Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year-End Sked

There will be little or no posting here for the next week plus. I intend to enjoy the end and beginning of the years. I wish you the same.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

More GOP Wishes and Whines

The newt has spoken, rather Newt Gingrich has spoken. On today's Meet the Press (click the Panel examines politics of health care clip) he spoke per usual — with great assuredness and at increasing volume and several times.

As so many GOP gee-whizzers, he was pretending that saying something makes it so. That's faith-based jive. Name something and it is real. Chant it and it happens.

In reality of course, claiming Republican Congressional victories will follow in 2010 and 2012 does nothing of those kinds. We saw how it didn't work when McCain/Palin and crew predicted a stream roller win over Obama and progressive politics. We have seen so many times that saying the same thing at increasing volume and many times doesn't make you right or your prediction accurate. It just makes you loud, repetitious and annoying.

It was 15 years ago that Gingrich had his questionable success with the Contract With America. It didn't do most of what it promised and failed miserably fiscally. Yet, it made him mythic in the party. He seems not to have gotten over it.

I have my own prediction and I'll stand by it. Others see the possibility of what I see happening, that as former President Bill Clinton said, after the health reform becomes law, the public will warm to it. Then the mindless gang of GOP obstructionists who opposed including 31 million more Americans in care plans and starting to reduce costs will be seen for what they were.

Yet, that Newt is far from the only gee-whizzer chanting the fantasy. In a droning PR blitz, the official position of the party seems to be just you wait, boys and girls, we're set for massive victories in the next two elections. We'll roll back this bill, strip the pinko health aid from those unworthy citizens and pretend that we suddenly have learned to be fiscally responsible.

Let's just see, kiddies. Let the reality set in. Let the public weigh the huge benefits over the wee tax costs. Let the opinion polls report. Let people hear who is covered for the first time or finally again. Let the projected cost savings from even this weak initial reform take shape and find projections.

I predict the up-yours-Obama-Congress-and-the-nation Republican lawmakers will break ranks. Let's see who the first dozen or so are who admit there's good here, it was overdue and perhaps they were a tad harsh. Let's see who wants to tweak and augment health reform to begin to claim some ownership. Let Newt come back after the next two elections and explain what he really meant.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

GOP Disembowling Themselves Before Our Eyes

Could we, should we rob Americans of our deeply treasured delusions? In the case of politics and economics, the responsible answer is that we must.

In this case, the Democrats would be the beneficiaries. We must set aside the knowledge that as a group, D.C. legislative and executive branch members are only marginally deserving. Yet, the nation can only gain.

It is time to calculate the damage points. The Republicans have been extremely generous in their headlong, headstrong rush to self-destruction. Dems from President Obama through party functionaries need to gather up the goodies.

Dems were dumb enough not to steamroll Republicans and obstructionist DINOs in the health-care overhaul death march. Much has been in the news and blogs about the various procedures they could have used and which the Republicans eagerly wielded in their majority years. Let's face the fact that as a group the Dems are not that left-wing or progressive or they would have. They're not being nice so much as they are as disunited as the GOP, with multiple flavors on the same political plate.

Right now, the Republicans in Congress have exposed themselves outrageously. It's time to point and squeal.

The GOP sorts are trying their damnedest to turn health reform into its fiscal opposite. They are chanting with all irrationality — at increasing volume and repetition — that this lukewarm and watery bill will bankrupt the nation for generations to come. They gleefully proposed and supported spending trillions on unnecessary wars, resulting in many thousands dead, but they attempt now to find economic terror in funding physical health and security for the nation's citizens.

Call it, Obama. Call it, Reid. Call it, Kaine.

The Republican claims are particularly risible for the last century's economic record. You don't have to look far to see that Republican Presidents and Congresses (sometimes with help from DINOs) spent us into huge holes. Dems lower our deficits and national debt and Republicans make them soar. The records of Clinton, both Bushes and even the plastic saint called Reagan are stark evidence in recent times.

