ticking for O'Brien
By Eileen McNamara
October 27, 2002
The kooks should be excluded from the final
Massachusetts gubernatorial debate on Tuesday night. That way, Jill
Stein will have the stage all to herself. Barbara Johnson, the
independent running for governor, noted at the debate the other
night that there are ''kooks everywhere.'' It was hard not to notice
how many were in the studio, posing as serious candidates to lead
It is easy to be dismissive of the rambling,
incoherent Johnson or the gun-toting, robotic Libertarian, Carla
Howell. But it is a commentary on the state of political discourse
in Massachusetts that the Republican and Democratic candidates
register no higher on the credibility meter little more than a week
before Election Day.
If the inclusive debate format has demonstrated
nothing else, it has established that Green is synonymous with
Grownup in Massachusetts this election cycle. The two major-party
candidates for governor have proven themselves no better than
Did Shannon O'Brien think voters would not notice that
she launched a fresh attack ad against Mitt Romney only hours after
bemoaning the negativity of the campaign? If, as she contends, ''the
campaign has taken a tone that has gotten in the way of the
important messages that people want to hear,'' why didn't she
unilaterally raise the level of debate?
Did Romney think voters would accept uncritically his
self-appraisal as a star in ''the investor Hall of Fame,'' when his
success came at the cost of jobs and pensions for so many working
men and women? If his plans for job creation amount to no more than
lunching with fellow millionaire CEOs in an effort to lure them to
the Commonwealth, how many taxpayers would just as soon save the
cost of the lunch?
That is the fundamental flaw with both campaigns.
O'Brien and Romney are talking to each other and about themselves,
not to or about the people they propose to lead. Neither evinces
even the slightest clue about the realities of an economy dominated
by low-wage service jobs, a health care system hobbled by insurance
restrictions and prohibitively expensive drugs, a housing market
constricted by high rents and low vacancy rates.
Nowhere is the evidence of O'Brien's failure to
articulate a vision progressives could embrace clearer than in the
desperation tactics adopted by her supporters, fearful of losing
votes to Stein. An Arlington School Committee member, for instance,
has bought the rights to jillstein.org, the disorganized Greens
having neglected to pay the $19 fee to register the Web site. Voters
who log on to jillstein.org are diverted to omitmitt.com, where they
are warned not to ''throw away'' their votes on a ''fringe''
''A vote for Jill Stein just brings you four more
years of Weld-Cellucci-Swift-Romney-Healey business as usual,'' the
Arlington Democrat, Paul Schlichtman, intones in bold letters.
''Don't let Mitt happen. Omit Mitt in 2002.''
If Massachusetts voters elect Romney, O'Brien will be
more responsible than Stein, a physician and Harvard Medical School
professor from Lexington who entered this race to raise the issues,
not to play the spoiler, the name applied to any third party
candidate who challenges the status quo.
There is a simple solution to the ''spoiler'' issue
that neither of the major parties is willing to embrace: instant
runoff voting that requires a candidate to win a majority of votes,
not just a plurality. Instead of voting for a single candidate in a
multi-candidate election, voters would rank them by preference. A
Stein voter worried that his ballot might help Romney could rank
O'Brien as his second choice. If Stein failed to win a majority of
votes, his vote would go then to O'Brien.
Too bad we don't have instant runoff voting in
Massachusetts. But elections are about values. Telling progressive
Democrats that they are throwing away their vote to support the only
apparent adult in the governor's race is a losing strategy. O'Brien
has nine days to grow up and start winning those votes