Wednesday, September 03, 2014

MA Dems in Gov. Ruts


Having just watched and listened to the BIG DEBATE (numerous media outlets) 6 days before the MA primary, I was disheartened. As a pol wonk, I fretted at how few voters might have tuned in or stayed in; as a poll warden, I feared how few would bother to come to the polls 9/9.

The short of it is that the two moderators — Andy Hiller and Janet Wu — are pretty simple-minded and do not fit the Socratic ideal of maieutic questioning. Hiller had some bozo mindset of drilling whether it differed that funds came from the feds or commonwealth. Wu was her usual dull self, unable ask anything insightful.

I did not get the sense in the hour that far-front leader Martha Coakley avoided controversy or hard positions to play it safe, Her style is simply non-confrontational and even noncommittal.

Granted I favor the bold, progressive positions of Don Berwick.  It's no surprise that I thought he trounced Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman. His powerful performance should make little difference. All the polls have Coakley winning by 20 or more points over Grossman and Berwick getting the bronze.

Berwick is clearly also the avuncular figure in the race. He is a pediatrician by training and career, with all the compassion and wit that comes with it.  (In a disclaimer, I have known his casually for nearly 35 years, as he was the backup for our firstborn when we moved to Boston and he still was in the stethoscope end of the biz.)

He repeatedly used that to good effect this evening as he waved at AG Coakley and Treasurer Grossman  to paint them as career pols. "I haven't clapped anybody's back," he said. "I don't know any lobbyists."

One amusing, if ultimately trivial, question for the trio was as they are all over 60 and boomers, how do they relate to young voters. Here again, Berwick was best. He's an outdoorsman, including hiker, and immediately responded, "I'll met them on the cross-country trail first."

And thus the hour went. Coakley was largely washed over by responses from the guys. She was not so much passive (and certainly not negative in the passive-aggressive sense) as she answered under duress.

Pressed by opponents and moderators alike, Coakley could not come up with a single reason to trust her. Come her approval of the terrible Partners merger or casinos implementation or suit to recover sneaky financing of a hospital's money, she went with the rules-are-rules, laws-are-laws, and I'll-stand-by-my-work non-answers.

Maybe the most telling inter-candidate questioning in the second half was when Berwick asked Coakley if she didn't have any position beyond boilerplate ones. He called for big ideas, strong stances. She could or would not point to any, and on casinos again said that the voters will make the decision and she'll abide.

All in all, Grossman remained the Eagle Scout as always. Fortunately he was less whiny and nasty this time than  in previous debates. Coakley was flat, but may not have had to been better. Berwick circled both, but did it matter?


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