Saturday, January 14, 2012

Running Against Massachusetts

At the Burning House, we have watched the Republican Party's primary process with moderate interest and little comment.

In our dual-party dictatorship, there is so little to watch that we end up watching the Republican contest because there is "nothing else on," so to speak. The Green Party will run a presidential candidate but will not select their candidate until July; and the press will mostly ignore them. The Libertarians will choose their candidate in May (and it just might be New Mexico's former governor, Gary Johnson); and the press will mostly ignore them. The Socialist Party nominated Stewart Alexander, and faithfully the press is mostly ignoring him. The Democratic Party will coronate President Barack Obama at their convention, whenever and wherever that is. And the press will stick to covering the two major party candidates.

So we are left with the media spectacle of the Republican Party nomination, which has the kind of exhaustive media coverage you would expect of the general election, because there is really nothing else to watch and commentate upon.

And a competitive party primary can be very interesting to watch. Surely it is, this year, when so many colorful personalities have vied to be the party's candidate -- and have stuck around, thanks to unlimited campaign spending. A major theme of this year's nomination has been the disaffection with many on the ideological right with the Wall Street approved frontrunner, Mitt Romney. Seeking ways to undermine Romney's candidacy, his rivals have taken a populist approach and criticized the activities of Romney's professional activity with the investment firm Bain Capital. These critiques of predatory capitalism have led some in the party to lament that Republicans are criticizing Romney from the left.

In an ideological contest, "moderate" becomes a dirty word, and thus one would expect the candidates leaning right to use it against Romney. This is a race in which being "moderate" is a bad thing. Got it.

Having reviewed all of that, we arrive at one observation that no one in the mainstream media seems to be pointing out. The phrase that is used against Romney repeatedly, seemingly as often as his own name, is "Massachusetts moderate." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich repeats this phrase the most often, but Rick Santorum has also taken it up. It's not enough to call him a moderate. He is a moderate from Massachusetts. This is something far worse to be, apparently.

The name Massachusetts is being used as an expletive, not as the name of one of our oldest states, where the first pilgrims landed; the location of our nation's oldest university and the first college for women; the home of Boston, the cradle of liberty, where the real "tea party" took place; a state that played an indispensable role in the Industrial Revolution, for better and worse; home to the pulpits where Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Waldo Emerson preached, and the woods where Thoreau made his hermitage; and for pity's sake, basketball was invented there!

Oh, we know why Massachusetts is spat out as a profanity by the ideological right: it is portrayed as a bastion of left-wing ideology. It is home to the Kennedy political dynasty, and the first state to recognize same-sex marriage. Its current Governor is a Democrat. And Rachel Maddow lives there. In the discourse of talk radio, these pass for compelling arguments. Massachusetts is a foreign land, a liberal place.

Still, is it not a little bit strange to see candidates for President of the United States openly running against one of our states? Especially in a race where one of the candidates, a sitting Governor of Texas, openly talked about his state seceding from the union in 2009. "Hello, I want to be President, but my own state might secede."

It's an odd attitude to take in a presidential campaign. Granted, here in New Mexico, we have made our share of jokes ribbing our neighbors, the good people of Arizona and Texas, but in the end they rightfully belong to this union as much as we do.

And demonizing one or a handful of states, like demonizing a social group or class of people, in order to please an ideological base, is hardly becoming for a president. Perhaps this is so elementary that the political professionals do not feel a need to point it out; or perhaps we have dispensed with the pretense of being a united republic.

[Photo: Cambridge, by the River Charles, where I lived in 2000 and 2001.]


quid said...

Leave us not forget that the devil-land of Massachusetts actually passed a health care law that provides care for all of its residents! How could they?

Somehow, knowing Massachusetts' people's independent spirit, my guess is they are taking their lumps and just being glad they live where they live!

Algernon said...

No, it doesn't really do that at all. It requires people to obtain health insurance and there are some breaks to help people who can't afford it buy it anyway. It was the model for the terribly inadequate federal health insurance reforms signed into law by President Obama. A great victory for the pernicious private health industry.