Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Dionne on Massachusetts

A friend clued me in to how E.J. Dionne lets the lazy conservatives who use the term “Massachusetts Liberal” as an epithet have it.

Can’t supporters of the Bush administration think of something more original than issuing fatwas against “Massachusetts Liberals”? Does this President Bush honestly think that if he ends up facing John Kerry this fall he can just rerun his dad’s campaign of 16 years ago against Michael Dukakis?

As John Edwards likes to say about almost everything, this is personal for me. My blue-collar hometown of Fall River, Mass., was solidly Democratic, but as conservative in its values as you could imagine — family, church, neighborhood, hard work and patriotism were the drill. I’m grateful I grew up in such a pro-family environment. That’s why the parody of Massachusetts as an exotic, left-wing place infuriates me.

My state is full of cities and towns such as Fall River — Lawrence and Pittsfield, Fitchburg and Greenfield, Worcester and New Bedford. I’m sorry, but people who think Massachusetts is a culturally or politically demented place have never been to Massachusetts.

This is about more than John Kerry, who can defend himself. It’s about how certain forms of cheap bigotry don’t even get challenged. The right wing’s attack on Massachusetts is a sign of intellectual laziness. It’s easier to parody a people and a place than to defend a set of ideas.


Parodying Massachusetts is a way to keep old resentments alive without getting into any of the inconvenient details. It also allows a pro-business, Yale-educated president with an MBA from Harvard to cast himself as anti-elitist by implying (as his Yale-educated father did in 1988 with that line about the “Harvard boutique”) that Massachusetts people are a bunch of snobs. The people selling this stuff should know that in my hometown, folks get punched out for being snobs.

I can hear my Republican friends now: Oh no, no, no. This isn’t about anything nefarious. This is about George McGovern. Wasn’t Massachusetts the only state in 1972 to support that left-wing antiwar agitator?

Indeed, Massachusetts voted for McGovern over Richard Nixon — not so much because of the Harvard boutique but because the old factory towns such as the one where I grew up remained loyal to the party of Al Smith, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. In any case, why, in light of history, is voting against Nixon so dishonorable?

Read the whole article here.

If it comes down to Kerry against Bush, I sure hope that when in a debate Bush calls Kerry a “liberal,” Kerry nods, smiles, and says, “You’re damn right I am, and I’m proud of it, which is a lot more than you can say about being a ‘compassionate conservative.’ Next question.”