November 16, 2016

Winner and Loser lists are fun after elections so let’s get to it. #Mapoli 2016 Winners include Curt Schilling, Meghna Chakrabarti, John Winthrop, and Alexis de Tocqueville. Losers include The Boston Globe, Governor Charlie Baker, curiosity, and democracy.


Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Shilling Credit: driki

Curt Schilling won not just because Donald Trump prevailed but because ignorance and incivility won big. The political rhetoric market tilted wildly toward The Outrage Industry, the book by Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj that details the triumph of uncivil, thoughtless and hateful language on talk radio. Campaigns imitate what works and Trump’s campaign worked. Schilling channels Trump. Watch out Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Meghna Chakrabarti of WBUR stood out as one journalist who deeply engaged the effect of unlimited dark money on Massachusetts’ democracy. She sharply interrogated pro-charter (may I say pro-dark money?) proponents and devoted at least two segments of Radio Boston to examining the topic. Ms. Chakrabarti invited leaders of dark money outfits Families for Excellent Schools and Strategic Grant Partners to appear on her program. None accepted. Kathleen McKiernan of the Boston Herald and Shira Schoenberg of the Republican/MassLive.com did some good work, and follow Frank Phillips of the Boston Globe as he untangles the Rube Goldberg operation that is Charlie Baker’s Campaign Finance Innovation District. But for passionate, intelligent concern for our wobbly democracy, Ms. Chakrabarti soared.

John Winthrop and Alexis de Tocqueville both won. A subtext of Question 2 was whether our political arrangements are best modeled around the idea of community or the marketplace. The classic statement of Massachusetts’ founding on communitarian principles is Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity (“we shall be as a city upon a hill”).  The Yes on 2 campaign was grounded in privatization, the No campaign on our common obligations to find solutions to our problems. Advantage Winthrop. The Yes on 2 campaign cast blame on local officials for shortchanging underprivileged students. But Tocqueville recognized in our region the most profound attachment to local institutions as incubators of citizen involvement that he found in America. Tocqueville wins.


It’s the Pink Panther Credit: Helgi Halldórsson

Remember the scene in The Return of the Pink Panther when Inspector Clouseau interrogates a blind beggar while a bank robbery proceeds just behind him? The Boston Globe was Clouseau in 2016. It covered the dark money behind the Dead On Arrival Question 1 and unleashed its “Spotlight Team” on a garden variety story involving illegal campaign contributions by a Boston law firm. But $18 million in dark money to manipulate the public on a matter of grave public interest? To quote Inspector Clouseau, “I did not know the bank was being robbed because I was engaged in my sworn duty as a police officer.”

Curiosity was a loser in 2016, so let’s polish up that argument a bit. After the International Business Times ran a story exposing a work-around by which hedge fund managers could curry favor with the administration by donating to Question 2, Governor Charlie Baker indicated that he didn’t know who was funding the pro-charters side. I suggested that he should find out, in order to protect himself from shady donors. Consider the Globe’s November 4 Question 1 story: the newspaper’s investigation showed that the slots parlor’s previously hidden financial backers had been charged by the government of Laos with “money laundering, embezzlement, corruption, and bribery.” Isn’t it better to know that kind of information? Eighteen million untraceable dollars came into the pro-charters campaign, the governor was the face of that campaign, and it would behoove him to know where that money came from and the press to ask him about it (but see Inspector Clouseau, above).

Secret plutocracy in the form of unlimited dark money from hedge fund managers lost on Election Day, but that doesn’t mean that democracy won. Very little of the debate around Question 2 involved the abstract issue of the effect on our democracy of unlimited dark money on any issue – not just charters. So we accepted as normal that the wealthy can spend bottomless sums to influence public policy while keeping their identities hidden. It wasn’t a great outcome for “jj, and klarman” but it was akin to getting outscored by a run in the second inning of a nine inning game. Money never sleeps.

Curt Schilling, Boston Globe, Charlie Baker, Meghna Chakrabarti

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