The Red Sox are in the World Series! Go crazy, folks!
Now that that’s out of the way …
The headline moment was Baker’s awkward indecision on whether he would vote for Geoff Diehl, our Trumpist Republican Senate candidate whom Baker had already endorsed. (Do not try to smuggle an elephant like this past Eagan and Braude.) Afterwards, Baker acknowledged that of course he would be voting for Diehl, out of party loyalty. Why this should surprise or mollify anyone, I’m not sure. We’ve been saying for months that Baker has been playing footsie with racist elements in his own party, employing immigrant-bashing applause lines and actual policies, and refusing to take on the local abuses of ICE — like, say, endorsing the Safe Communities Act. Under the camera’s glare, in October, Baker may find it politically awkward to be tied to the manifest and unpopular ugliness of the Diehl campaign; but in some substantive ways he has already besmirched himself with that ugliness. This was not merely awkward; it was telling.
The trouble with the idea that Charlie Baker is some sort of endangered old school Republican, is that it’s simply not true. Baker’s hostility to health care expansion, immigration reform, green energy and progressive taxation have offered us hints of where his loyalties really lie, but his endorsement of Diehl puts those loyalties under a glaring spotlight.
Beyond that, Baker finds himself most comfortable when constraining the political conversation within certain boundaries, wherein he can discuss details. The problem is when someone mentions possibilities beyond his managerial comfort zone. We may have forgotten: A governor has to do a lot more than manage the present assets and services of the state; one has to plan for the long-term. In other words, vision. It’s not fanciful to ask for; it’s part of the job.
For instance, Baker’s approach to universal pre-K, a public policy slam-dunk if ever there was one, is that we just can’t afford it. But who can’t afford what? If a family can’t afford pre-school, can we afford the foregone additional life potential of that child, not to mention that child’s mother or father, and their earning potential? We are now paying a massive social cost for the failure to provide such an investment — and some families have to pay quite a bit more than others. The minor inconvenience of upper-income taxpayers to be asked to foot the bill is a trivial moral consideration, but Baker makes it seem insurmountable. Baker could lead on progressive taxation and social investment — let’s find a way, people! — but he chooses not to.
As another example: Baker’s MBTA plan merely promises, at best, to get us back to the place where we were about 15 years ago. But we need a major infusion of revenue and reform (particularly in big-project contracting), to get the thriving public transportation system we need:
- … with fully-electrified regional rail that goes beyond a rush-hour, hub-and-spoke concept;
- … which truly has a chance to put a dent in massive transportation emissions, an issue we should be confronting with do-it-yesterday urgency.
Meanwhile he won’t even fund a commuter rail equity study, nor even study congestion pricing. It’s part of the pattern of avoiding the big questions, at exactly the time when the bills for past inaction are coming due:
Public accommodations protections for trans community (2017), fed assault weapons ban (2014), whether climate change is real (2010), vetoing @MBTA commuter rail fare equity study to delay (2 months ago), March for Our Lives, Women’s March…what am I missing? #mapoli #WheresBaker https://t.co/KW8FHFPE4U
— Michelle Wu 吳弭 (@wutrain) October 18, 2018
And on health care costs, Baker seems to reject the idea that we spend too much on health care. “Most people in Massachusetts … they think that the health care they get … is among the very best.” No disrespect to Jay Gonzalez, but it made one wish that Don Berwick were sitting in that chair across from Baker. I don’t know what has happened to major cost-control initiatives in Massachusetts, but the idea that we’re spending our health care dollar efficiently is ludicrous on its face. Nearly as silly is the idea that single-payer is impossible in practice — as opposed to merely difficult politically. Baker knows better, but he doesn’t want to try.
We need to stop underestimating the challenges facing the Commonwealth. We need to unlearn our learned political helplessness. And we need to stop grading Baker on a Trumpian curve.