With extinction of the middle class, another Great Depression and the rule of law on the line, you would think we'd be hearing just a little bit more about the race in the First Congressional District.
More succinctly, can all of you possibly think that this Wall Street rescue is a good thing?
Despite vigorous disagreement among the three First District candidates — Steve Fournier, John Larson and Joe Visconti — the campaign is passing with barely a ripple, not even a League of Women Voters debate that includes all viewpoints.
The absence of a living and breathing campaign is so disturbing that I invited the three candidates over for coffee. All were eager to attend.
"What will happen if we don't act and put new leadership in Congress is the extinction of the middle class. Period," said the Republican nominee Visconti, a West Hartford resident, when I asked him to sum up the stakes.
People are facing "whether they are going to have a home, have a job or whether they are going to have to move in with their relatives," he said.
U.S. Rep. Larson, the incumbent Democrat, isn't talking extinction. But he said at our little mini-debate that the economic crisis is one "we've faced at no other time than perhaps the Depression. It calls for a Roosevelt-like solution, especially in terms of investing in the American people."
"The constant theme that runs through all of this is deregulation, and the deregulation that has gone on for decades," Larson said. "Where was the administration? Where has the oversight been?"
Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Stephen Fournier of Hartford — who is all for government investment, just not for the bankers — called the Wall Street meltdown "way overblown." He has a more sinister take.
"The rule of law is at stake in this election," Fournier said. "What we've seen is criminality on a large scale, not just in the executive branch but in the legislative branch as well. This is a time to come down on criminals in government."
Whew. It was easy to see why none of us had much appetite for the pastry the other day.
Larson ranks fifth in seniority among House Democrats and is the favorite in a district that hasn't sent a Republican to Congress in decades. He has the confidence of a seasoned politician who would be at the forefront of Obama-administration reforms in Congress.
Visconti, a contractor, musician and town council member, rose to prominence through his opposition to the Blue Back Square development in West Hartford Center. His is a spicy stew of anti-tax Republicanism seasoned with a populist's distrust of corporate America.
Like the other Green Party candidates in Connecticut, Fournier, a lawyer and former Hartford Board of Education member, has been unable to garner much mainstream attention. Unrepentant, Fournier wants free public transportation, an about-face of our military policy and criminal indictment of top officials.
So it wasn't a surprise when Fournier sought, without complete success, to get his fellow candidates to agree that corporate power has fatally corrupted Washington.
Visconti, meanwhile, had even more difficulty finding support from the other two for his aggressive stance on immigration; he favors using federal racketeering laws to crack down on groups or individuals aiding illegal immigrants.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all three are mad as hell at corporate America.
Larson and Fournier want higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy. All support pumping hundreds of billions of federal dollars into the economy.
While generally supporting the Wall Street bailout, Visconti often emphasized his proposal for tax deductions for energy, college tuition and credit-card bills.
"We should let Americans keep more of their money. It would be foolish right now, in this economy, to consider more taxation," he said. "Who do you trust to be a leader that is going to represent the middle class? That's the question for this election."
Larson responded that " Barack Obama has it right. There will be a tax increase. It will be on people earning in excess of $250,000, but it will be a tax increase at the same levels that they were in Ronald Reagan's and Bill Clinton's administration. There will have to be ensuing tax cuts ... that are targeted toward the middle class."
Fournier's solution would be to spend the $700 billion on a New Deal-style program to rebuild bridges, schools and public transit.
"People would work, they would get paid, they would be better able to pay their bills," he said of his plan, which would be paid for through new taxes on securities transactions.
When the talk turned to Iraq, I asked the candidates what "winning" would mean. This led to some of the most striking differences.
Larson said he favors a gradual withdrawal. The Bush doctrine of intervention is "the worst policy disaster in the history of the country," he said, saying that the nation must return to "the notion of diplomacy, deterrence and containment."
Visconti, who opposes a public timetable for pulling out, responded that a clear victory is essential because it "means everything for America."
To this, Fournier said, "There is no military victory ... the problems that both Joe and Congressman Larson seek to solve with military force cannot be solved with military force."
No interesting candidates? No issues to debate? I disagree.
Rick Green's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. Read his blog at courant.com/rick.
On the Web See a slideshow and hear the candidates at courant.com/candidates Stephen Fournier, Green Party >> "The rule of law is at stake in this election. What we've seen is criminality on a large scale, not just in the executive branch but in the legislative branch as well. This is a time to come down on criminals in government." John Larson, Democrat >> "What's at stake in this election is the economic stabilization of the middle class and the ability of Americans to prosper and move forward. It calls for a Roosevelt-like solution, especially in terms of investing in the American people." Joseph Visconti, Republican >> "What will happen if we don't act and put new leadership in Congress is the extinction of the middle class. They are wondering if they are going to have a home, have a job or whether they are going to have to move in with their relatives."