There is something funny about Massachusetts.
This state — a commonwealth, actually — holds a national reputation for liberalism of the most ingrained sort. Our senators, the seemingly eternal Kennedy and Kerry, can be counted on for doctrinaire statements on just about any political cause. One of our representatives, James McGovern, is an apologist for Castro. Another, Barney Frank, is a completely out-front homosexual who once allowed a gay prostitute to run a business from his own home.
At the state level, our politics are dominated so thoroughly by the Democratic Party that it has become a joke. Certainly, their corruption has become a joke. Local talk show host Howie Carr has said that if the state legislature had a liquor license, it would be closed down as a public nuisance.
So why does it go on like this? Why doesn’t any agent for change come up through the political ranks and work a revolution of some kind? The formerly solid south went through a political revival. Why can’t it happen here?
Because there are two Massachusettses, that’s why. And one Massachusetts has almost nothing to do with the other.
IT’S SOMETHING LIKE THE TOWN AND GOWN SPLIT in a university city — and, indeed, our schools — we have so many — have a great deal to do with it. People come here for their educations, and many of them like the place for its old eastern urban charms, the beauty of the countryside, the sophisticated verve of life in a great intellectual gathering-place, and they stay.
They stay after graduation, they stay for jobs in the area’s high technology and financial services sectors, which employ a lot of brainpower and offer significant opportunities to make lots of money. They buy charming New England properties, of which there are a lot. They meet people very much like themselves, which is to say intellectually curious and quirky, smart, well-traveled, well-educated, and fun. They associate with those people, and not with anyone else — who needs anyone else?
If the local politics seems a little weird, well, mostly these new people, these people from elsewhere, don’t pay much attention to it. They’ll laugh and gripe about the funny things that happen in the curious local political culture, but they won’t have anything to do with it. If the taxes are too high, if local politicians keep getting jacked for drunk driving or for running illicit businesses out of their offices, well, that’s just local color.
THE GRADUATE POPULATION GETS SWELLED by new people who move here for jobs, for the ambience, for New England homes, and for one very palpable benefit: Boston marks the northern end of the eastern urban strip. It is much less crowded here than in the New York or D.C. areas. You are much closer to the outdoors, and deal with traffic much less. At the same time, you can lead a sophisticated urban life.
The upshot is that you can spend an entire full lifetime here and never have anything to do with anyone who has a New England accent. Unlike some other old, established places — Charleston, South Carolina comes to mind — there is no particular reason for a newcomer to want to be welcomed into the native establishment. There are in fact two establishments. There is the native establishment of former Speaker of the House Tom Finneran and Senate President Bob Travaglini. And there is the establishment of mutual fund executives and the officers of high technology companies, augmented by the academic-artistic-bohemian counterculture. So far as I know, the native establishment has no bohemians.
Sometimes one establishment hires a figure from the other for political advantage or protection. Tom Finneran, after retiring from the legislature, had been tapped to lobby for the High Technology Council, but then he unfortunately had to plead guilty to a perjury indictment.
But for the most part one cohort has nothing to do with the other. It has been that way for decades. Absent some extraordinary personality or stroke of coalition-building, it will probably stay that way for years to come.