A number of years ago a fight erupted on Beacon Hill, the seat of all Massachusetts politics. The brawl was between Governor Michael Dukakis (D) and the entire bicameral legislature, led in the House by Speaker George Keverian (D). Although fisticuffs did not ensue, in the mature manner which the art of politics is practiced in the Commonwealth, the Speaker stopped speaking to the Governor. What the fight was about was of little consequence—the Governor objected to the legislature’s engineering the appointment of a bird-brained former State Senator (D) to a highly paid administrative position within the bureaucracy of the public system of higher education (essentially, business as usual in the Bay State)—but its aftermath was one of revenge and recrimination. “You might forget,” said Speaker Keverian to a local television reporter in reference to the political death match in which he and the governor were embroiled, “And you might forget,” the Speaker continued, fixing his chilly dark-eyed stare on another member of the press, “But I won’t forget.”
During that same decade, Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger (D) made an example of an upstart state senator from the hinterland of Springfield, a mid-sized city in what the folks on the Hill refer to as “the western part of the State,” the frontier land that extends from Route 128 to the New York border. Senator Alan Sisitsky (D) had all the makings of an up-and-comer: young, brash, liberal and intelligent, he nevertheless lacked the street smarts not to go head to head with Bulger. Shortly after Bulger took Sisitsky’s office away from him—Sisitsky’s desk was moved into a hall of the State House—Bulger verbally assaulted the junior senator so viciously that the young man flipped out on the senate floor and was carted off for a good long rest. He never returned to Beacon Hill.
So, with the special election for US Senator entering its critical final phase, it seemed a good time to look back on the ways in which Massachusetts Democrats turn on each other when the going gets tough: they have long memories for slights real and imagined, and they have no qualms at all about eating their young. But most of all, they scorn losers. Such is the party that spawned candidate Martha Coakley (D). Should she lose on Tuesday (hope for the best, I always say), my advice to her is get out of town, fast. She’ll return to her job as Attorney General, finish out her term, then retire quietly from elective politics. Oh, she’ll likely find a sinecure at one of the dozen or so “institutes” on one of the state university campuses, where she’ll teach one course a year on law enforcement or women in politics, and the campus will proudly tout her occasional appearance on campus as a real coup in their bid for academic respectability and more importantly send a message to the Democrats in State House that it always pays to be nice to the university.
What astonishes me is that this scenario might actually come to pass. Scott Brown (R), a State Senator from the South Shore, has run his campaign as if it were taking place in a state where voters think about the issues before pulling the lever at the polls. He has run a campaign that assumes voters will take into account what is best for them in the here-and-now and what will be best for their children in the future. Even more astonishing, his campaign has taken a high road, leaving Martha alone in the dust of her dirty tactics and negative campaigning. But most of all, Brown has run a campaign that is a campaign. He did not take a three-week Christmas vacation (Coakley did); he did not concede defeat when Coakley took her premature victory turn after winning the Democratic primary.
Massachusetts voters have a wonderful opportunity on January 19. They can give the Democratic party in the state the kick in the pants it deserves for taking them for granted for so long. They can elect a senator—Scott Brown—who will be beholden not to party bosses (there are no Republican bosses in Massachusetts) but to the voters who elected him. And, should Brown go to Washington and help put the brakes on the catastrophe that is the health care legislation, the good citizens can dust off their ancient bumper sticker, trim a word from it, and proudly tell the world, “Blame Me. I’m from Massachusetts.”