Comparing the Candidates, as I see it
Capuano/Coakley: There are a number of differences, but the big one for me is civil liberties. Coakley has lately been virtually indistinguishable from Capuano on this issue (as one can see for instance in their answers to the ACLU questionnaire). But that’s not always been the case. As recently as this September, I was at a Democratic picnic at which both of them spoke. Capuano spoke of the PATRIOT act — how he had voted against it, and how he continues to work to undo the damage of that legislation. Coakley talked about how the previous day she had been in Washington at a talk by Bob Woodward. She found this talk so compelling that she told us quite a bit about it, and clearly agreed with what he was saying, which was: the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11 did not come from Iraq or Afghanistan. They came from our country. (Well, she explained that by this she meant that they were trained here.) And while we always have to make sure that civil liberties are respected, we need better internal surveillance to be apprised of threats such as this.
I wasn’t happy to hear this. I think we have quite enough internal surveillance as it is. I think the police and federal authorities have immense powers, which are often misused. They need more oversight, in my opinion, not more leeway to engage in internal surveillance.
I think this is a real difference in outlook between the two of them. In some sense, it’s not surprising. Coakley is a career prosecutor. In general, she has been a very good one. (There are a number of members of our local Democratic Town Committee who are really upset at the role she played in some particular cases, and I think they’re right, but without a doubt, Coakley has also done some very good things in her career.) But I think that the opinions she expressed at that picnic are not unusual for a prosecutor. The thing is, she’s running for the Senate.
Capuano/Khazei: I’ll put my cards on the table here. I used to be a public school teacher. And for the last 6 years of that time I was president of my local teachers union. I see teachers unions being slammed almost daily in the Globe, as if they were the cause of poor education systems. It really makes my blood boil. In my experience (and I have written about this previously), teachers unions are supported most strongly by the very best teachers, and almost never by the weakest. I won’t bother explaining yet again why this is, but it’s so different from what is generally believed that it’s worth repeating.
The Globe is on a mission to promote charter schools. Now the most recent and very well documented study of these schools shows that the only way they appear to do well (and for the most part they don’t really do all that well anyway) is by encouraging a high drop-out rate. Over half the students who enter those schools are nowhere to be found at graduation. In spite of this, charter schools are widely touted as bringing “innovation” to education. And this is exactly what Khazei says in supporting them. I finally heard Capuano say recently what I have been waiting for someone to say for years: he has been going around the state asking people about these schools, and trying to find even one innovation that is being proposed for implementation on a large scale. He has yet to find one.
In fact, there are none. The whole charter school movement (in Massachusetts, at any rate, and probably elsewhere as well) is based on not having a teachers union. It is simply a way of having teachers work more for less pay and with inferior working conditions. This is not a way to improve education, and these schools often have a very high turnover.
I think Capuano sees this clearly.
I think the reason Khazei doesn’t is not that he is callous or uncaring. I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, it’s that he really doesn’t look at things in terms of power relations. He says, for instance, “.. we need Big Citizenship, instead of the tired debate between Big Government vs. Big Business.” Well, the last time I checked, universal health care was “Big Government”, and private health care was “Big Business”. I don’t think we can solve this problem without naming it. I don’t think this is a “tired argument”. I think that saying it’s a “tired argument” feeds into a sort of wishful thinking that says that we can all just “get along”. (I’m not saying that Khazei actually says this, but it’s widely repeated, and I think Khazei’s position doesn’t challenge it in any real sense.) There are are powerful forces in play here, and while it’s absolutely true that we need massive citizen participation in pushing forward a progressive social agenda, what we really don’t need is a diffuse notion of involvement that is vague about who holds power and what they do with it.
Two Kinds of Democrats
It’s often been remarked that there are two kinds of Democrats: those who care about “social issues” such as civil liberties, women’s rights, the environment, gay and lesbian rights, and who are very sensitive to racist innuendos; and those on the other hand who care primarily about jobs and the economy and the dignity of labor. All too often we find that people who care a lot about one of these things care little about the other. We find people who are very progressive in certain respects but really are blind to the everyday lives of working people, of whatever color. And we find people who are very narrowly concerned about short-term economic goals but are blind to the long-term social consequences of what often amounts to pandering. (We’ve often seen unions uncritically supporting military buildups because they create jobs, for instance, even though there are much more cost-effective ways of creating jobs that also actually create a healthier society. Building schools comes to mind.)
Capuano, from what I’ve seen, is unusual in that he straddles this divide. He’s an uncompromising (and I use this word in a good sense) civil libertarian. His voting record on women’s issues is second to none. He really understands what’s wrong with a foreign policy driven by military contractors. And at the same time, he’s sensitive to the counterproductive, ideologically driven, often demeaning ways that even highly skilled working people are treated day after day, and has a gut reaction to the cheap way that the Globe and the Pioneer Institute blame “labor” (they don’t say “teachers”) for the defects of a society in which the really big decisions are far too often made in corporate boardrooms.
He’s been doing this for some time now, in a way that is public and often courageous. He not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk. That means a lot to me.
And that’s why I’m supporting him for Senate.