Amusingly, they would prefix tax-and-spend to the Democratic Party. They campaign on that and often win with such emotional, irrational scare tactics.

Why don't Dems scream borrow-and-spend Republicans? That's actually the provable truth.

Since WWII, we have seen a return to the most destructive economic fantasies. Right after the war, with the economic engine perking along, the nation believed in an endless growth spiral. All our dinghies would rise with this tide...forever and forever.

While comforting, that was crazy thinking. It was particularly delusional considering that under 20 years before, the majority of the nation was on the skids, without enough cash or prospects. Yet, we chose to believe that and based our economic decisions, personal and political, on that premise. The WWII generation deserves great thanks, but they rewarded themselves beyond all reason based on that fantasy.

Of course, it didn't work forever and forever, just a decade plus. Even then, it was working largely for the white middle class. Huge segments were ignored. Their little boats could sit the in the economic mud.

Another key problem was that our national growth depended heavily on using others' resources. We could call that stealing, unfair or smart. We continued to use the labor and other resources outside and inside our nation, profiting without reasonable payment.

As third world nations developed and develop, they invariably demand fairer prices for their resources. The U.S. sees the effect in lower profit margins. Our companies still move production to the cheapest labor markets, pretending that U.S. costs are the driver. Really what's changed is that they have to show up more frequently to control overseas resources. Aww.

Domestically too wages rose modestly and equal employment regulation stopped the worst of underpaying our own for their labor. At the same time, formerly poor countries like Korea, China and India churned out products from cars to fridges to electronics of better quality and lower prices than we did. Our own companies' shares of domestic and foreign markets slid.

The punchline of course is that fantasy of an endless growth spiral had to stop.

Never mind. We had a new one under Republican administrations. We could have guns and butter. We could and should borrow and spend our way to prosperity. Trickle down (better described as piddle on) economics has been the new fantasy. Despite its repeated failures, many in and out of Congress cling to this one.

Its corollary is borrowing the money through budgets passed but unfunded is not taxing. Bovine feces! Pushing the days of reckoning out a decade or two does not make it cheaper or less of a tax.

Point and Shout!

Dems must begin calling out this terrible fantasy — in the wells of Congress, in the hustings on campaigns, in media interviews, in publications, and even to each other. Say it with me, borrow-and-spend Republicans.

When Dems say that often enough, they are likely to temper even their own hunger for pork, even their own impulse to borrow against their children and grandchildren's futures.

This is a fabulous moment for Democrats. The Republicans have shown they are indifferent or hostile to the health and economic needs of the majority of Americans. Their puerile and bullying obstruction on health reform is a great object lesson and teaching moment. If they would destroy the chance for even modest improvements in health care for perhaps 31 million fellow citizens to harm progressives and Obama, they need to be called on it.

Already they are talking about how they can use this moment to gain seats in the mid-term election and aim for the Presidency in 2012. I think not.

Let the Dems call them out. The GOP threw the big finger repeatedly at the public. Let the Dems say it. Republicans in Congress spit on decency, common sense, and compassion for Americans. Let the Dems make them pay politically.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Term Limits

Slicing, slashing cold on the bike ride to Boston City Hall did not please me. I was unhappier on the way home. While the gusts blew me on my bike toward the Common, I thought instead of the narrow defeat of mayoral term limits.

Yes, indeed, it was masochism that prompted me to spin those 10 or 11 miles in a wind chill of maybe 7F. I had a damned good idea the result before I left a much warmer house and a mug of black coffee.

The short and brutal reality is that the City Council came closer than it ever has to mandating term limits for the mayor and maybe even for itself. The votes were 7 to 6 against two mayoral terms (8 years), 8 to 5 against an amendment that would expand that to three terms (12 years), and 7 to 6 against councilor limits of six terms (12 years).

As clarified by one proponent of limits, those were to be consecutive terms. Nothing denied today would been a life ban or limit. A popular pol could serve the full term limit, sit out a term and come back to renewed glory.

