Some Thoughts About the Coakley Defeat

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

Dear Friend of Justice,

Many old and dear friends have been very sad and angry these past few days. And many are angry with me for my refusal to vote for Martha Coakley. I have of course been defriended on Facebook and I have lost subscribers to this blog. Others I have directly encountered have just been uncomfortable in my presence. We have usually avoided discussing the election.

I think I can honestly say that I know how these good friends feel. All I have to do is remember how I felt last December 8th, when Coakley won the Democratic primary. She won with less than half of the votes cast. She received only the votes of seven and a half percent of registered Massachusetts voters. But I, like many others, assumed that the final election would be no more than a formality. I thought that Coakley would continue to be a major influence on political thinking, not only in Massachusetts but nationally.

I have been especially pained by the accusation that I don’t care about health care. I believe some who make this accusation have never had to do without health insurance because they couldn’t afford it. Jim D’Entremont and I have. We could not have done the work we have done these past dozen years — for Bernard Baran and others — had we held down full-time jobs. There were times when we tried to insure ourselves. But eventually, we realized that one of us had to drop out. A month or two later, the other would follow. There were times when we needed medical attention and just didn’t get it.

A few years ago, Massachusetts adopted a plan of increasing coverage by fining those who did not buy health insurance. Those who couldn’t afford the premiums supposedly would receive subsidies from the state. An inefficient (and often rude) bureaucracy was created to determine who got the subsidies and the amount. The forms one had to fill out were horrendous. And somehow, they never seemed to be correct. After weeks of dealing with nasty people on the phone, we finally thought we’d filled Jim’s form out correctly. Unfortunately, they lost that form and we had to start over. I finally gave up on the plan and waited for Medicare. Jim was granted a tiny subsidy. When Jim eventually told his doctor that he couldn’t see him any more because he had to drop his insurance, the doctor referred him to someone who knew how to get around the bureaucracy and get him the coverage he needed at a price he could afford.

Bernard Baran and his partner are battling the bureaucracy right now. Neither of them are working. Bee can’t work and David is a seasonal employee. But the bureaucracy doesn’t want to listen to them.

When Obama was elected, my fear was that he was going to model a national plan on Massachusetts. I am not sorry that he has been forced back to the drawing board. Of course, the problem may not be soluble because there are so many powerful interests who benefit from the system as it exists. Not all problems can be solved. Not all disasters can be avoided. But we can at least hope that politicians can put aside partisan differences and try to find a solution.

Obama is not doomed to failure because of the loss of a Senate seat. Previous presidents of both parties have governed effectively without a majority in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate. I for one am relieved that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson have been stripped of their veto power — a power they both relished using. If I had wanted Joe Lieberman as my president I would have voted for him.

I hope that the defeat of Martha Coakley will at least diminish the influence of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office on Massachusetts politics.

Scott Harshbarger was elected District Attorney of Middlesex County in 1982. He was succeeded by Thomas Reilly, his first assistant. And Reilly was succeeded by their protege, Martha Coakley. All three made a big name for themselves by winning convictions of people who are almost certainly innocent: Violet, Cheryl and Gerald Amitault; Ray and Shirley Souza; Louise Woodward; Paul Shanley; and others. All three have consistently and stubbornly refused to admit that they might have made any mistakes. All three have been backed to the hilt by New England’s paper of record, the Boston Globe. In other states, politicians and judges have realized that the coercive questioning of small children creates unreliable evidence. In other states, politicians and judges have realized that there is no scientific basis for the theory of repressed memory of traumatic events. In other states, measures have been taken to exclude junk science from the courtroom. But not in Massachusetts because of the poisonous influence of the Middlesex County DA’s office and its powerful cheering section.

Harshbarger, Reilly, and Coakley all moved up (with no serious opposition) to the office of Attorney General, where they continued to fight to preserve the power of prosecutors. For all three, the Attorney General’s office was supposed to be but a stepping stone to greater power. But the strategy didn’t work. Harshbarger and Reilly ran for governor — and lost. And now Coakley has lost — in a spectacular and humiliating fashion — her bid to become a U.S. Senator.

I think the Massachusetts Democratic party will be better off with the diminished influence of these three  ruthless and ambitious politicians.

I also hope that one result of this election might be the diminished impact of identity politics, both here in Massachusetts and nationally. I have voted for many women and expect to do so in the future. But a candidate’s gender has never determined my vote. Neither has their race or their sexual orientation. If you vote for someone because of their gender or race you are also voting against someone for the same reason. Yes, we should have more women in public office. But to achieve that we need to run first-rate candidates.

Again, I take no pleasure in seeing good friends in pain, especially in a pain that I understand because I have so often felt it. But I also know from experience that this kind of pain eventually diminishes and, when it does, one can more rationally assess what went wrong and how we can work to make things go right in the future.

I know this election was especially difficult for those who follow this blog because you know much more about Coakley’s history than did the average voter. While I posted much about Coakley I could not bring myself to support Scott Brown or urge you to vote for him. But now that he represents Massachusetts, let us hope that he will in fact represent Massachusetts. For all of my complaints about the state (or at least its politicians) a great many good, decent, and thoughtful people live here. Some of them voted for Martha Coakley. That doesn’t lessen my affection and respect for them. I hope we can continue to work together for justice.