OP-ED | Malloy Reaches for his Legacy
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy delivered his final State of the State speech on a snowy Wednesday in Hartford, and it was hard not to feel we were watching an ending — not just of a governor’s term or the rule of his party, but of an entire chapter in our state’s history.
Malloy’s annual speeches, like Malloy himself, are wonkish, to-the-point, and sometimes hard to get excited about. His 2017 speech felt like a list of all the ways in which we were doomed, and effectively foreshadowed the budget misery to follow. His 2011 speech was a call to “shared sacrifice” in the face of what would become a decade-long fiscal nightmare. His 2014 speech was a campaign speech full of folksy stories, longshot goals, and positivity that still somehow managed to be tedious.
This one felt different. For the first time, Malloy delivered a speech that reflected the “fierce urgency of now” that Martin Luther King Jr. first spoke of in the 1960s. This was a speech for our time, and a speech that laid out the values he believes in and hopes we all share. It was likely his best and most moving speech, save perhaps for the brief but heartfelt address he gave after the unspeakable tragedy of Newtown in 2012.
Malloy has tried to frame policy in terms of values before. He briefly spoke of treating every state resident with “dignity and respect” in his 2017 speech, as a pointed contrast to the election of Donald Trump and the very real fear felt by immigrant communities, LGBT people, and marginalized residents of every type. In 2013 he spoke to our sense of community and responsibility after Newtown before moving on to the economy.
In 2018, though, his entire speech was built around the idea of “Connecticut Fairness,” which elevates the various ideals underpinning so much of what the government does into something approaching a coherent and enduring governing philosophy.
What is “Connecticut Fairness?” According to Malloy it is, in order: legalizing gay marriage, protecting transgender rights, raising the minimum wage, protecting survivors of domestic violence, protecting DREAMers, and both welcoming and helping refugees.
The speech’s “Connecticut Fairness” is also the idea that “healthcare is a fundamental human right,” that people should not “lose their job just for getting sick,” that protecting the environment is vital, that “people across our state should have access to safe, affordable housing,” that the NRA doesn’t dictate policy, that voting should be easier to access, that discrimination should not be tolerated, and that people should be safe from harassment in the workplace, among other things.
It is a statement of progressive values more than anything else.
It ought to be obvious why he chose to deliver it now. The world seems much smaller, much meaner, much less tolerant, and, yes, much less fair than it was in 2011. This isn’t entirely the fault of President Donald J. Trump, though he has become a kind of avatar for it. No, we live in a time when there are plenty of vultures out there who want to exploit, divide, and demolish people for their own power and profit. The rise of this narrow power-grabbing and selfish profit-seeking has led to moral bankruptcy at the heart of American democracy.
A reminder that there are some governments who at least try to live by better ideals is like finding a pool of cold, fresh water in the middle of a hot and endless desert. It is, in short, the answer to Trumpism and exclusionary nationalism.
It’s also an attempt by Malloy to try and frame the future. He has to know that there’s a good chance that the next governor and next legislative majority could come from the Republican Party. By framing “fairness” as a Connecticut value and not just a liberal or progressive value, he’s trying to erect some boundaries to protect the fragile social progress we’ve made.
It’s worth noting that few Republicans in the chamber applauded for the vast majority of Malloy’s examples of “Connecticut Fairness.” That is ominous.
That’s what strikes me about this talk of “Connecticut Fairness” and the open, cosmopolitan worldview it represents. It’s less an argument for the enduring power of liberal ideas and more a shore-up-the-barricades defense. Because here we are, together in a bright chamber, while outside the snow falls and the wind howls.
We may fight for what we believe in, but we may be fighting a rearguard action. Change is coming again. Soon we may be fighting alone.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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