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Massachusetts Blue

Jon Keller has it almost right.

By 3.6.08

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The Bluest State: How Democrats Created the Massachusetts Blueprint for American Political Disaster
by Jon Keller
(St. Martin's Press, New York, 2007)

Jon Keller has one of those gigs that frosts writers who have to turn out 20,000 words or more a week to make a living. He does 60- and 90-second political commentaries very occasionally for news radio station WBZ in Boston under the title, "Keller at Large." You know the format, because every city of any size has one. The station runs the same news menu every ten minutes ("traffic on the threes, weather on the tens"), broken up every now and then with specials like "The Osgood File" or "The WBZ Medical Minute."

In this format, Keller performs no worse, but scarcely any better, than the usual AM radio news jock. So what does he do in the long (long!) intervals between his infrequent appearances actually on the job? Well, gratifyingly, by the evidence of his book, The Bluest State, he attends political events of every size and dimension, from the significant to the boring. He pays attention. He asks bothersome questions, and frequently sticks his nose in where he is not wanted.

Plus, he writes well. So you settle down to enjoy a good skewering of Massachusetts Democrat follies, and, for the most part, you get it.

KELLER HAS THE Massachusetts Boomer liberal nailed. AM radio sharp, he puts the picture in five words: "Aloofness. Arrogance. Entitlement. Condescension. Hypocrisy."

He draws an unsparing portrait of a single-party fiefdom that cares only about who's an insider and who's an outsider (unfortunately, this includes most of the Commonwealth's few Republicans, too), and where, as another Boston writer, Howie Carr, has said, "Everything is a deal. No deal is too small."

Thus we get the Big Dig, at more than $14 billion the nation's biggest public works program, with relatives and cronies of elected officials doing high-wage jobs, mostly very badly, and theft rampant from top to (leaky) bottom. We get restrictive land use and zoning laws passed by the propertied well-to-do, so housing prices stay near the highest in the nation.

Massachusetts pols aiming for higher office adopt an absolutist position pro abortion, afraid to cross their radical constituencies. Quite often, they lose, like former State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, who followed the absolutist line right over a cliff in her final gubernatorial debate with opponent Mitt Romney.

The western portion of the state, as Keller rightly says, amounts to a Route 9 Tobacco Road. From Deerfield to Fitchburg after 5 p.m., not a light burns, not a business stays open in the winter. In some of the most beautiful country in the nation, grinding poverty prevails. Massachusetts preserves its benefits for the already well-to-do. The lower orders? Well, they can just leave -- and they do. Massachusetts is one of very few states to actually lose population in two consecutive census periods.

IT'S ALL TRUE. But something leaves you just a little unsatisfied. Keller describes John Kerry's 1971 appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In this "career-making speech," Keller writes, "Kerry led off his remarks...by recounting the testimony he had heard -- and obviously believed -- from Vietnam veterans at an event publicizing atrocities allegedly committed by U.S. troops."

"Obviously believed"? Keller gives Kerry the all-too-willing benefit of doubt. As became evident during the 2004 Presidential campaign, a great many veterans were unwilling to do that. To those vets, Kerry served as the witting public relations agent for a hoax, a slander.

Keller writes a clever chapter about "the most popular politician in Massachusetts" without naming the man. He notes the pol's listed phone number, which rings incessantly, and which the man himself often answers. He describes how Beacon Hill liberals look down on the man, who was a stutterer in his youth, and who still stutters in his public speech.

So who is this paragon of blue-collar virtue? When you find out it's Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a mensch but a mediocrity through and through, you're tempted to break out laughing.

Keller builds his chapter on the gay marriage controversy around what is perhaps the only known right-on-left piece of violence (a man pushed a woman down and she hit her head) in the whole imbroglio. He does not even mention the town of Lexington jailing the father of a second grader. The man had simply wanted to be informed of curriculum material of the Heather Has Two Mommies variety.

TAKEN ALL IN ALL, The Bluest State provides high quality reporting at an expert level of detail. Readers outside Massachusetts will probably learn a great deal.

At the end, we all learn, as Keller puts it, "In most states, I'd be considered a card carrying liberal." But he also describes himself as "a liberal who's been mugged." And then, in a wonderful peroration, he sums up the faults of the Massachusetts political model:

"...addiction to tax revenues...disrespect for wage earners...phony identity politics…reflexive anti-Americanism..obnoxious political correctness...featherbedding...NIMBYism...authoritarian distortion of the balance of government power..."

Unfortunately, he thinks that liberal policies like racial and gender quotas, gay marriage, judicial intrusion into schools, dovish responses to foreign policy challenges, and welfare are all just fine. It's just the execution that messes them up.

In this, he resembles no one so much as the old-time committed Marxist who claims that communism has never really been tried properly, never mind all those dead people. No, Mr. Keller, all those faults, so lovingly and perfectly described? That's what liberalism is, not the way it's gone wrong. That's what government does. It churns out people like John Kerry and Michael Dukakis.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.