I Like Liz

Elizabeth Warren spent last weekend campaigning for president in Iowa, and because there is nothing else going on in the world, a large gaggle of reporters and pundits tailed her every move.  What’s more, because Warren has apparently never expressed her views on any political issues—like, say, income inequality, Wall Street corruption or the character of Donald Trump—the media felt it had no choice but to engage in a round-the-clock debate about whether Senator Warren is “likable” enough to be elected commander-in-chief.

Predictably, Warren’s supporters—and women in general—made the utterly valid observation that only female presidential candidates seem to be asked this sort of question right out of the gate—and with some regularity thereafter—while male candidates tend to be asked very seldom, if at all.  What’s more, since the 2020 Democratic primary process will likely be the first with multiple female contenders, perhaps this would be a good time to retire this inherently sexist act of punditry once and for all.

In the interest of political correctness and basic gender equity, this plea makes sense as far as it goes.  As someone who is still slightly miffed at President Obama for informing Hillary Clinton, “You’re likable enough” in January 2008, I would be positively thrilled if America’s leading news organizations spent more time asking if a candidate is capable and qualified to be leader of what’s left of the free world, and less time treating her like a beauty queen contestant or a prospective member of a college sorority.

However, since nothing like that is going to happen before November 2020, I think the more fruitful conversation we ought to have concerns the meaning of the word “likable,” and whether it isn’t such a bad metric for choosing a leader after all.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because I found him more likable than John McCain.  For instance, I liked Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War, and the eloquence with which he argued for its end.  I liked his optimism about America in general and our political system in particular.  I liked his penchant for speaking in paragraphs instead of slogans, and for giving his opponents the moral benefit of the doubt.  I liked his dry sense of humor and Ivy League education.  I liked his seriousness of purpose and lightness of touch.  I liked Michelle.

And yes, I would’ve preferred to have had a beer with Obama instead of McCain.  Why?  Because of the two men, Obama probably would’ve had more interesting things to say—and, unlike McCain, would’ve required a little loosening up before saying them.

Of course, for decades now, the concept of likability in a politician has been reduced merely to that final metric—“Would this person be fun to drink with?”—and for just as long, virtually every wannabe commander-in-chief has done his or her damnedest to be that very person—typically, by running into the nearest bar and ordering a local pint.

While the more sober-minded among us might dismiss this dynamic as silly and counterproductive to our political process—what, pray tell, does being gossipy and gregarious have to do with running the world’s largest bureaucracy?—it’s worth asking why we have such a shallow and limited conception of likability in the first place.

In short:  Why don’t we “like” our leaders for their qualities as leaders, rather than just their qualities (or lack thereof) as regular Joes and Janes?

As a Massachusetts resident who has already voted for Elizabeth Warren twice, I find quite a bit to like about someone who effectively birthed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a decade ago and continues to spend every waking hour defending its core ideals.  I like how Warren imbues every syllable she utters with a combustible, fiery passion, yet somehow always stays on point.  I like how she is wholly unafraid to have her entire personal history gutted in the interest of full disclosure.  I like how she defends the honor of her extended family and its complicated racial history, instead of throwing them under the bus for the sake of political expediency.

As with President Obama, I like how Warren is smart enough to be a law professor at an elite university, yet sensible enough to understand and communicate the needs of those who didn’t even graduate high school.  I like her unabashed liberalism and her implicit belief in a more perfect society than the one we are currently bungling through.

I like how she is fearlessly and head-longingly running for president even as some of her would-be allies are advising her not to.

I like how she willingly makes herself a big, fat target of Wall Street, the GOP and even certain pockets of her own party, earning their hysterical, bottomless contempt, and yet, nonetheless (God help me) she persists.

Oh, and the words “Madam President”?  I find those rather likable, too.

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Big Ten

If alphabetical order, here are ten of my favorite movies of 2018:


Spike Lee’s wildly (and disturbingly) entertaining portrayal of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who, with the help of a Jewish colleague, infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and lived to tell the tale.  What Stallworth found, it turned out, was a gang of rowdy, bloodthirsty dimwits who could be fooled into believing anything so long as it was preceded by refrains like “White power!” or “America first!”  Any resemblance to current events is purely non-coincidental.


