A Machine with No Message or Heart: How the Democrats Blew It in 2014

It’s your President, stupid.

Democrats failed to stand by or tout the many successes of their sitting President, instead trying to distance themselves from him. Barack Obama is – and deserves to be – their standard bearer, their moral compass, the sign of all is that is good about their party. If they’re disenchanted with their leader then we have every right to be disenchanted with them.

Lesson? You can’t whine or scold your way to victory if you are an incumbent, and you can’t mobilize voters by talking about how good you are at mobilizing voters. People will listen to outsiders who complain about insiders, but when incumbents complain about the opposition (who don’t have to back up their claims with facts, it seems), voters don’t take them seriously.

Democrats cut and run on Barack Obama because that is what the pundits told them happens in mid-term elections, and now they don’t have any credibility with which to pave a positive road the White House in 2016. They could have talked about the good points in the economic recovery, the improved oversight of Wall Street, the benefits of Obamacare, the greatly reduced budget deficit, the ascending housing, job and stock markets and (just this morning, preliminary reports of 230K more private sector jobs in October) and then gone on to talk about how there is so much more work to be done in all of these areas. If they don’t know how to tout their own success and go forward with a vision, why should we vote for them?

Instead, Democrats not only bailed on a President they should have been supporting, they focused on all the wrong issues – things like reproductive rights, voter ID laws and gay marriage. Those are not local or economic enough to sway a voter that thinks Congress is stuck – they smack of telling people what is good for them because they are too dumb to figure it out for themselves. Voters are smart enough to know that their congressman or governor has no real control over those non-paycheck issues and women don’t want to be shamed into a feminist vote. When in doubt, vote for the one who promises to leave you alone and not to raise your taxes – the latter is a key promise people can keep track of very easily.

It was wrong to let Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Bernie Sanders (an Independent, it should be noted) do all the heavy lifting, but at least they each had something to say that was worth hearing. All three of them delivered messages that were rich in facts but also exuded warmth and humor and a desire to connect with people – everyone else seemed to be talking to a demographic. Elizabeth Warren was able to be candid about missed opportunities during the present administration but she never lost sight of the passion and core ideals that have people talking about her as a presidential hopeful – but apparently most of the people who heard her speak liked her, but not enough to elect the people she was stumping for. (Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, didn’t do herself or her party any favors by joining the chorus and disparaging the administration that gave her the gravitas she needed to bolster own run for the White House.)

The good old days: Deval Patrick is elected Governor of Massachusetts, 2006
The good old days: Deval Patrick is elected Governor of Massachusetts, 2006

In Massachusetts, the most inspiring speech I heard all election season was outgoing Governor Deval Patrick’s eulogy for Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The Governor reminded us that the best public servants do their work not by belittling their opponents and getting out their base but by listening to individual people and making their daily lives better, one street at a time. He praised the famously mumbling Mayor by saying that “you always knew what he meant and, more importantly, that he meant what he said.” Governor Patrick and the late Mayor share what was so woefully lacking in this election: the ability to show us what is good about our world and demonstrate the ability to deliver on a promise to make it even better.

Why is that so hard?













Why Do I Care Where the Boston Marathon Bomber Is?

The media encampment at Devens, April 26, 2013

I’m not afraid of that boy. (Like Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe, I don’t want to give his name any more visibility by typing it here.) I followed the news about him like most everyone else but when I heard that officials transferred him to a federal facility that I drive past every day (unknowingly, until now), it rankled me more than I expected. He’s just a kid. A wounded, misguided, dangerous, vulnerable criminal of a kid. And the cell in which he sits is walking distance from a school where kids like the one everyone thought he was study, work and play every day. One of my children is his age and she is only just beginning to understand what it means to be out in the world, away from family. He could have been at that school, with her. It is possible to imagine things like that now.

In my dreams I picture that boy walking through the woods from the school to his prison and wonder what could have happened along the way that turned him from an assimilated immigrant to a jihadi terrorist. Much as I despise him for what he did, I hope that we are not healing him in that medical prison just so that we can make a martyr of him by putting him to death. If there is no satisfying answer to why he destroyed lives (and there isn’t) then we cannot counterpoint his treachery with treachery of our own. Perhaps it is this near occasion of sin that nags at me.


And ironically, almost at the very moment he arrived, spring decided to come to this part of New England. In the last few days the leaves and the blooms have burst forth, scrambling to cover the gloomy gray and brown of late winter.

SONY DSCOn the morning of April 15, we spotted four fox kits romping outside their den behind out house. We have not seen them since. Last night we heard a fisher cat scream mercilessly outside the same window though which we viewed the foxes. We told ourselves over early coffee that the family must have moved on to larger, safer quarters. As I drove past the prison this morning, there was the CNN truck, lying in wait.  Tonight we will listen, hopeful, for the sound of young foxes, yapping in the dusk.

Note: The blue tee shirts in the header are from Life is Good, and all of the profits from the sale of the Boston shirts go to One Fund Boston.

A happy post script on May 1: The screaming continued and there were multiple voices in the conversation – an internet search turned up evidence that it was the foxes making the racket (it’s common, I guess, for them to mistaken for fishers when they are vocal in this way).

Texting While Driving is Illegal In Massachusetts, Senator Brown. So What’s With the Signs?

