In Massachusetts we will soon vote on issue referenda and candidates, but unknowingly we might also be determining the reputation of our state.
If recent polls are right, voters will approve assisted suicide and medical marijuana, and reject Sen. Scott Brown, the only Republican in our congressional delegation. And soon it will be decided what casinos open here.
In 2013 Massachusetts might be viewed as the most liberal, libertarian and/or libertine one-party state in the union.
We have been seen as the most Democratic state since 1972, when we were the only state to go for George McGovern for president. We’ve been called “the people’s republic” and “Taxachusetts.” But this new reputation would be more cultural, social and ideological.
You might say, “Awesome! Let’s keep our claim to fame as the most progressive state.”
But can you appreciate that some people might think that the mix of casinos, pot, suicide, and a one-party state will undermine a family-friendly, business-friendly, tourist-friendly reputation? Indeed, some might imagine something like the dark, decadent vision of “Pottersville” in the Jimmy Stewart film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Pottersville has been described as “home to sleazy nightclubs, pawn shops and amoral people.”
It’s unfair to say that all these efforts to change laws and traditional values are “liberal.” Many liberals oppose having casinos; they view gambling like a regressive tax since it hurts the poor most. Some liberals are opposed to the assisted suicide referendum – Victoria Kennedy called it “cruel” and Dr. Ira Byock, a political progressive and an end-of-life specialist, argues that doctors writing lethal prescriptions “does not seem like progress to me.”
Some liberals are wary of legalizing marijuana for medical use because they know “medical” can mean almost anything, like stress and hypochondria, and in California some marijuana shops have become fronts for illegal distribution of drugs and money laundering.
Casinos, legalized marijuana and patient suicide might be more libertarian or libertine than liberal. But in a one-party state controlled by liberals, surely people in other states will view it as all part of the same outlook – “live and let others gamble, get high or die.”
There are passionate arguments for and against these referenda issues. You can easily search online to find articles and advocacy websites so you can make up your own mind.
But, in any case, shouldn’t we be aware that we might change the reputation of our state?
When a “Frankenstorm” is coming, meteorologists in the media anticipate what might happen and warn us. But our political leaders have not said a word about how several political fronts may collide and change our state’s reputation. Yet is it not predictable?
Imagine if Gov. Deval Patrick had been asked during his campaign how he would try to improve the state’s image. Would he have said anything like this in reply?
“I have a vision. To attract businesses and tourists, and encourage families to remain here instead of moving away, I’ve got a 4-point plan: 1) Open a few casinos. 2) Open assisted suicide bureaus. 3) Open marijuana stores for ‘patients.’ And 4) Elect only Democrats so we will have an absolute one-party monopoly. Thank you.”
Those seem to be the governor’s positions, yet would he – or any leader in this state – connect those dots as an “optimistic vision” for our state?
Most politicians think it’s healthy to have a one-party state if it’s their party in charge – even if it means multiple House speakers resigning in disgrace, a congressman arguing that he’s clueless about a gambling ring operating out of his household, and a young heir of a famous family refusing TV debates with an opponent for an open congressional seat.
Such politicians preach the virtue of democracy while trying to prevent real competition and debate. They remind us of something Upton Sinclair said: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Most people in Massachusetts understand the importance of protecting the environment. They know that an ecosystem is interdependent so we should view it as fragile because any little change can set off a chain reaction of extinctions. Yet some environmentalists are not as cautious about making changes in the human ecosystem. They don’t realize that well-intentioned measures to bring “dignity” to death, “family-friendly” casinos, “medical” marijuana, and one-party “democracy” can produce unintended consequences. But, as in many experiments, a mixture of safe elements can produce combustible results.
Perhaps you think it is unfair to raise the question of our state’s reputation. After all, there won’t be a ballot question asking: “To change the official image of Massachusetts, do you favor these four measures…?” But if we do change the state’s identity in a way that makes us less family-friendly, business-friendly, tourist-friendly… please don’t be too surprised or indignant. It’s not as if it were a bad storm that appeared without warning.
Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.