I certainly don't want to cast Councilor Sam Yoon as our Don Quixote. He sponsored the mayoral term limits change, in keeping with his campaign issue. Interestingly enough, he was joined in this windmill joust by Councilor Michael Flaherty. The two did not run for re-election so that each could take a flier at mayor in the last election. Yet, during the race, Flaherty hemmed and hawed about term limits. He has come around.

For those keeping score, the vote on mayoral limits were:
  • Con: LaMattina, Linehan, Feeney, Yancey, Consalvo, Ciommo, Murphy
  • Pro: Tobin, Turner, Ross, Connolly, Flaherty, Yoon

Whose Ox?

My first question during the hearing period on this proposal was whether they were covering their own butts. The Globe ran a nifty chart of terms on council, which blew that thought away. It's true that the two longest serving councilors (Yancey at 13 terms and Feeney at 8) are anti, but Turner, Ross and Flaherty at 5 and Tobin at 4 are pro.

Another unsuccessful mayoral contender this year, Kevin McCrea, has his own theories. He espoused them on a Blue Mass Group post of mine on the hearing. Other than Turner, who at mid-60s is Mayor Tom Menino's age and senior on Council, and Rob Consalvo, who is one of the youngest councilors, the vote on limits broke by age. Oldsters opposed limits.

That brings up the most fascinating extrapolation. Yoon and Flaherty are off Council in January, replaced by Ayanna Pressley and Felix G. Arroyo, newbies. Neither of those campaigned on or to my knowledge has commented on term limits. Arroyo's dad was a Councilor for a couple of terms. Pressley is a blank slate on this.

I sat through a couple of hours of delays and drivel today, so you didn't have to.

The meeting jerked around all week with at least three or four time changes due to funerals. It was noon, 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and so forth, settling on the latter. At 10:35, Yoon was like the Easter bunny, leaving loving parting gifts and cards to his fellow councilors, but by 11:14, Connolly and Tobin were still with the dead. At 11:37, Yoon and Yancey, yin and yang on limits, were convivially chatting, smiling and joking in their adjacent seats in the chamber. Only about two dozen were in the three spectator sections, with maybe nine among those to be honored for a 911 response or related to those and another half dozen among staffers. It was a sharp fall-off from the many dozens for the hearing two days before.

Maureen Feeney chairs the Government Operations Committee that held the limits hearing. She clearly found the subject distasteful. She repeatedly reduced the issues to sing-song platitudes. In many ways, she is the Pooh of the body, a bear of very little brain.


At the hearing and meeting, she went on about being raised to vote, vote, vote. When several voters testified at the hearing that they had little interest in municipal elections, she did not take that as a condemnation of pre-determined outcomes. Rather, that was mortal flaw in the testifier. She represented the anti-limits contingent in declaring that voters had their say (and duty) every two and four years to decide who deserves to be in office. She also represented the related view that it is anti-democracy to limit the voters' choices by precluding perpetual office holders.

Her proposal to increasing voting participation was definitely not to increase turnover in office. Instead, she would have voter education in schools to prepare eager future citizens.

She returned at both meetings to the recently late Sen. Ted Kennedy. She said how much poorer (literally and figuratively) the commonwealth would be "if we imposed term limits on his leadership."

Chuck Turner suggested that we look to the national example of executive term limits. He noted that since Franklin Roosevelt's extraordinary extension in WWII, we have been well served by the two term (8 year) limits on the President. He said likewise, "I think we can be well served by having term limits for mayor."

Sam Yoon cut to the essence. He said this was not an indictment of Menino any more than the enactment of national term limits was of Roosevelt. Instead, he spoke of fresh ideas and noted that "the power of incumbency can be overwhelming."

Unfortunately, he is not the best spokesman for some of his best ideas. I relate to that in being stronger in both research and passion than rhetoric. However, two other councilors who favor limits were fine orators. The Johns, Connolly and Tobin, were far more grounded and intellectually sound than any of the opposed councilors. Unfortunately, as is the norm in legislative debate, no minds changed or even opened during the debate. It was all commentary.

