8:31 PM EST, February 22, 2013
Watch Dan Malloy closely right now, and you might see that rare thing: A politician who has ditched politics in favor of moral seriousness.
That, at least, is my current working theory of Malloy. I believe what he saw and heard in the early hours at Sandy Hook changed him irreversibly. I believe his moment at the open casket of Noah Posner, where the missing lower part of the little boy's face was covered with a cloth, both wounded and electrified the governor.
To understand him right now, you might be better off reading Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky than political commentary. He has seen a terrible, undeniable reality and now searches for a moral response to it.
Malloy being Malloy, he doesn't search for very long. Russian novels would be shorter if the characters were more like him. He is an impatient man. He thrashes where another might contemplate. But I sincerely believe Sandy Hook has crowded out everything else for him.
One of my theories of human life goes like this: Most of us are holding some aspect of ourselves at arm's length; and, when we give up that effort, we quickly move to the other extreme. The woman who insisted on privacy becomes the compulsive sharer. The man who embraced an unflinching moral rectitude leaps into astonishing debauchery. And there is no sterner crusader against vice than one who has given it up.
So Malloy, who so often stood at a distance from his own humanity, is now completely a prisoner of it.
When you think about it that way, everything makes sense.
The reason his budget address was such a discordant mess is that he isn't going to be any good at anything until his moral rock slide reaches an angle of repose. And the reason that, last week, he blew up the process he had helped to start — the work of two Newtown task forces — is that he couldn't stand it anymore. He's currently a politician who can't do politics. My guess is, he isn't sleeping well. My guess is, he has a sickness of the soul that won't go away until he believes he has done the right thing. And maybe not even then.
It might be helpful to think about Isaiah Berlin's fox and hedgehog model. The fox knows many things. The hedgehog knows one big thing. Most politicians are foxes. They almost have to be. You cannot, in a complex landscape, be driven by one unwavering thought. George W. Bush was one of modernity's rare hedgehogs, and how did that work out? Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the greatest politicians of the last 60 years, were marvelous foxes.
Malloy, right now, is a hedgehog.
Last week, the governor abruptly announced he wasn't impressed by the dithering of the legislature's super-committee. On Thursday, he brought out his own multi-point gun plan, in what would appear to be a stark contravention of the process he set up. Tactically, this is a bad idea. You cannot, with one breath, denounce the efforts of the legislature as rubbish and then, with the next, ask them to pass your proposals on the same issue. Well, you can, but they won't do it.
But then, as I keep saying, he's not thinking tactically right now. He's not even in this century.
The 20th century itself was kind of a fox. Modernist writers like Joyce and Woolf and Faulkner relinquished the notion of objective reality and embraced the idea that each of us carries a separate, bespoke reality inside us. Tolstoy was a 19th-century guy. He believed — and here I bow to the scholarship of Edward Wasiolek — that reality was real. The job of life was to respond authentically to it, not shape it to one's own purposes.
Looked at this way, Malloy's current 19th-century mood is refreshing but unsustainable. You can't be true to one thing in the 21st century. We may be looking at a man who was ruined by Sandy Hook. There's nothing shameful about that. If there is any shame, it is that more of us are not deeply scarred, that we are still foxes, blinking in surprise at the hedgehog.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.
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