A bad result cannot be avoided in the future without identifying the actual cause or causes of the bad result. An examination of the recent election results in the Massachusetts Fourth District requires a mind without preconceptions, a readiness to question all assumptions, and recognition that the true cause or causes may be emotionally distasteful. That the Fourth is a gerrymandered district will yield dividends beyond the district because it contains two types of loyal Democratic voters: the Volvo liberals in the north and the blue-collar Democrats in the south.
Homicide cases are like elections. The deceased usually cannot tell you who did it and the vote in an election gives the result of the choices but is silent as to the causes of the choices. The inquirer must take the evidence and reason back in time to pick out all the possible causes that are either consistent with the cause or probably were a cause.
Surprisingly, the first clue comes from an inadvertent half-truth from Barney Frank. Even though Frank won decisively, he had been truly worried by Sean Bielat’s candidacy. The election result relieved him of his fear and tension. His fear and his arrogance were displayed openly in his victory speech in which he spewed his contempt for Bielat, for Republicans in general, and for the Boston Herald (which had featured his corrupt actions) in particular. Frank branded the reporting of his corrupt actions as “distorted attacks” and triumphantly declared that “with the election of all ten congressmen, and Governor Patrick, one of the things we can acknowledge tonight is that Massachusetts has reaffirmed the complete political irrelevance of the Boston Herald.” Obviously, the Boston Herald is and will be relevant and Frank is megalomaniacal to think otherwise.
However, Frank is correct that the facts that the Herald had published about Frank’s corrupt actions, including the OneUnited Bank scandal, Representative Tierney’s wife’s plea of guilty to laundering seven million dollars of her fugitive brother’s money, and many other stories of governmental waste and inefficiency, were irrelevant to the choices made by a majority of Massachusetts voters. Why a candidate’s corrupt practices are irrelevant to a voter’s decision may not be the same for both groups of Democratic voters, but the result is the same.
A Massachusetts voter who believes that all politicians are “crooks” can point to numerous examples of criminal convictions and exposés. He is frequently assured by President Obama and others that the rich who control Wall Street, the insurance industry, and multi-national corporations, and, indeed, everyone who makes a profit at business, are unscrupulous, dishonest, and uncaring of the interests of the ordinary citizen. If everyone is corrupt, then the choice is simple: Vote for the dishonest person who may use his office to feather his own nest but will also “fight” to take from the capitalists and redistribute the “benefits” to them. The bargain is camouflaged by calling the benefits a “right” and the expenditures of tax money “investments.”
The same analysis may be applicable to the Volvo liberals, but there is more going on. When Senator Edward Kennedy died, there was much discussion of his life and accomplishments. That Kennedy was guilty of manslaughter for his actions; i.e., driving drunk and recklessly into the water with his female passenger, was assumed. Seemingly forgotten was the brazen undermining of the legal system that resulted in his escape from any punishment for the commission of a felony, a crime for which the ordinary citizen would have served significant prison time. Kennedy received re-election to the Senate as his punishment.
Forgiveness may come to those who sin, but forgiveness follows punishment, remorse, and restitution by oneself, not from getting the taxpayer to provide the restitution. The frequent response I heard from intelligent liberals was that Kennedy made up for such crimes by the good things he did in Congress. A suggestion that being lionized by the public and living the good life as a U.S. senator was hardly relevant to nor as difficult to take as being in prison met with a reassertion of opinion.
The Democratic voter regards guilt for corruption by Democrats as irrelevant on the illogical grounds that the whole system is corrupt and that so long as it appears to them that the Democrat will do “good works” for the objects of the idealized deserving poor, their personal actions do not disqualify them from “public service.” They assume that Democrats are Robin Hood and Massachusetts is Sherwood Forest, complete with (non-existent) Republican sheriffs. The issue is difficult because the voter acknowledges that the acts are corrupt but avoids applying the facts to fitness for public office by ignoring causal connections. The mechanism is a form of denial.
Thus, all of the good reporting by the Herald was convincing to a minority of the voters but was irrelevant to registered Democrats and enough independents to give Frank and the Democrats a victory.
In the next election, how will a candidate communicate effectively with voters who see the world from such perspectives? Political opinions are held firmly and are not changed even in the face of numerous, contrary facts. A campaign must recognize that merely showing corruption is insufficient to affect a voter’s decision. Strategies must be tailored that target the underlying frame of reference, seek to break through denial and confirmation bias, and construct a message that changes the frame of reference of a significant number of voters.
There are many other possible and probable contributing causes but the above should be placed in our evidence envelope as part of our case.