Hasn’t anyone else noticed these signs? They’ve been bothering me for a while so over the past couple of days I took my camera with me as I went about my business to see if I could find Senator Scott Brown signs I could photograph without risking my life. It wasn’t easy. Of the dozens of signs I saw only one was near a pedestrian walkway (and I wasn’t able to photograph that because there was no convenient place to park near it). Which means that Senator Brown’s advice to “text Brown to 68398” explicitly directs you to text to his campaign while you are on the road and thus most likely driving. This is Massachusetts – almost everyone drives alone, and when was the last time you asked a passenger to text your local candidate with a pledge for support as you were driving down the road? Whose brilliant idea was this? The law is pretty clear:

5. Sending/Reading Text Messages
Civil Offense-No insurance surcharge (Operators cannot use any mobile telephone or handheld device capable of accessing the Internet to write, send, or read an electronic message including text messages, emails, and instant messages or to access the Internet while operating a vehicle. Law applies even if the vehicle is stopped in traffic.)

  • 1st offense-$100
  • 2nd offense-$250
  • 3rd or subs offense-$500

So even if you’re stopped at an intersection near a campaign sign and have this incredible urge to communicate your undying loyalty to Senator Brown, you are still breaking the law. And what happens if you do text him? Is it an automatic contribution if you do, like giving to relief efforts in Haiti? Permission to solicit contributions from you using your cell phone number? Maybe he wants to text you back (uh-oh) a pic of him in his barn jacket, or more appropriately in his pickup truck, or to assure he understands women’s issues because he is – gasp – married to one. (I’m married to a lovely man; still, I make no claims about understanding anything about men.)  I doubt he wants to send you his voting record.

Oh, but now I sound partisan. I was raised a Republican, but it meant something different then. Actually, after Brown won against Martha Coakley (which is an entirely different post) I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but then I watched him for a couple of years and last summer Elizabeth Warren stepped into the race, presenting us with the opportunity to break the glass ceiling in not-as-liberal-as-the-rest-of-America-thinks Massachusetts. A law professor who understands the banking system who also happens to be female – she’s certainly worth considering. I don’t want her to blindly vote the party line any more that I did Brown; I hope she understands that. And if she had put up signs like these I’d have taken her to task, too.

But really, anyone who plasters Massachusetts byways with signs that prompt people to break the law – on his behalf, no less – might not want to be the one making laws in Congress. Just a thought.

Oh, and – hmm –  WBUR is having an irksome pledge drive this week. What do you think would happen if NPR had a pledge drive that you could contribute to via text? I’m pretty sure someone would have Nina Totenberg up on charges in no time.

City Mouse

It’s still hard for me to grasp that I have lived more than half of my life in the Boston area; I suppose it’s part of my local identity to be from somewhere else.  And within this realm I still identify more with the city than the country where I have lived for many years.  But so often I feel my heart is in the city.  Stopping to take this photograph last weekend gave me a sense of exhilaration and belonging that, hard as I try, I never feel in the woods.  In the city my step is surer and quicker, with more bounce and energy.  In nature I have to work to see the details, I am so overwhelmed by the vast landscape – but in the city everything pops in the most pleasant way, just as these buildings seem to spring from the earth, each from a separate time, percolating up like the water in the fountain.  The city speaks to me, it lets me be alone in a crowd, it asks me to participate on my own terms and dares me to thrive.  The very act of driving in is a thrill – coming over the rise on Route 2 in Belmont it’s like Dorothy’s first view of the Emerald City.

Boston in October is an effortless romance – the  light and the colors along the sparkling Charles set off the bricks and ivy in ways that are easy to love.  And the courtship continues though snowy Christmas with red bows and balsam in the snow on the Public Garden.  And then in January the holiday hangover turns eveything gray and bleak and the pall extends all the way out to the county and we hide under our down comforters, look at one another and plead:  “please tell me why I live here.”  By Saint Patrick’s Day retirement in Arizona seems a viable option.  The city sees spring first (though long past that cruel date in March when it is supposed to arrive) and I find myself driving in to see the blooms three weeks ahead of my still snowy garden.  When the green mist appears in the branches on Commonwealth Avenue, all winter betrayals are forgotten.

I’ve grown to love the space and quiet of the country and, when the opportunity presents itself, will have a hard time giving up the spring peepers, evening owls and ample parking.  I am grateful now, though, for the luxury to tap into my inner city mouse just as I did as a girl back in Iowa, listening to the morning chickadees and blue jays and feeling reassured that my beloved urban landscape is just over the hill.

New Year’s Eve 1986

Just like today, it was snowing in Boston on New Year’s Eve in 1986.  As we drove through Back Bay on our way out of the city, we recalled that not-too-long ago storm, which left the city quiet beneath several inches of snow.  Newly engaged, we had just returned from Christmas in Saint Louis and had dinner with our best friends who were visiting from Washington, D.C.  We’d all spent our first year out of school together, pooling our meager resources to share a plate of cheese enchiladas and a few Dos Equis from the Aculpulco on Newbury Street and watching the fourth of July Fireworks from the roof of our apartment building.  Now we were all a little more settled and able go out for a proper New Year’s Eve dinner in the neighborhood.  As we walked back to Beacon Street we were alone among the great trees of Commonwealth Avenue, we had an epic snowball fight in a city that belonged only to us.  Then we walked down silent  Marlborough Street, the golden windows making patches of light on the blue white snow.  We were on our way home together, all setting out on journeys that would keep us close and push us apart at turns but still irrevocably starting from the same place.

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