Massachusetts Conservatives

Noel C. Paul, in his TNR piece “Massachusetts Conservatives,” attempts to debunk the notion that his state is a bastion of lefty sentiment.

Next week, as the Democratic convention unfolds in Boston, expect Republicans to make the case against John Kerry by making the case against Massachusetts. The GOP rhetoric, by now so familiar, will likely include references to gay marriage, Harvard intellectuals, and Ted Kennedy; Republicans may even dredge up Michael Dukakis’s name for old times’ sake. The strategy will be to paint Kerry as just another liberal wacko from effete Massachusetts, a state notoriously out of sync with the rest of the country. Who knows whether this ploy will prove as effective for George W. Bush in 2004 as it did for his father in 1988. But if it works, it will be in spite of the fact that it isn’t true. Massachusetts is not nearly as liberal a state in reality as it remains in the national imagination. This point ought to be made forcefully by Democrats next week–not only in defense of John Kerry’s candidacy, but in order to put to rest a political myth that has seriously hobbled a handful of Massachusetts presidential candidates over the course of three decades.

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Indeed, a close look at the Democratic-dominated legislature suggests that the state’s Democratic Party may be the most conservative in the Northeast. The legislature cut taxes 45 times during the past decade, leading to about $4 billion in savings for state residents. In 1999 a majority of Democrats in the legislature blocked an effort to index the minimum wage to inflation. The legislation’s major opponent was Democratic House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a representative from one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods and a member of the Cato Institute. Massachusetts Democrats “have a fiscally conservative, supply-side mentality,” says Harris Grubman, director of the state chapter of Neighbor to Neighbor, one of three major progressive political groups here attempting to make the party more liberal.

The piece is an interesting read, although it proves mainly that the state has to face difficult trade-offs and is not reflexively socialist. If, as Cambridge native Tip O’Neill noted, all politics is local, then it’s not all that surprising that the residents of Massachusetts have similar priorities in balancing the state budget as other states. Indeed, at the level of the state legislature and below, Alabama is decidedly less conservative on many issues than its national reputation would indicate; there’s plenty of socialism in the Heart of Dixie.

At the national level, however, Massachusetts is quite liberal and Alabama quite conservative. This is true not only in their reliable voting patterns at the presidential level but in their House and Senate delegations. It would be difficult to find a more liberal pair in the U.S. Senate than Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.