Will a Cavalry Arrive to Save Massachusetts (and the US Senate)?
By Al Giordano
It has been many years since I so intensely reported politics in Massachusetts, and these recent weeks leading up to Tuesday’s special election on Senator Ted Kennedy’s replacement have reminded me of the following bad memories:
In 1978, a socially conservative pro-business challenger toppled Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis in the Democratic Primary. His name was Ed King and he became governor for four years, until Dukakis retook the corner office through a titanic rematch. Of course, King did a lot of damage during his four years as Governor.
In 1990, a whacked-out right-wing nutcase named John Silber – longtime president of Boston University, professor Howard Zinn said that his autobiography should have been titled Mein Campus – won a three-way Democratic primary for governor with his anti-abortion, anti-poor people, pro-business stances. Silber was defeated by descended-from-the-Mayflower millionaire Bill Weld, who ran as a pro-choice, pro-gay rights – but pro-business – Republican, who ushered in twelve years of Republican control – half by him and half by a Rogue’s Gallery in succession named Cellucci, Swift and then, brrrrrrrr, Romney.
These things happened in the supposedly “liberal” and “Democratic” state named Massachusetts.
Truth is, Massachusetts’ reputation as a progressive electoral bastion – dating back to 1972 when it was the only state to support Democrat George McGovern against President Richard Nixon (leading to a plethora of bumper-stickers that said, “Don’t Blame Me, I’m from Massachusetts”) – is undeserved. And that anomaly probably had to do more with McGovern’s choice of a Kennedy in-law named Sargent Shriver as his running mate than with McGovern’s heroic opposition to the Vietnam War. Massachusetts – so heavily Irish-Catholic - has always loved its Kennedys, but in spite of their liberal politics more than because of them.
Its capital city of Boston is the most segregated major city, racially speaking, perhaps in the United States. (And it was the Far North bastion of opposition to public school integration long after the Deep South had stepped into the future.)
Which is why Governor Deval Patrick’s 2006 gubernatorial triumph was a big step forward for the Bay State electorate.
But the Massachusetts Democratic primary electorate is one inordinately influenced by State House hacks in one corner and politically-correct practitioners of “identity politics” activism and such in the other, and regularly in the dysfunctional push-and-shove between the two, the Massachusetts Democratic Party falls so out of touch with the public that it takes a big electoral hit.
Here is the bad news (for progressive politics, for health care reform, and so much more): By all traditional political math, Democratic US Senate nominee Martha Coakley – currently attorney general of the state – will lose Tuesday’s special election for the seat that Ted Kennedy held until his passing last summer.
Coakley’s nomination is the result of a perfect storm (for Republicans): A Massachusetts Democratic primary electorate still a bit hungover that its own choice for president in 2008, now Secretary of State Clinton, lost in the rest of the country to Barack Obama, some still a bit bitter over that, and the general mediocrity of Coakley's primary opponents, too. (Say what you will about John Kerry, but each of them were mere political insects compared to him.)
Coakley - originally way ahead in the polls - took much of the month of December off from stumping the state and recently suggested that it would be a waste of her time to engage in retail campaigning by shaking hands outside of Fenway Park. She exudes, at times, that prissy elitism that turns Massachusetts voters away from Democrats so regularly.
Worse news is that her Republican opponent, Scott Brown, is a buffoon who voted 96 percent of the time in the Massachusetts State Senate with GOP dogma. If he arrives in the US Senate – as the traditional political math says he will – he will become the forty-first Senator vote to block so many progressive advances that would still be possible if he doesn’t succeed.
And yet, by traditional Massachusetts political math, I repeat: Brown will win Tuesday’s special election.
Now, here is the good news – if you are a pro-health care, pro-immigration reform, pro-people progressive – for Massachusetts, and for the United States.
There is still a cubic centimeter of chance that the script can be broken on Tuesday, and Massachusetts can be exorcized from its seasonal flirtations with the right-wing out of its frustrations with the hack-fest that is the Democratic party there: The Massachusetts special election has been nationalized.
As of the moment I type these words, volunteers for Organizing for America from the other 49 states have made more than 150,000 get-out-the-vote phone calls today alone toward saving Coakley’s rear (and that of the US Senate, and so many policies to come). Organizing for America has added a new ingredient to the stale old Massachusetts political recipe: that of, duh, organizing.
This afternoon, the US President himself ventured into Massachusetts to rally the cavalry that Coakley and the Massachusetts Democratic Party couldn't muster on their own.
Those phone calls have been made by lone citizens making calls from their homes, or via Skype or Vonage on the Internet, and in many cases from phone banks organized by many of the very same grassroots organizers who changed the US political game in 2008.
What they do is simple, and with easy step-by-step instructions available to anyone with a modem.
The small chance that Massachusetts – and so follows the nation – has this year to rip up the traditional Bay State script and short-circuit yet another right-wing rise to power from the faux-progressive state comes from the cavalry that Organizing for America has driven in to organize a better voter turnout from folks who don’t normally vote in off-year elections.
Given Massachusetts’ political history over recent decades, it is a bit of a long shot... But… So was 2008.
Should Coakley lose on Tuesday, well, that’s just business as usual in Massachusetts politics.
But should she emerge triumphant, that (now) come-from-behind victory will be because Organizing for America – at the moment when all seemed lost (and public opinion polls suggested so) - changed the game, and turned out the kind of folks that normally only vote in presidential elections, if at all.
The cavalry, in sum, is sitting in front of a computer, in your home or office, reading these words.
That latent cavalry will be in front of your mirror when you awaken on Monday.
Tuesday could signal that the cavalry is here to stay, to keep changing the game of corroded and corrupted politics with community organizing techniques.
But that will be decided on Monday, depending, one at a time, on whether the cavalry answers the game-changing call once again.
Are you part of that cavalry?
If so, use the comments section to tell us of your ride, and of what you saw or heard while galloping...