy who proudly described himself in a Wall Street Journal profile as the “Anti-Christie”. In just six months in office Malloy has managed to increase no less than seventy-seven different taxes and fees. Saddled with a deficit to budget ratio (18%) worse than California’s Malloy’s proposed budget featured $2.5 billion dollars in tax and fee increases and $1.6 billion in cuts. After bragging about the wonderful deal he had cut with public union bosses to avoid any lay-offs Malloy was shocked when rank and file union members rejected the contract and the modest benefit reductions it included. This instantly pitched Connecticut into a doozy of a summer budget crisis and compelled Malloy to immediately lay off 6,500 state workers.
Thus we see New England pointing the way not to the nation’s future, but to the Democratic Party’s decline. A Party that for three quarters of a century defined itself in terms of taxing and spending other people’s money suddenly confronts a world where the money has vanished, and they are clueless on what to do about it.The party’s new motto might well be Andrew Cuomo’s plaintive self-description: “I’m a Progressive who’s broke. I need a new idea”.
Centennial Institute Fellow William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today. Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun. Washington Post, Denver Post and Human Events.