Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Hot and Cold Running Candidates

  • I'm a lawmaker and I know the right answer.
  • I have a position paper on that.
  • I'll study that and get back with you.
  • I'm the businessman and can create jobs.
Thinking about Dorothy Tennov, who coined limerence, I revel in the clear distinctions among the Dem contenders for Ted Kennedy's Senate spot. Anyone who has been at all alert can surely peg a candidate for the above comments. (For the others, from the top, Mike Capuano, Alan Khazei, Martha Coakley, Steve Pagliuca.)

Until Pagliuca's brief flashes at last evening's debate, he's been pretty accommodating. Coakley's typical smug prissiness finally was too much for him yesterday. His testy retorts to her even then seems incongruous coming out of his Winnie the Pooh face with round black eyes.

For Capuano and Coakley, the personality differences are stark. They do lead to comparisons with love and limerence. Tennov analyzed the differences between those who are limerent, who fall deeply and passionately in love, with the other half of the world, people who can grow slowly in loving someone else. The latter group looks at limerence as some sort of madness and say how terrifying it must be to lack self-control like that. In contrast, limerents say they pity those who never know the depth and range of love in all its power.

This pair exhibits the political version of that. Coakley seems devoid of passion and Capuano bubbles over with it. Critics of her use C words — cool, cautious, calculating, cold, controlled. Her fans seem to see a rational efficiency and even wisdom. Capuano's detractors claim he is too emotional and see him as abrasive. His supporters are wont to compare him to Ted Kennedy in intensity and purpose.

At its extreme, we can look to the hatchet job the Boston Globe performed on Capuano. His profile in the series on the candidates led with "And then there was the time he threatened to kill a dog." Then in the set-him-up-to-knock-him-down routine, the paper's endorsement of Khazei included, "Capuano could well broaden his approach in the Senate, but his decision to base his current campaign on populist anger suggests that he doesn’t really want to change."

How very, very British to denigrate passion and twist it into sociopathic behavior. Tsk, tsk. Get me my smelling salts, Mable.

Yet if polls are believable, styles have held influence throughout this short sprint to the Senate. We have a candid, expressive and sometimes prickly Capuano, a distant and often opaque Coakley, a policy wonk who keeps people at distance by letting position papers "speak" for him in Khazei, and the amiable and overly agreeable Pagliuca, who is hard to picture as the captain of the Good Ship Future.

So far, voters report to pollsters they are more comfortable with Coakley's calmness. That is odd in two ways:
  1. We already have a cautious and quietly sincere Senator in John Kerry.
  2. The leader she would replace was vastly more like Capuano than like her. Ted Kennedy was passionate about his goals and politics.
She notes occasionally that she is the woman in the race, which plays well with gonad voters. The closest she gets to passion is her resolute support for reproductive rights. There she made it plain that she would sacrifice even health-care reform if it got in the way.

Yet in the main, she has been pretty wishy-washy liberal in her issues statements, debates, and actions as prosecutor and AG. Again, this is OK by our commonwealth's standards and pretty similar to Kerry.

It may well be that our voters want two John Kerrys. Another state could be the source of real leadership and ardent advocacy for those who need help most. There's no law saying Massachusetts has to have the progressive leader in the Senate.

As someone who endorsed Capuano, I think ceding that role would be a great mistake and a shame.

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