Don't Blame Us. We're From … Here.

The death of George McGovern is giving Massachusetts opportunity to reflect on our most notable electoral vote in history, and the origins of our defiantly self-assured political culture. We were the only state to go for McGovern in the 1972 presidential campaign against Richard Nixon, cementing our reputation as a political outlier. When Nixon’s Watergate crimes came to light soon thereafter, it doubly cemented our smug pride in that status, best declared in the phrase, “Don’t Blame Me, I’m from Massachusetts.”

Map via Wikipedia

McGovern passed away in hospice care Sunday. The Globe‘s Joseph Kahn wrote an appreciation, “George McGovern’s indelible mark on Massachusetts politics” describing how the vote that made us a joke slowly transformed into our badge of honor:

As time passed, it also made a statement to the rest of the country that transcended partisan politics — and has been a source of pride ever since:

We may not always pick a presidential winner or put forth a candidate (Dukakis, Kerry) capable of taking the Electoral College by storm (Romney gets his chance next month). But we’re as maverick-y as any when it comes to voting the courage of our convictions. And to seeing through the political chicanery of a candidate like Nixon, who’d barely deigned to speak McGovern’s name during that campaign and who would resign in disgrace two years later.

Our votes for Ronald Reagan are probably as important to this idea of the “maverick” as McGovern himself. Without them, we’d look less like a state that picks selectively and more like one that just reflexively picks Democrats. (Even so, we still sort of look that way.) Most important, though, was our vindication via Nixon’s resignation. Though our vote was cast mostly against the Vietnam War, not against any sense that Nixon was engaged in a mass criminal conspiracy, his downfall made us the one state that was right. Elsewhere in the Globe, an obituary quotes McGovern himself saying, “As the Watergate scandal deepened, it seemed that no one had voted for Nixon. Soon I felt like a version of Will Rogers: I had never met a person who didn’t support me, though I’d lost 49 states.”

Since then, we’ve become a bit like the hip kid that knew about the cool bands before you did. (The rest of the country probably finds us about as odious as the hipster, too.) But this election represents a danger to that mentality. We almost certainly won’t vote for Mitt Romney, but if he wins, we won’t be nearly as blameless for whatever our former governor accomplishes in office. He got there in part on a campaign narrative that emphasized the business he started and the government he ran here. McGovern’s death gives opportunity to reflect on the origins of Massachusetts’ political mindset, but Romney’s candidacy gives us occasion to wonder it’s about to receive a jolt.