Clarence Fanto: Polarization limits hopes for new year

Sunday December 30, 2012



On the eve of New Year's Eve, it's desirable to craft uplifting, optimistic prose about the 12 months ahead.

But that would be folly. The Polarization Express is running full throttle from Capitol Hill to the White House and back.

Just in the first two months of 2013, we can "look forward" to more battles of the budget and another near-death brush with insolvency as a debt-ceiling deadline looms.

There's also the gun-safety confrontation between the NRA die-hards and their many supporters versus an apparent majority of the public favoring a menu of policies that would restrict military-style assault weapons (those semi-automatic long rifles) and the huge ammo magazines carrying as many as 100 bullets.

Perhaps a consensus can emerge to place police at or in front of schools if a local community or school district so desires, and if voters approve funding. The NRA's advocacy of an armed guard in literally every school (23,000, about one-third of the nation's public schools, already have some degree of police presence, by local choice) is a non-starter for many of us.


Here in Massachusetts, we have something else to dread -- another statewide political race.

Aren't voters suffering from campaign fatigue? In response to that question posed by reporters last week, Gov. Deval Patrick responded: "I'm fatigued."

But President Obama's wise choice of Sen. John Kerry to succeed the estimable Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State ensures a mad scramble for the open seat.

Once Kerry is confirmed by the Senate and resigns his seat, Gov. Patrick will appoint a caretaker to serve until May or June, when voters choose a new senator in a special election. Victoria Reggie Kennedy is mentioned for that temporary position, since she has no desire to run for a full term.

Republican Sen. Scott Brown, unemployed as of later this week, is expected to run and it's believed the election is his to lose, given his personal popularity, even if many of his policy positions are anathema in this true-blue state. But, by bucking his party leadership now and then on key issues, he's bipartisan enough to appeal to many independents.

As many as a half-dozen Democrats are said to be eyeing a run for the primary to be held six weeks before the springtime special election -- our much-admired state Sen. Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield has already acknowledged he's exploring a possible entry. He represents Berkshire and western slivers of Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties but is little known in the large population centers of central and eastern Massachusetts.

Downing's rivals could include three U.S. congressmen from the Boston area: Edward J. Markey, a 36-year officeholder who said he will run for the seat; Michael E. Capuano; and Stephen F. Lynch. Ted Kennedy, Jr., a Connecticut resident, announced on Christmas Eve that he would not run. Attorney General Martha Coakley and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas also have ruled it out.

None of the possible candidates would have Elizabeth Warren's clout and fundraising prowess. Downing's ability to win statewide name recognition in order to win the primary, while not impossible, is still a longshot.

What is certain is that too many voters will stay on the sidelines -- the winner of the special election is likely to be chosen by less than 50 percent of registered voters. Voter burnout equals low turnout and, as always, that's a defeat for democracy and a sad reflection of the understandable cynicism afflicting the body politic.

Every New Year brings hope for better things to come. After 2012, "better" sets the bar very low.

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