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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Moffett Losing Political Nerve

In his race for the U. S. Senate seat from heavily Democratic Connecticut, Congressman Toby Moffett is losing his political nerve to his political ambition. Ironically, however, what should be an easy win for Moffett in an election year trending markedly against Reagan and Republicans is, instead, a close race against Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker. For that, Moffett has himself to blame.

There was a time when Toby Moffett believed in Thomas Jefferson’s view of representative government as a countervailing force against “the monied interests.” In 1978, I described Moffett as one politician who doesn’t crack. Progressive politics were his trademark and the voters responded, giving him ever easier victories.

But two years later Moffett, to use his words, started “growing up” and “maturing.” He came to understand “political reality.”

He began voting for taxpayer subsidies to affluent businesses. Less often than before would he challenge entrenched members of the House of Representatives on consumer protection matters, if those members could obstruct his quest for promotion. In his senatorial campaign, he declared that he was not going to criticize “corporate Connecticut” and anyone thinking otherwise “better go back to the drawing board.”

No longer does he campaign on the need to defend the powerless and aggrieved against corporate greed and corporate crimes, as he once used to do. Yet the need is greater. The grip of large corporations on economics and politics has increased to the disadvantage of workers and most other Americans.

In recent months, Moffett has been positively gushing with a newly found corporate sycophancy. He wants to go to the Senate to help them pay less taxes and sell their products. As long as these companies come under the label of “corporate Connecticut,” Moffett wants to be their business agent on Capitol Hill.

There are several problems with this approach that might give Connecticut voters some pause. First, given the conditions that confront people today, elected politicians should be spending more of their time and talent on defending those Americans who are neither wealthy nor organized. Large corporations can fend for themselves. Connecticut citizens do not need a senator from Aetna or United Technologies. They very much need a senator who will work to curb the unbridled power and irresponsibility of Big Business and provide opportunities to other people who presently are denied.

Second, Moffett, who prides himself on opposing Texas oil companies, applies a double standard when it comes to misbehaving or overreaching companies situated in Connecticut. Why is he developing this motto–my corporate Connecticut, right or wrong? Why is he proud about his role in furthering a multi-$100 million dollar a year tax benefit for insurance companies instead of riding herd on this industry’s enormous federal tax privileges, cartel-like mechanisms and overcharging of policyholders?

Third, a senatorial election campaign can be an exciting time for highlighting a fundamental issue of politics–namely, the proper distribution of power in a society. Moffett’s background would make him a natural in making “empowerment politics” the basis of the electoral agenda.

The root of so many public problems in our country is the concentration of power in too few hands–such as special interests able to buy or rent politicians, the power to rip off the family budget, the power to inflict the silent violence of pollution in the workplace and the environment, the power of corporations to blackmail communities and workers into having their demands accepted or they will move out, and the power of the wealthy to avoid their tax burdens while the rest of the taxpayers pay on their behalf.

People need political leaders who will lay the power issue right on the ballot with specific ways to empower voters, consumers, workers, taxpayers and other groups for a better-balanced political economy. Progressive citizen groups in Connecticut, as elsewhere, have worked to develop this “shift-of-power” agenda. They should not let candidates relegate it to lip service far behind an expedient rhetoric of corporatism.

Political opportunism, being wishy-washy, joining the “politics as usual” crowd–whatever the description–voters can spot such shifting candidates a mile away. There already are too many of his congressional colleagues contributing to the public’s cynicism without Toby Moffett adding his share. By staying true to his former progressive priorities, he could have won the November election easily; now, aided by an anti-Weicker third-party candidate, he’ll be lucky to slither through.