Connolly noted the weak turnout in the municipal final and the disgraceful (16%) in the recent U.S. Senate primary. He contrasted that with the relatively strong voting for the at-large council in both preliminary and final elections. There were two open seats for the first time in decades. He said that term limits could ensure that this happened more frequently, increasing both voter interest and encouraging greater candidate participation.

He spoke several times of the dreadful dampening power of incumbency, money and special interests. Those were the reasons we have not defeated an incumbent mayor here since 1949. Even then, James Michael Curley only lost after his latest disgrace, five months in prison on mail fraud.

Likewise, Tobin alleged that the present system discouraged those who would be willing to run for office and serve. When they see a prohibitively wealthy and connected incumbent, they are unlikely to run. He said in that context, term limits "are not about personalities; they are about the future."

Just Posturing

At the hearing and meeting, it was increasingly difficult to believe that the anti-limit crew was at all sincere. To a one, they claimed that term limits took choice away from voters and were in fact anti-democracy. They held that every four years, voters could decide whether the mayor had performed well enough to continue. They discounted Connolly's evil triumvirate.

My own district councilor, Rob Consalvo (I recently moved from Tobin's neighborhood after 21 years), was perhaps the lamest here. He waxed that term limits would hurt democracy and the voter. He said the notion was "a dangerous and slippery slope when we begin to restrict who people can vote for."

Interestingly enough, among the bluster from the anti-limits crowd, several councilors mentioned that they had heard from constituents who favored limits, but were unswayed.

Yancey was certainly the plainest spoken of all those. He kept his high spirits, noting that he was aware his reputation was that Menino had him in his back pocket. Yet he said he honestly believed in term limits only by voter decision every for years for the mayor. He said he decided to go against his constituents on this.

The mealy mouth of the day was Salvatore LaMattina. He suggested that if there were to be term limits, they should come through a voter referendum.


I really hadn't been paying enough attention to the abstracts. Of course, we are in the territory of MassResistance, the Mass Family Institute and the Christian Civic League of Maine. Let the people vote is the call. It is the perfect way to pass the buck and pretend you are being true to the roots of our nation and commonwealth. Treat each important idea as though it were a town meeting discussion and you don't have to be a leader or be responsible for any resulting decision and its effects.

In that context, the points of the anti-limits folk fit perfectly. Give the voters a say every four years. If that isn't enough, make them petition for a referendum and force the issue on their own. Those are two fabulous cop-0uts that fail to address low voter turnout, low candidate participation, and stagnant government. Done and done.

Back on planet Responsibility, we don't know yet where Pressley and Arroyo will fall on this limits fence. We do know that two term limits champions are off Council in a couple of weeks. That can mean:
  • Limits maybe out to the indefinite future
  • Limits have only taken a December rest and will be a big issue early next year
  • Pro and con-limits councilors will woo the newcomers
  • Voters will hear about and talk about the seven old and young farts who may need to move along
Oratory note: I have long considered Sam Yoon the smartest person in city government here. Brain power doesn't often translate into the very different skill of speechifying. I recall some councilors with pretty dreadful politics (think Jim Kelly and Albert Dapper O'Neil) with brutal wit they mingled with their assertions. Not every speech does or can rouse us rabble. Council meetings would be a lot more fun if we heard more stirring rhetoric, the kind that inspires councilors to settle or change their minds on the spot.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

God Bless the Town That's Got Its Own

The oxymoron home rule plays out constantly on Beacon Hill. If Boston's city council passes and its mayor signs term limits for its chief exec tomorrow, figurative kowtowing and knee walking remain standard procedure. Municipalities in Massachusetts may not rule themselves.

