Someone in the backroom of Dannel P. Malloy’s press shop has great ambition for the governor. They think he’s got the potential to go all the way. Come 2016, the Democrats will be looking for a new hero. Who better than a man who overcame a learning disability, teasing, with roots in a small state? A man who looked the unions in the eye and told them to "get real"? Why look at our hero: He bleeds red, white and blue for the middle class. Dannel for President. Yoo hoo!
I am not sure what else to make of the mind-numbing series about him – 15-parts and no apparent end in sight in the Connecticut Post. This sort of reporting isn’t done from a distance. Malloy’s handlers decided to embed a friendly observer in the governor’s office. Give him all the access in the world. Let him write a piece about the man with the right stuff to run the state, the country, and the world. Test some campaign themes. See what sticks, what is saleable. Generate enough copy to make a small book publishable with a few keystrokes.
I now know more about Malloy than I ever wanted to know. Indeed, I’ve stopped reading the pieces in the Post. It feels a little like a YouTube exploit, with live footage running as the governor eats, sleeps and, well, you know, does other private stuff.
Here’s what we know about the governor: He’s got a temper, he’s competitive, he doesn’t like it when things fail to go according to plan, he has a taste for the jugular. Fine. He is a politician, after all. As Harold Lasswell noted many years ago in Psychopathology and Politics, the sorts of people who long to rule the world have deep-seated issues. Politics is, after all, a freak show.
But Stuttering Dan in the White House?
I mean, let’s face it. Why is the governor of a small state traveling to Afghanistan? The trip was a resume builder. Last I heard we weren’t looking to sell lottery tickets to the Pashtuns. And what gives with the governor’s statement about the troop withdrawal from Iraq? No one cares about what you think about Iraq, Dannel, unless, of course, you found those pesky weapons of mass destruction.
I suppose it’s easier to try to look diplomatic regarding issues over which you have no influence than it is to hit homeruns in your hometown.
The other day, Malloy’s press team cooked up a tantalizing alert. The governor would hold a rare press conference on a Sunday afternoon. The blockbuster? A dozen or so state employees got disaster relief aid they should not have received. Comes now the gubernatorial thunderclap: We won’t tolerate fraud, ever. So a Sunday press conference to announce a probe of alleged acts of fraud ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to $1200?
I suspect the governor’s staff got word a daily newspaper was going to run to the story on Monday, so they decided to steal the headlines. Rather than be on the defensive, come out swinging. I mean, it would not have done for Malloy to be reached for comment at the Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles, where he was heading the next day. I suspect the state’s taxpayers spent more on Malloy’s westward junket than a handful of state workers took in undeserved aid.
There is a lot of pent-up ambition in the governor’s mansion. Malloy’s chief of staff, Timothy Bannon, was one of the wunderkinds in the last Democratic administration to preside in Hartford working under Gov. William O’Neill. Bannon is wicked smart, driven, a master of the press and politically savvy. (Full disclosure: I worked briefly for Bannon when he ran the Department of Revenue Services. My tenure, not his, was undistinguished.)
Bannon’s been sidelined in state politics for many a year. His star was about to rise in Washington when Zoe Baird was hot to trot as a candidate for Attorney General in the Clinton administration. Then disclosure of Baird’s payments to a foreign nanny ended her chances, and kept Bannon a wage slave at the Aetna and Purdue Pharma. I say, Bannon, 63, is listening to his political clock tick. One more chance to make a run for the White House. Recall it was Bannon who helped Gary Hart write a book explaining why Hart should lead the free world.
So Dannel is navigating as best he can to show he has the right stuff. Did Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Wilson pick a disastrous fight with the state’s unions? Dannel sought a middle course, driving a stave into the heart of the state’s employee’s unions in the SEBAC fight this summer. When unions rejected concessions, the governor threatened massive state layoffs. The unions recounted the votes in a manner that would have made Boss Tweed blush. Voila. Malloy the master politician saved the day by pitting young against the old. Older workers who spent a lifetime earning retirement benefits were pushed aside. Dannel the diplomat? Dannel for President!
I saw Malloy not long ago at Bradley airport. I was, of course, on line, hoping to make a flight. He marched by with an entourage looking fit, cocksure and a destined to do great things. Somehow the sight left me cold. A politician on the make always inspires a reptilian shudder. The man’s trying so hard to be all things to all people. You get the sense he’s looking not so much to the right thing, but for a fight. He wants to show once and for all, over and over again, he’s got the right stuff. Will the schoolyard taunts he endured as a child never stop ringing in his ears? Must we the people of the State of Connecticut, and soon, the United States, serve as the props in his lifelong psychodrama?
I’m not sure how many more pieces the Post plans to run. But all this hagiographic chatter has me wondering when he will announce for president. When that time comes, the spotlight will be less friendly. I recall suspicions that the governor used his influence when, as mayor of Stamford, a criminal investigation of a juvenile matter ran in directions Malloy did not like. A less forgiving press than those granted special access to serve as advance men for his presidential hopes will be all over that story.
Odds are we will only hear the good news, the news an ambitious staff let a gifted reporter see. But the governor's eyes remain fixed on a prize far greater than Hartford, for the time being. Forgive me if I tune out.