By now, it should not be breaking news that Melissa McCarthy is a first-rate actress.  (That Sean Spicer imitation didn’t happen by accident.)  However, in case there was any residual doubt that McCarthy can do pretty much anything, as Exhibit A I offer her work here, playing a New York alcoholic who commits widespread literary fraud in order to pay her rent and feed her cat, eventually drawing the attention of the FBI.  I’d hasten to add that it’s all based on a true story, but if you know anything at all about New Yorkers, you probably figured that out already.


If you’ve ever wondered what Veep would be like if it took place inside the Soviet Union in the 1950s, wonder no more!  Directed by Armando Iannucci—yes, the very man who created the funniest show on television—this ridiculous political farce about the jockeying for power among Kremlin bureaucrats following the demise of Uncle Joe undoubtedly carries a greater ring of truth than the official record might suggest.  Accurate or not, its cast of characters provide more demented laughs than any rogues gallery this side of the Trump White House.


Speaking of demented, here was a similarly-pitched historical rivalry committed ever-so-exaggeratedly to celluloid.  In this case, the competition unfolds at the throne of England’s Queen Anne in the early 18th century, and involves an All About Eve-esque usurpation of one loyal servant by another, both of whom vie for the queen’s affections with steadily-escalating, um, fervor.  The queen is played by Olivia Colman, her two suitresses by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.  The latter’s suggestion, “Let’s go shoot something!” is possibly the finest line reading in any movie this year.


Rarely am I driven to a movie theater by a New York Times opinion column, but after reading Bret Stephens’ beaming reaction to this documentary about 33-year-old rock climber Alex Honnold, I needed to know what all the fuss was about.  I understood quickly enough:  In 2017, after months of preparation, Honnold attempted to become the first person in history to ascend the 3,000-foot-tall face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope or harness—a suicide mission if ever there was one.  As Stephens wrote in his column, “In a world of B.S. artists—and in a country led by one—Honnold is modeling something else, a kind of radical truthfulness.  Either he’s going to get it exactly right, or he’s going to die.”


If the idea of the director of Moonlight adapting a novel by James Baldwin doesn’t get you racing to the nearest art house, I don’t know what more I can do for you.  Having made the best movie of 2016, Barry Jenkins could scarcely have chosen a richer source for a follow-up than Baldwin’s 1974 novel about love and racism in New York that, like much of Baldwin’s work, doesn’t seem to have aged a day.  That’s to say nothing of the divine lead performances by KiKi Layne and Stephan James and the gorgeous art direction, set design and musical score, the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, Moonlight.


If a man raises his daughter right—teaching her important values, reading her fine books, feeding her healthy food—is it any business of the state that he does it in a tent in the woods somewhere in rural Oregon?  That’s the question this movie poses—in a blessedly non-political manner—and it’s to director Debra Granik’s great credit that it provides absolutely no answer.  All it offers is truth, realism and a group of people who are all doing the best they can under the circumstances.  Isn’t that what a movie is for?


You don’t hear the word “Felliniesque” bandied about much nowadays—particularly not about a Mexican director best known for the third Harry Potter film and for launching Sandra Bullock into space.  Yet there is no more succinct way to describe Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma—a semi-autobiographical depiction of Cuarón’s childhood from the viewpoint of his nanny—than to observe how much it resembles—tonally and visually—much of the best work of Italy’s most famous auteur.  If Beale Street luxuriates in the most lavish possibilities of color film, Roma does the same for black and white.


Who would’ve guessed that Black Panther would only be 2018’s second-best comic book blockbuster with an African-American protagonist?  While I shan’t say a word against Ryan Coogler’s groundbreaking, socially-conscious cultural behemoth, this animated Spider-Man spinoff nonetheless wins the superhero sweepstakes in my mind by the sheer force of its charm, its wit and—most pleasantly surprising of all—its acute understanding of the awkwardness of being the new kid in school just as puberty is beginning to kick in.  (See Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, which just missed my list, for the female version of this.)


I’m generally skeptical about turning human beings into saints, but if Fred Rogers wasn’t a saint, I don’t know who is.  In an age when we are (justifiably) jittery about leaving small children alone with kindly-seeming men of the cloth, here was a Presbyterian minister with a children’s TV show who proved to be exactly as gentle and trustworthy as he appeared—perhaps even more so—and who, as David McCullough once argued, probably had a greater educational impact on young people than any human being in the 20th century.

