The other day a Boston columnist published a mocking article scoffing at the rumored presidential candidacies of Mitt Romney and Elizabeth Warren. Among the witticisms were
"Travel outside the state’s borders, and you’ll often hear people say, 'Boy, I wish someone from Massachusetts would run for president.'"
Or, “It’s too bad that a Massachusetts politician isn’t running the country.”
The country should be so lucky.
Massachusetts has often been way out in front of the country on important issues. To take two recent examples, we became the first state in the nation to fully recognize legal same-sex marriage. We’ve also led the way in making sure that our citizens have universal access to health care – and the Massachusetts health care law became the model for national health care.
Those firsts aren’t surprising. According to historians Richard D. Brown and Jack Tager in Massachusetts: A Concise History, Massachusetts has often been ahead of the nation in meeting new challenges. Movements to improve treatment of those with mental illness and developmental disabilities began in the state. Abolitionism and women’s rights found a home in Massachusetts. The state had to contend with industrialization and unions earlier than most places, as well as the diversity brought by immigration. In addition to the politicians who did make it to the presidency from here, we’ve contributed legal theorists like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis who revolutionized legal thought. John Boehner? I'll take Tip O'Neill, John McCormack, or Joe Martin.
We’re even number one in the American Founding, if you want to credit Alexis de Tocqueville and the theorist Wilson Carey McWilliams, who located the Founding with the Puritans. McWilliams argued that the origins of American political thought lie in documents such as John Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity,” which taught the settlers an ethic of selfless care for each other and service to God.
The columnist can scorn Warren if he likes but as the recent controversy over the winning effort by CitiBank to get taxpayers to insure its profligacy shows, she is the most prominent politician in the nation to stand up to the banks and their Washington servants. As for Romney sneer if you want but no matter what you think of national health insurance, RomneyCare has been a resounding and popular success in Massachusetts. If Romney wants to put aside thoughts of the Republican nomination, he might even pat himself on the back for helping to provide the model for Obamacare, which has resulted in insurance coverage for ten million Americans.
Senator Warren is the most visible and knowledgeable representative of a wing of the Democratic Party that is called “progressive” mostly because so much of the party has folded into the supervision of corporate America. Moderate Mitt Romney (2002 version, as opposed to 2008 and 2012 versions) would be a welcome conservative alternative to the rightward radicalization of his party.
I can see the quarrel other states have with us. We can be arrogant, we can be smug. (Sounds like George W. Bush but with brains, doesn’t it?) But as our impressive list of first shows, we can also lead in thoughtful ways.
Yes, the nation could do worse than to be led by a Massachusetts politician; and it probably will.