Even the League of Women Voters show disdain in their white-glove way. A history of home rule here includes:
In the late 1960s, the Special Home Rule Commission recommended legislation to facilitate the use of home rule, but the General Court did not accept any of its proposals. The governor, in 1975, established a home rule committee to explore ways to strengthen implementation of home rule. The committee, on which the League was represented, reviewed the state statutes governing municipal affairs and recommended a number of changes. The Legislature, however, has been reluctant to relinquish its authority in local matters. As a result, a disproportionate number of bills dealt with in the Legislature are so-called home rules bills, i.e. bylaw changes and matters passed by city councils or town meetings. Many of these matters should not have to go before the Legislature.
That's right, boys and girls, the General Court just won't give up its paternalism. Sure, municipalities aren't allowed to pass ordinances that conflict with commonwealth, but that's the way of the legislative food chain all the way through the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court. It's the making them bring every damned tweak to daddy and mommy on Beacon Street that is so absurd.

Consider Boston, where:
  • The city council is nominally the legislative body.
  • The council can pass whatever it wants, but must beseech the mayor to approve the change.
  • The mayor can veto or sign anything the council gives him.
  • Nothing of substance has the effect of law or charter revision without prior approval of the GC.
Chapter 43 of Massachusetts Laws details the smothering limitations. For one example related to the current debate on term limits for Boston's mayor, consider the punchline of it Section 13:
...No exercise of a power or function denied to the city or town, expressly or by clear implication, by special laws having the force of a charter under section nine of said Article, and no change in the composition, mode of election or appointment, or terms of office of the legislative body, the mayor or city manager or the board of selectmen or town manager, may be accomplished by by-law or ordinance. Such special laws may be made inapplicable, and such changes may be accomplished, only under procedures for the adoption, revision or amendment of a charter under this chapter.
Home rule is more aptly described as you-may-not-rule-yourself legislation. Moreover, as the League notes, a disturbing amount of GC bills deal with largely pissant subjects that are really not the legislature's business.

I'll channel the Tick here. He would bellow, "Villains, I say to you now, knock off all that evil!"

Our General Court is charged with serious business and this is a particularly serious time in Massachusetts. Playing control freak to cities and towns is inappropriate, inefficient, and well, evil.

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Media Predictions Candor

A media pundit ran a refreshing recap of his many predictions over the past year. Others should be so thorough in their cataloging and as frank in their self-judgment.

Click over to News After Newspapers to read Martin Langeveld's scorecard.

Disclaimer: He and I went to high school together. We also had him on a Left Ahead! show discussing the future of the press.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Pols Hugging Base in Boston

"We have six votes and one more day," said Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon's chief of staff, Mary Grissom. His term-limits law could need seven of the 13 for Wednesday's vote. It would be an excellent way for him to exit after four years as an at-large councilor.

You surely recall that Yoon did not run for re-election to go instead for mayor. He lost, as did Councilor Michael Flaherty, who got in the final against longest-serving Boston Mayor Tom Menino. (Links in this paragraph are to their Left Ahead! podcasts.)

Today, I joined a hundred or more citizens, including Universal Hub's Adam Gaffin, at the operations committee hearing on mayoral term limits. UH has a lengthy report here. The gist of it is that Yoon wants two term (eight-year) limits on mayor. He want to limit council terms as well, but figured he had a shot at the seven votes for mayoral limits, and the council piece would naturally and shortly follow.

This has inspired the Left Ahead! crew to revisit this subject for its podcast tomorrow, Tuesday, December 15th, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. The live stream is here. You can head there, to Left Ahead! or iTunes to catch it in the can.

If you can't get enough of this, you can also check our podcast two years and a few days ago with Councilor John Tobin. He has long called for term limits and supports this version as well. Like a couple of his peers, he also calls for councilor term limits as well.

I'm not a regular at council meetings and can't tally the six or seven who might side with Yoon. On the Government Operations Committee, John Connolly joined Yoon and Tobin at the hearing testifying in favor of term limits. Bill Linehan, Charles Yancey, and Committee Chair Maureen Feeney were against. Absent were Chuck Turner and Vice-Chair Rob Consalvo (coincidentally my new district councilor). I bet they split, with Turner for lmits and Consalvo against, but that's my felt sense.