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To impeach, or not to impeach?  That, apparently, is the question.

As Democrats prepare to assume power in the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010 (if the government ever reopens, that is), they will immediately be faced with the prospect of formally censuring Donald Trump for the various high crimes and misdemeanors he has rather thunderously committed both before and during his disgraceful presidency.

As the precise nature and extent of those transgressions come ever-more-clearly into focus, the 60-odd percent of Americans who disapprove of Trump’s job performance should ask themselves the following:  Should Trump be impeached?  If so, when?  And if he is actually removed from office, will the whole miserable ordeal have been worth it?

The correct answers, by the way, are “probably, “not yet,” and “you bet your sweet bippy.”

Before we go any further, let us acknowledge that no discussion on this subject is complete without the immortal observation in 1970 by then-Congressman Gerald Ford that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

In other words, don’t be fooled into thinking that a term like “high crimes and misdemeanors” has any inherent, consistent meaning beyond “something a president really, really shouldn’t do.”  As any constitutional scholar will tell you, impeaching a high-ranking official is more of a political act than a legal one.  Because “impeachable offense” is such a broad and vaguely-defined term (as the Founders intended), the argument about whether a particular president has committed a particular offense is bound to be exactly that:  an argument.

Accordingly, the only meaningful circumstance under which to indict Donald Trump with a bill of particulars—let alone evict him from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—is when a wide cross-section of Congress and the American public—left, right and center—agrees that such charges are warranted and legitimate, and not merely the product of a partisan witch hunt (to coin a phrase).

It’s not enough to say, for instance, “Donald Trump paid a stripper $130,000 to conceal an extramarital affair; therefore, he deserves to be removed from office.”  Plainly, the history of the presidency would suggest otherwise.  More to the point, in November 2016 a hefty minority of American voters knew full well what kind of man Trump was (see “Access Hollywood, tape of”) and voted for him anyway.  Are we really going to overturn the results of a presidential election because the winner turned out to be slightly more of a scumbag than we understand at the time?

To my mind, the stronger case for getting rid of Trump pre-2020 concerns his various (and apparently ongoing) financial entanglements with certain foreign powers and his bottomless obfuscations of the same—a scenario that, if it’s as bad as it looks, would suggest the commander-in-chief, for purely selfish reasons, is not always acting in the best interests of the United States.  There’s a word for that, and it rhymes with “sneezin’.”

The problem is, the science is not yet in on whether Trump is guilty of any of the above, let alone of conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election and/or attempting to obstruct the investigation thereof.  Robert Mueller has spent 19 months carefully and methodically trying to get to the bottom of this web of lies and intrigue, and it would seem common courtesy to let him see it through to the end before jumping to any conclusions—yes, even ones that seem perfectly obvious to the untrained eye.

Why is that, ladies and gentlemen?  Because unless the case for impeaching—and convicting—President Trump is absolutely rock-solid and airtight—such that a chunk of Republican senators are all-but-forced to vote with their Democratic counterparts—Trump will still be president at the end of the process, and presumably more bitter, more vengeful and more uncompromising toward his perceived enemies than he already is today.  If Trump views himself as above the law now, just imagine how he’ll behave following a Senate trial that finds him not guilty of all charges.

To quote Omar in The Wire, “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

That leaves my third question:  Would a successful impeachment be worth it?  That is, would Mike Pence be an improvement over Trump in the Oval Office?

Sorry, liberals, but the answer is yes.

However I might have felt about the vice president on January 20, 2017—with respect to his puritanical views about women and gays in particular and his pathological dishonesty in general—what the last two years have taught me, beyond all doubt, is that the devil you know is preferable to the devil who doesn’t believe in democratic institutions and hate-tweets at 3 o’clock in the morning.

To a left-winger like me, Pence may well be the devil—über-conservative, ultra-religious and utterly shameless in his pursuit of raw power—but he also possesses the gifts of silence, self-control and subtlety, which would amount to a necessary and welcome balm on the national psyche in a post-Trump America.  As with the aforementioned Gerald Ford in 1974, a President Pence would represent such a profound temperamental shift at the top of the executive branch that we just might forget this whole Trump thing ever happened, and collectively return to a pre-2016 mindset whereby we don’t wake up every morning in a cold sweat, wondering what unholy mess the president will get us into today.

