Jim Himes provides much-need realism, free beer
It’s 8:30 p.m. in Stamford, Connecticut, and the reclamation of America is progressing one stultifying trivia question at a time. Forty-something Jim Himes—slim, energetic, whip smart, democratic and electable—is running for Congress in the Connecticut 4th District. He needs support and money, and what better way to find those than by sponsoring (with free beer and pizza) a pub trivia night upstairs at Bradford’s, an ersatz pub on a twee shopping drag. If you happen to know who went on from the Governor’s mansion in Hartford to become U.S. ambassador to India then, buddy, your night is made. Mine, not so much.
Connecticut political trivia notwithstanding, I learned a couple of things that night. First, Connecticut, despite what it says on the license plates about it being the Constitution State, is, in fact, the nutmeg state. Second, Jim Himes (Rhodes Scholar, Goldman Sachs VP turned affordable housing maven, and licensed shell fisherman) is pissed off and righteous. In a time when wry detachment is meant to be the political currency of the moment (or so Neal Gabler tells us in Wednesday’s New York Times), Himes is serious and earnest and my sense is that he actually gives a shit.
But he doesn’t give a shit the way, say, an activist or an advocate gives a shit. If he gets elected he has to govern, and that means he doesn’t have the luxury of moral victories. That’s why when I asked him, eyeball to eyeball, how he was going to legislate habeas corpus back into existence and end the war, he didn’t give me one of those “thank God we’re on the same team” looks. Rather, he stopped, thought about the question, and then said straight up: “Six months ago, people were talking about that stuff—the war, civil rights. Now three-quarters of the people I talk to are terrified by the economy, and it’s the advocates that are keeping the issues you’re talking about alive.” In short, Himes is a realist, and as much as he talks about “restoring the values that made this country great so that everybody gets a crack at the American dream” (American politicians really say that sort of thing, even in private), he has to get elected first—this means tailoring his message to an electorate scared by their skyrocketing mortgage payments and credit card bills.
In pursuit of the brass ring, Himes is running against 11-term incumbent Chris Shays—the last Republican congressman in New England. Shays is a “moderate” who supports the war and is counting to some extent on receiving former Democratic VP candidate Joe Lieberman’s endorsement, thereby driving “moderate” Democrats across the aisle. On the other side, Himes has forged a coalition of progressives, many of whom supported Ned Lamont in his failed effort to unseat Lieberman and actively oppose the war and its various manifestations. If pub night is any indication, their enthusiasm for Himes knows few bounds. Half the people I spoke to seemed to be writing lefty blogs supporting Himes and/or his agenda (my favourite: Myleftnutmeg.com). Himes’ progressive bona fides were topped off by the fact that his wife is Canadian—a fact that seems, among left-leaning Connecticut Yankees at least, a simulacrum for fellow traveller.