As such, the committee's report would be favorable for passage in two days. In that vein, the other mayoral also-ran this, Kevin McCrea, testified for limits at the hearing. Intriguingly enough, he said he had very recently spoken with Menino, who he said pledged to sign the bill if it came to his desk. That's delicious hearsay.

Councilor Sal LaMattina was briefly at the meeting but did not testify. Councilor Mark Ciommo opposes limits. Council President Michael Ross was absent but Fenney said he'd watch the hearing on council TV. Councilor Steve Murphy had no reason to be there.

If the dozen plus citizens inspired to rush through two-minute drills of testimony are any indication, term limits for mayor are very popular. Also, the number showing up for a hearing on Monday morning was extraordinary. Only one testified against term limits. The passion and calls for meaningful democracy definitely favored limits.

So, we can find out Wednesday how persuasive Yoon is in his last three weeks in office. According to his chief of staff, this is as close as Boston has ever gotten to mayoral term limits. Passage would require the councilors to put public interest above self-interest. If they hadn't allowed themselves to consider it before, they heard today that limits on their jobs are in the chute if this comes down first.

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Friday, December 11, 2009


As a Southerner in childhood, I knew January 19th as a holiday. Here in 2010, it happens to be the final in the special election to replace Sen. Ted Kennedy (vote Martha Coakley, certainly).

In elementary school, I lived in Danville, Virginia, and knew that date as a holiday, Robert E. Lee's birthday. Also, that city is just a couple of miles above North Carolina in the middle of that wide state. It had a particular stake in the date, serving as the capital of the Confederacy for the last 13 days leading to Lee's surrender. In my youth, the pubic library that I visited constantly was in the mansion of Major William Sutherlin and had served briefly as the seat of government when the C.S.A. cabinet met there.

Virginia had a day for Lee from the late 19th Century. That was no surprise. Even President Abraham Lincoln respected the head general of the Confederate armies and had offered him that role for the union version first. I also doubt anyone there was surprised early in the 20th Century when Virginia doubled the honorific by adding Stonewall Jackson to that holiday. After all, his birthday was only two days after Lee's.

Yet, even as a former Virginian, I was appalled when that commonwealth tucked the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into the same. The resulting Lee-Jackson-King Day was legal from 1984 into 2000.

Disingenuous Virginia politicians said that this only made sense not to duplicate and gang holidays after President Ronald Reagan set January 15, 1983 as the first King Day. I think we all know an insult when we see one on the calendar.

The year before the Virginia legislature corrected this boner, the Washington Post spoke with some of the political players there on it. A Virginia Commonwealth University history page details some of the hoo-ha leading up to and following the separation of the holidays in 2000.

Here and now, I think we can be pretty confident that the date to hold the special election to replace our Senator was coincidental to any of this holiday history. In fact, I doubt Gov. Deval Patrick knew of Lee-Jackson (erstwhile King) Day. He surely was driven by Secretary of State William Galvin's mandates for when the election had to be complete.

Still, the coincidence lends itself to musing and perhaps augury. It it auspicious to replace our great progressive leader on this day? Does this bespeak of any special duty for the almost certain to be Sen. Martha Coakley? Does a day draped in history and honor and contention and the resolution have any powerful meaning?

Nah, but it is amusing to note.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

1/19? Time to Vote for Martha!

Time to make the donuts Senator.That is, on Tuesday, January 19th next, first hie thee to your Massachusetts polling place, assuming you are a registered voter here. Then, vote for Democratic Martha Coakley as U.S. Senator. Done and done.
For the inert: If for some (don't try to explain) reason you are of legal residence and age here and not registered to vote, do it now. You have 18 days, until government offices close on Wednesday, December 30th. The process and downloadable form are here. No excuses and no regrets later.
Here and at Left Ahead! in the next several weeks, discussions of the candidates and issues will appear. Note that there will be a choice among at least two and probably three contenders. We'll discuss Republican Scott Brown, he who is badly out of sync with the electorate being anti-same-sex marriage and such. Also, assuming Secretary of State Galvin certifies enough petition signatures to get Joe Kennedy (no, no relation to the late Senator) on the ballot, we'll include him.

