The first week of the campaign to be the next US Senator from Massachusetts is drawing to a close. Three dramas remain. The first is Governor Patrick’s selection of an interim senator. The second is Senator Brown’s decision as to whether to seek the seat, and the third is the Democratic primary battle. I want to touch briefly on the first two dramas and then talk about the third at greater length. My theme here is straightforward: I think that we need to stop looking for outsiders to ride in on horseback and save us (Ted Kennedy, Jr., Ben Affleck) and start looking at public servants who want the opportunity to do more for the community (Mike Capuano, Ben Downing, Ed Markey . . ). Here in Massachusetts, we will have an opportunity to select a Senator based on a career of service rather than their personal wealth.
I have said and written that I think that Governor Patrick should appoint Mike Dukakis to the interim senate role. I would also be pleased were he to ask Barney Frank to spend a few more months in Washington. Either choice would call on a man who has given his life to public service and not to personal profit. In announcing the selection, the Governor could remind all of us of the nobility of such a life and of the value it has for the community. If the world becomes one where businesspeople can expect to transition to high political office, the quality of people who choose to serve in lower political office will suffer. If the fiscal cliff nonsense teaches anything, it is that we need to revise our system so that our best people think of politics as a viable pursuit from the outset.
With respect to the Republicans, I hope Scott Brown chooses to run. While I do not support the Senator, I admire his career in public service. He took the right route to political power — serving in the State House and running campaigns based on his ability to talk with and connect with voters. If he chooses not to run, I worry that the Republicans will nominate Bill Weld, whose return to Massachusetts feels like political opportunism. It is impossible to believe that Weld came home because he felt compelled to represent the people of the Commonwealth in some capacity. He couldn’t even manage to maintain focus on that goal while he was our Governor. Said differently, I like what Scott Brown represents, even if I don’t want him to represent me.
So, that brings me to the Democrats. I hate the romance with outsiders without political experience. How can it be that the right choice for the Senate is someone who has never held office or played any role in government? Elizabeth Warren and Deval Patrick both exercised significant public responsibility before they sought elective office. Ted Kennedy, Jr. and Ben Affleck?? Not so much. Nevertheless reporters suggest state party folks wanted one of the two of them to run and thereby “clear the field” so that there would not be a damaging primary battle. “Clearing the field’ is some concept. It suggests that a candidate with name recognition and the ability to raise money nationally will keep out other candidates and thereby let the party focus on beating the GOP candidate from day 1. Elizabeth Warren was such a candidate. With Kennedy and Affleck out, the Democrats are without such a candidate now (although a decision by either Vicki Kennedy or Governor Patrick to run could change that). As a consequence, a primary looms.
That’s as it should be. The people running or thinking of running include: Ed Markey; Mike Capuano; Steve Lynch; Ben Downing; and Niki Tsongas. All of these folks have devoted their professional lives to public service. Each apparently perceives an opportunity to do more to advance their policy agendas in the US Senate than in their current office. Each deserves the chance to make their case to the people of the Commonwealth. Whatever else you may think of them, the choices they have made with their lives entitle them to our serious consideration.
We are rightfully disappointed with our government now. But, as our Governor reminds us again and again, we get the government we deserve. We need leaders who have worked their way through the political system and who understand it well enough to do good. We need leaders who are devoted enough to public service to want to devote their lives to it. And we need a system that rewards them with the opportunity to advance if they do their jobs well. That’s not about “field clearing,” It is about hard work, hopes and dreams. A lot depends on making sure that we still raise children who dream of political leadership and that we make clear that those dreams can be fulfilled through hard work and dedication. All three of the current Senate-related dramas offer the opportunity to convey this message. Let’s do it.