A Party of Asses

By Eileen McNamara | Boston Magazine |

Only in stagnant Massachusetts could Democratic leaders like Walsh fail to grasp Warren’s prospects — even as her politics line up with the party’s heralded elite. Warren was warning of the dangers of cheap credit and predatory lending practices years before the financial services sector imploded in 2008. Her more than decade-long denunciation of financial practices that favor the rich at the expense of working people echoes Ted Kennedy’s long career of championing the little guy. Her ferocity on this score is especially reminiscent of Kennedy’s futile but energetic fight in 2005 against a sweeping bankruptcy bill, backed by the credit card industry, that punished families forced to use credit cards to pay their medical bills but preserved loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

But, hey, John Walsh doesn’t know her. So he and the rest of the party luminaries have barely acknowledged Warren or the other bright, if politically untested, candidates who are standing right in front of them.

Why, for instance, the lukewarm response to Setti Warren? Senator John Kerry called the Newton mayor and former Washington aide to both Kerry and Bill Clinton “a very close friend and enormously capable and determined public servant.” I am sure Setti thinks you’re swell, too, Senator. But will you be offering the financial and organizational support he needs to win?

Barney Frank is put out by Setti’s presumptuousness at running only 16 months after being elected mayor. “The timing is bad,” said Frank, who has stayed in his own job in the U.S. House for 30 years, only four fewer than Ed Markey, the longest-serving member of an aging Massachusetts delegation. Is retiring in office their idea of good timing?

From the clubby confines of Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill to the increasingly familiar federal courtrooms on Fan Pier, one-party dominance in Massachusetts has too often meant that mediocrity and mendacity rule: Little competition for one’s seat means an easy route to reelection for Massachusetts Democrats, which invites laziness in a politician and, in turn, corruption.

Consider the case against former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, the third consecutive Massachusetts House speaker to be convicted of federal charges. The trial was as illustrative of the pervasive culture of go-along-get-along capitulation on Beacon Hill as it was of the money-lusting venality of one man. Yes, the testimony that DiMasi received kickbacks after securing a multimillion-dollar state contract for a Burlington software company was damning — but so were the admissions of Leslie Kirwan, the former state secretary of administration and finance. Kirwan testified that she initially opposed the deal with the software company on grounds that it was too big for the state’s needs and too expensive for its wallet. But she signed off on the contract anyway, she said, bowing to relentless pressure from DiMasi. She even wrote in an e-mail afterward that she hoped “the big guy down the hall is happy.” Didn’t Kirwan work for a governor who ran on the promise to upend just that kind of back-scratching in state government? Instead, Deval Patrick and his team played ball with the hacks he had promised to bring to heel.