Mike Pence is no statesman, but he can play one on TV.  He may be a religious fanatic, but at least he worships a god who isn’t himself.  He may have an antiquated view of the female sex, but at least he only sleeps with one woman at a time (at most).  He may share Trump’s contemptuous attitude toward America’s counterparts on the world stage, but there’s little chance he will upend a half-century of foreign policy without so much as a heads-up to our allies and our own department of defense.

This may seem cold comfort to those who wish all presidents could be as competent and classy as, say, our most recent previous one, but we mustn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.  That, in so many words, is what got us here in the first place.

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Et Tu, Neil?

I could’ve gone my entire life without knowing Neil deGrasse Tyson has been accused of committing rape in the early 1980s, and of other sexual improprieties in the years since.  There are few public figures in America whom I hold in higher esteem or affection than the director of the Hayden Planetarium and astrophysicist extraordinaire, so the possibility that he is a sexual predator is almost too much to bear.  Indeed, when I first heard the disconcerting stories a few weeks ago, my instinct was to assume they weren’t true—based not on the evidence, mind you, as on the fact that a world in which Neil deGrasse Tyson is a bad person is one not entirely worth living in.

I exaggerate, but only just.  The fact is, supporting #MeToo is easy when it comes to obvious scumbags like Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump.  But when the alleged offender is someone you always assumed was one of the good guys—in this case, the guy who taught you almost everything you know about astrophysics, and always with an enthusiasm you wish you’d encountered more in high school—well, that’s when the hemming and hawing begins.

Briefly—and in reverse chronological order—the charges against Tyson are as follows:  First, that earlier this year he made unwanted sexual advances toward an assistant in his apartment.  Second, that in 2010 he made similar—in this case, drunken—advances toward a different woman at a Christmas party.  Third, that in 2009 he reached under a different woman’s dress during a social event at a science conference, ostensibly in search of a tattoo of the planet Pluto.  And forth, that in 1984, he drugged and raped a classmate at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a graduate student at the time.

Tyson has denied the rape charge—as one does—writing in a lengthy Facebook post that he and his accuser had been “intimate” on a few occasions and then went their separate ways, and that nothing even approaching sexual assault ever occurred.  No surprise there—in the absence of direct physical evidence, no man so accused would comport himself any differently.

More interesting was Tyson’s response to the more recent charges, which was to confirm that they’re true—albeit with qualifiers and clarifications.  He affirmed, for example, that one evening he hosted an assistant for wine and cheese at his apartment, at one point telling her, “If I hug you, I might just want more,” and that shortly thereafter, the woman “came into my office and told me she was creeped out” by the encounter and “viewed the invite as an attempt to seduce her.”

As to the reaching-under-the-dress incident, Tyson explained that he was admiring a tattoo of the solar system across the arm of the woman in question, which led to “a search under the covered part of her shoulder of [her] sleeveless dress.”  Tyson continued, “While I don’t explicitly remember searching for Pluto at the top of her shoulder, it is surely something I would have done in that situation.  As we all know, I have professional history with the demotion of Pluto, which had occurred officially just three years earlier.  So whether people include it or not in their tattoos is of great interest to me.”

I don’t know about you, but to me this explanation makes absolutely perfect sense.  Having followed Tyson’s career for many years, I find it utterly believable that he would become so giddy over a colleague’s planetary tattoos that he would inadvertently grope her arm just to get a closer look—presumably while launching into an impromptu lecture about, say, the moons of Saturn or the Mars rover.  That’s who Neil deGrasse Tyson is:  A born showman and educator with a childlike infatuation with all things astrophysics.

Of course, this by itself neither substitutes for nor excuses a grown-up infatuation with human flesh, and if a woman claims to have been made uncomfortable by this encounter, it’s not my place to tell her she wasn’t.  Unwanted physical contact is exactly that—unwanted—and being a world-renowned public intellectual does not exempt one from behaving responsibly at all times—not least because of the inherent power differential that comes with the fame and fortune that Tyson has long enjoyed.

To a degree, Tyson has assumed responsibility for the incidents I’ve just described, writing that he apologized profusely” to his assistant the moment she informed him of her concerns, and that, with regards to the woman with the tattoo, “I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way.  Had I been told of her discomfort in the moment, I would have offered this same apology eagerly, and on the spot.”

