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Puncturing The Echo Chamber

Kennedy's seat has been returned to the people.

10:25 AM, Jan 21, 2010 • By ROSS TERRILL
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Puncturing The Echo Chamber

As for "Washington," yes. Obama is seen by many independents here as an eloquent speech maker who fails to deliver on policies he loftily tosses out. Insofar as the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate are all ruled by the left, and Brown is a conservative, last Tuesday's result was about Washington.

But Brown's success was also a Massachusetts phenomenon. I have lived in Cambridge-Boston for forty-five-years and nearly all that time it has been a citadel of unexamined leftism. Take a couple of key institutions.


At Harvard University, a liberal is “middle of the road” and a conservative is “extremist.” It's said when a conservative comes to the Harvard faculty, another conservative must leave (if one can be found) to make room. As James Piereson once wrote in these pages, the left university since the mid-1960s replaced the liberal university.

The Boston Globe, like the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature of Massachusetts, faced with the illness of Senator Kennedy, treated his seat as one for the Kennedy clan or the Democratic Party to fill. 
 
The Globe editorialized in favor of an appalling maneuver to give the governor power to appoint a new senator immediately upon Kennedy’s death: “Massachusetts would remain at full strength in the Senate,” it purred, “the prospect for health care reform would remain alive, and the voters would have their final say on a new senator within a few months." It conceded piously that the law-makers might “look hypocritical to hand the power of appointment back to a Democratic governor a few years after stripping it from a Republican." Indeed.  
 
Just over five years ago the same Democratic legislature cancelled the governor's longstanding power to appoint a U.S. senator to fill a vacancy. In 2004, John Kerry was the Democratic presidential nominee and his party knew if Kerry won, state law allowed the governor — Republican Mitt Romney — to appoint Kerry's successor, no doubt a Republican. Hence the bill, which Romney tried but failed to kill by veto. 

Both moves were identical in advancing the Democratic Party's interests. In all other respects the 2009 bill was a total reversal of the 2004 one.

But the Boston Globe concluded soothingly: "The image of the state Legislature, however, is a minor point compared with the prospect of Massachusetts at 50 percent strength in the Senate... If anything, this is an opportunity for lawmakers to redeem themselves by putting the interests of representative government and health care reform, a hallmark of Massachusetts, above Beacon Hill politics.” 

Even the New York Times could not embrace such hypocrisy and editorialized against an appointment and for a prompt special election. 

The Globe assumed throughout the Democratic primary race that its winner would be the next senator. Will they now express "accountability" (a favorite Globe term in assailing Bush) for the proprietorship they claimed for a senate seat that belongs to the voters? The Australian writer Paul Sheehan's remark is pertinent: "The modern media condescend to democracy because they compete with democracy."

When the Globe beats the drum for diversity, its only measure is race. Both Massachusetts senators for decades have been Democrats. Well, aren't they the bright guys? An all Democrat delegation to the House in Washington has existed for years. The Globe never sniffed a diversity problem in that. Harvard Magazine last year published a chart showing Harvard graduates in the new Congress; 93 percent were Democrats.

Washington, for all its faults, is not an echo chamber but an arena of political debate, in Congress, think tanks, and publications. Esteemed Boston institutions such as Harvard and the Globe, however, are not arenas of political debate. (Except at Harvard among undergraduates. When the faculty forced Lawrence Summers out as president in 2006, undergraduates polled three to one in favor of him staying. "Five more years," they cried in the Harvard Yard as Summers announced his resignation). 

Whatever the national implications of Brown's victory, it was supremely a Massachusetts earthquake. The left's sense of entitlement was ripe for a fall. A simple voice rocked the packed trenches of political correctness. Brown offered common sense about government spending and national security. "In dealing with terrorists," he said in his victory speech, "our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them." 

A straightforward belief in democracy, historically a strong point of the left, is now their albatross, since they rock to the tune of unaccountable elites. It might be tasteless to use the term "death throes" about the Boston Globe, but it does seem the newspaper missed foreseeing the death throes of automatic liberalism as the controlling force in Massachusetts' congressional races. Governor Deval Patrick and the Boston Globe took the "Kennedy seat" out of the hands of the electorate four months ago. A grass roots surge put it back in the hands of the people of Massachusetts.

Ross Terrill, associate in research at Harvard's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, is the author of "The New Chinese Empire" and other books.

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