GREAT BARRINGTON -- If you just consider the raw numbers of haves and have-nots in America, you might come to the misguided conclusion that a Republican can never get elected here. If you accept the commonly held view that Republicans are entrepreneurial and represent the business interests while Democrats favor more equitable distribution of America’s resources, you might shake your head and wonder how so many Republicans get elected. If all those folks who want government services for things like libraries and schools and health care were to vote in their own interest (Democratic), don’t you think a Republican’s chances would be that of the proverbial snowball in hell? It turns out that it really doesn’t work that way. That’s because even if people want things, they may not want to pay for them. That is the great tension in American politics and in local politics.
A recent selectmen’s election in Great Barrington offered a clear choice between two candidates. One was a young man who was running to appeal to those who were fed up with the high taxes that we pay. He got quite a few votes but was basically trounced by his opposition. Even though the Berkshires have a tradition of supporting schools and hospitals and other government institutions, things could always change. There may come a point at which voters will say, "Enough already."
Blue State Massachusetts has had several Republican governors who got elected because the Democratic Party offered the voters unsatisfactory choices. Scott Brown beat our state attorney general, Martha Coakley, in a senatorial election and yet the party seems to have every intention of offering her up again. If the Republicans are smart enough to offer Massachusetts voters sensible, middle-of-the-road candidates, they win. So why do the Democrats fail to understand the concept of offering quality candidates?
One reason is that we have a system of primaries in which the candidate with the greatest name recognition wins. In the case of Martha Coakley, that’s her. But when you get out on the campaign trail, you have to make the case by at least sounding authoritative and standing for something. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is extraordinarily popular in Massachusetts because she stands for giving those in need (including the middle class voter) a decent chance. It really has nothing to do with sexism but it does have everything to do with passion.
Californians could elect a passionate Jerry Brown because he said, "I can do it right," and then turn around and elect a Ronald Reagan across the political divide because he said that he had the answers. The voters will always choose a passionate candidate who stands for something over a wishy-washy middle of the roader.
The middle class voter is hurting. Jobs, the economy, the cost of a college education and a degraded environment all go right to the soul of the voter who can hardly make ends meet. That is where Republicans have their greatest opportunities. Many people believe that the two parties have become no more than two stinking piles of you-know-what and there are no real choices. It comes down to the belief that the Democrats are spenders and the Republicans are interested in feathering the nests of those with the most. So, every once in a while, to keep the Democrats on their toes, the voters say that if we elect a Republican or two we can just have a little tax relief.
Deval Patrick has been an excellent governor. He is sensible. He is not rhetorical. He is balanced and he is a man who people instinctively believe. When he goes on a trade mission to the Middle East to drum up business, he is signaling that he can think things through in a way that will help middle-class voters.
The Democrats had better remember what I am telling them or they are doomed to another loss.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.