Meanwhile, it's not enough that you know to vote for Coakley in this liberal-leaning commonwealth. You have to vote.

As a disclaimer, for many elections, I have been a poll worker in Boston, first as an inspector and now as a clerk. I care whether people vote. The under 20% in this special-election primary was way too low. Voting is a low-effort activity with high rewards in citizenship points, self-righteousness, and sense of ownership of your government.

Get with the program. Vote Dem. Vote progressive. Vote.

I am Michael Ball, a.k.a. massmarrier, and I endorse Martha Coakley.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Triumph of the Mighty OK

Cutting crystals of icy rain made me aware of my baldness as I got the papers from the walk a little before 5 this morning. That was an apt mood continuation from last night.

After working 15 hours as a clerk at a Boston poll, I followed the online and TV news simultaneously to see what I had vaguely dreaded for weeks. Massachusetts went with the adequate to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

I went the extra 20 feet to extract the Capuano lawn sign.

The three of us at Left Ahead! will kick this election can up and down our virtual hallway this afternoon at 2:30. (Live stream here.) Meanwhile, there'll be tons of analysis. You can start with the Globe for wee morsels of analysis or for Yvonne Abraham's lament that for all the bluster about glass ceilings, this has only shifted this state's highest elected woman from one office to another rather than any net increase.

I have no doubt that come Robert E. Lee's birthday, January 19th, Martha Coakley will trounce Republican Scott Brown in the final and become junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. I also am sure she'll be a lot better for us economically and politically than Brown would have been.

Yet, this looks like serious regression. We already have a good, quiet, timid Senator. Now, we have almost certainly chosen another one just like the other one.

We did it statewide too. The Boston/Cambridge/Somerville urban axis went heavily for Capuano, as did Maynard, and Amherst and a number of Berkshires towns. (Only Alford went for Khazei and nowhere for Pagliuca.) Coakley owned the rest of the state from a little to a lot.

Were voters tired of all that Ted Kennedy demanded of them? Was it time to hunker down and let some other Senator from some other state lead national debates and call for progressive crusades?

Moreover, is there a closeted John Kerry? Does he have an heroic side he deferred to Ted Kennedy's power? TBD.

For all of her self-congratulatory campaign rhetoric, Coakley hasn't done much. That shouldn't be a surprise, as that is typical of prosecutors and attorneys general. They tend not to be big-vision sorts or machers. I can now hope that people can say to me in two or six years, "See. She really was a progressive activist like Ted!" Likewise, wouldn't it be great if Kerry has been the great political tree disguised as a sapling stunted in Kennedy's shadow?

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Monday, December 07, 2009

A Vote for Decades

Your vote in tomorrow's MA special election is huge. Not only should turn out in the plebiscite to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate be very light, but think of the implications. As elsewhere, our new Senator is likely to serve 12 to maybe 36 years.

I made it plain that I'll vote for Mike Capuano. I want the one who has already shown he thinks progressively and has done the job in Congress. We don't need a second tentative Senator or anyone who may, if we're really lucky, grow into the job.

If you don't have your candidate, go with mine. You can hear him on our Left Ahead! show.

Even if you want someone else, vote for sure. No excuses.

Polls here open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Tell your neighbors, friends, coworkers, the toll collector and the grocery cashier. It's election day. The winner of the Democratic primary is almost certainly the next Senator...for a long time.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Coakley Kind of Answers

Real journalist (not someone who plays on a blog or cable TV) Bill Densmore did us all a great service. He extracted first 18 questions from a bunch of us and in turn pulled out answers (sort of) from the reticent Martha Coakley.

