Conventional wisdom on the MA-7 primary says Capuano is a reliable, down-the-line liberal Democratic vote with a knack for bringing home housing and transit funds. The choice in the race is thus framed as one not of policy but style—experienced insider versus activist newcomer. I think experience is a hard-won resource that both Congress and the district badly need.
But I think this whole frame is wrong.
The truth is, Mike Capuano has been far more than just a reliable vote. He has jumped into the middle of the fight and staked out principled, progressive ground on the most consequential issues of our time: war, genocide, civil liberties, inequality, and corruption. He’s founded caucuses, built coalitions, and won the trust and respect of committed activists and senior civil rights leaders.
In doing so, Capuano built up his influence while often going against the most powerful interests in his own party. That takes rare talent, courage, and persistence. And it’s one reason his leadership record flew under the radar—it was not celebrated by the national party. He went against the neoliberal grain not just recently, as part of a shift to the left, but when it was most ascendant, and he had the most to lose. The ground isn’t shifting beneath him–his kind of hard work is what shifted it.
I admire Councilor Pressley and she makes a powerful case for her candidacy. I don’t begrudge anyone their choice.
But I find it disheartening, to say the least, how many supposedly high-info progressives don’t know about, or don’t care about, what Mike Capuano has achieved over the past two decades.
So here’s a brief list of make-or-break moments in our recent history when Mike Capuano took vocal, principled stands in defiance of the powers that be.
- He was among a minority of Democrats who voted against the Patriot Act just weeks after 9/11.
- Voted against the Iraq War resolution in 2002.
- Voted against the Homeland Security Act that created ICE in 2002.
- Sued the Obama Administration for invading Libya without Congressional authorization.
- Co-founded the Sudan Caucus to stop slavery and genocide, traveled to the region in 2005, and increased funding for African Union peacekeeping.
- Supported Medicare for All when national Democratic leaders were still talking about a “grand bargain” to cut benefits.
- Proposed and co-founded the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2008.
- One of a small handful of Democrats (and a minority in MA) who voted against the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall, the financial industry regulations whose demise brought on the foreclosure crisis. Since then he has introduced a “21st-century Glass-Steagall Act.”
- Wrote foreclosure protections into the 2009 Helping Families Save their Homes Act at a time when leading democrats were allowing this bill to be gutted by financial interests.
- Co-sponsored both the Medicare for All single-payer plan and a universal buy-in option to the current Medicare system, and co-founded the caucus on community health centers.
This record isn’t the product of a liberal district, but a principled leader who listened to ordinary people and activists in the fight on the ground.
Mike Capuano stayed true to a vision of the public good at home and a moral foreign policy abroad at a time when the power in the party was flowing in the opposite direction. He may not speak the current language of social justice fluently. But he wields something deeper and better than that. I put him in a class with people like Ted Kennedy, Paul Wellstone, John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, and Sherrod Brown, leaders who never wavered from the New Deal, Great Society, Civil Rights, end-poverty, end-war, empower-labor, tame-capital liberalism that they learned directly from the generations before them who fought to build it.
The future of the party as a progressive force depends on achieving productive new coalitions uniting the left side of the spectrum.
Mike Capuano has done the hard and necessary work of forging strong ties all across his party and beyond it, helping to create in the process a progressive power-base in Congress. His is the kind of leadership that the resurgent left will need to if it is to wield power and actually effect change.
That’s why I’m fiercely and unapologetically with Cap.