To cut to the chase, see his comments here and download the PDF of the Q's and A's here. You get a bonus for reading all, which ended up as 21 instead of 18.

MinM aside: I have been masochistically fascinated by the would-be Ted Kennedy replacement in the U.S. Senate's seemingly successful remote-control campaign. Only in the last partial week is she doing retail politics and in that, just visiting five towns. Contrast that with the other extreme of Mike Capuano's 200-plus events, plus dozens of Open Mike grillings by voters.

So, is this a way to federal office or a hapax legomenon (term appearing only once in a document or language)?

In Massachusetts for this foreshortened voting cycle, her poll-confirmed strategy has been:
  • Make a jack-rabbit start
  • Target a couple of high-profile endorsements
  • Claim front-runner status
  • Minimize positions and record-based claims
  • Avoid direct contact with voters as much as practical
Certainly in the Boston end of Massachusetts, that's not what we're used to. Yet, voters have not demanded more of her and have apparently continued to reward this behind-the-glass campaign.

I am left wondering, if she wins, will this become the new or at least a new campaign strategy for others?

To Bill's questions, make your own judgments. I see the replies as squishy and run through the PR factory to neuter them of power and meaning.

The only real insight we gain is that she is never likely to fall on the civil liberties side of the fence instead of the tough-on-bad-guys side. Prima facie, that looks conservative Republican, but really it makes sense for a career-long prosecutor. That's what she knows and why her PATRIOT Act debate answers are scary.

Unfortunately, despite Bill's effort here, Coakley ended up with a take-home exam. Her minions returned answers copied out of the textbook. The replies are technically right, but not revealing.

That's been her strategy. It seems to have worked. She's sticking with it.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Capuano vs. Pagliuca

U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano and venture capitalist Steve Pagliuca get personal.
"Lovey, he's a mean man!"

The jack-in-the-box class warfare of the current race for Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat was wonderfully loud and comic last evening. Actually a fairer comparison would be Steve Pagliuca in the role of Thurston Howell III.

Cappy haters had their treats. While I endorse him and am fine with his candor and brusqueness, others see him as arrogant and classist. That is, he came from blue-collar Somerville, was its mayor for five terms and led its turnaround. He strongly identifies with that background.

Amusingly enough, Pagliuca tries to mingle with mortals. His website has to go to an immigrant grandfather to approximate blue-collar ties. Oh, he throws in that he had a furniture moving gig at Duke in undergraduate school. However, he may be worth a half billion dollars and admitted in an earlier debate he hasn't felt the recession — but he knows someone who has.

In a couple recent debate exchanges, Pags clearly shows his pedestal perspective from a privileged position. It is a classic classist example. The VC is clear accustomed to deference. That is likely in his desk and business lunch job, but not so in a campaign...particularly against a proud working-class champion.

Consider the brief clip above. Thurston Steven has no problem dissing Cappy and trying to yell him down repeatedly. Yet, he will not tolerate what he considers disrepsect.

Following that sniping came Capuano, with a moderately patronizing tone, saying "I’m not suggesting we collapse banks. . . You believe in concentrated wealth. It’s concentrated wealth in you more than others." Pagliuca forwent the smelling salts to snap back, "I don’t believe in demagoguery. There’s another personal attack."

To an anti-Cappy observer, like the Globe's Soctt Lehigh the fault is all on one side. As he wrote, "He was just as dismissive when the matter came up again later. His disingenuous and haughty reply showed viewers something instructive about how he responds to critics."

Another way to look at it is that Pags exhibits what many learn in prep school and the Ivy League. Typical arguing tactics include stating your position at increasing volume many times. If you win a point that way, it really doesn't make you right though. It makes you loud and repetitive. It's a style thing.

From their different class postures, this pair are not likely to become great buddies. Thurston Steven expects and is clearly accustomed to deference. Mike from Somerville was not in the mood for that last night and will not likely be so anytime soon.

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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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