Perhaps more to the point, Tyson has copped to the morally suspect position in which he now finds himself, writing, “I’m the accused, so why believe anything I say?  Why believe me at all?  That brings us back to the value of an independent investigation, which FOX/NatGeo (the networks on which Cosmos and StarTalk air) announced that they will conduct.  I welcome this.”

I don’t doubt it.  Would that more of the men ensnarled by #MeToo possessed the self-awareness and restraint to get out of their own way in this fashion—rather than, say, immediately painting themselves as the true victims and their accusers as lying opportunists and/or deranged stalkers.

As accused sexual predators go, Tyson has carried himself about as well as could reasonably be expected.  Should the pending investigation find the worst allegations unfoundedand the lesser ones as mere misunderstandingsI would feel entirely comfortable resuming my full-bore fandom of his work.

And should the rape allegation prove credible, and the accuser worth believing?  Well, we’ll always have Cosmos.

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They say you never forget your first time, and I’ll certainly never forget mine.

Not anytime soon, at least.  After all, it happened just three weeks ago.

I speak, of course, of my first car crash.  And, with it, my first police report, my first insurance claim, my first insurance premium hike and, finally, my first brand new car.

It began on a Monday morning.  Of course it was a Monday morning.  My hometown Red Sox had won the World Series the night before, so the steady rain that was falling could’ve been taken as tears of joy from the heavens above.  For me in my Mazda at 8:30 a.m., however, it was just rain.  And the wet roads and low visibility probably didn’t help as I approached the intersection of Eliot and Prospect Streets, coming to a stop at the blinking red light.  At least I think I stopped.  Maybe I just slowed.  To be honest, I don’t remember.  But I definitely looked both ways.  By “definitely” I mean “probably.”  And by “probably” I mean “might have.”

In any event, I proceeded into the intersection—as one does—and only when I was halfway through it did I notice the white van coming straight at me from my right.  The van wasn’t slowing down.  Why should it?  The vehicles on that street had a blinking yellow light and, thus, the right of way.  Presumably, upon seeing me blundering into his space, the driver slammed on the brakes as best he could.  I couldn’t say for sure.  In that moment, all that really concerned me was getting to the other side of the intersection.  To that end, I pressed harder on the gas, hoping against hope it would be enough to avoid a collision.

It wasn’t.

The van slammed into my rear passenger side.  This, in turn, pushed my car into a BMW that was minding its own business in the next lane.  The force of this one-two punch caused my vehicle’s side airbags to deploy, my glasses to fly off and bend wildly out of shape, and my ice coffee to splatter in every direction.  I attempted to steer as far to the side of the road as possible, but the pedals no longer worked.

I climbed out the passenger side door—partly to avoid incoming traffic, and partly because my own door wouldn’t open.  The driver of the van was apparently fine—as I approached him on the corner, all he said was, “You ran a red light, man.”  In fact, I believe he said it twice.  As someone who avoids verbal confrontation at all costs—and who assumes, as a general rule, that everything is my fault—I said nothing in response.  (The man in the BMW was fine, too.)

As a small battalion of police vehicles arrived and an officer examined our licenses for his report, I began to rummage through my car’s front seat for essentials—backup pair of glasses, phone, umbrella—in much the same way Lorraine Bracco rummaged through her dresser drawers for bags of coke in the final moments of GoodFellas.  I may not have been headed to jail like her, but the sudden, awful rush of adrenaline was hardly any less acute.

It was only then that I noticed all the broken glass in the backseat—sad remnants of what used to be the rear window panes.  With that came the emergence of two rather disconcerting thoughts.  First, that had there been passengers back there instead of an ice scraper and a roll of paper towels, the seat would likely be splattered with an uncomfortably large amount of blood.  And second, that had I slammed on the brakes instead of the gas upon seeing the white van, the point of impact would’ve likely been the front seat instead of the back, and the splattered blood would’ve belonged to me.

Or perhaps not.  Maybe the airbags would’ve done their duty and blunted most of the carnage inside the vehicle.  Happily, I will never know for sure.

What I do know is that I totaled my carand moderately dinged two othersbecause of a stupid, careless decision I had every reason not to make.  I know that roughly 37,000 people die from car crashes in the U.S. every year, and that it will only take one more such decision for that tally to include me.  I am reminded—rather chillingly—of the moment in Citizen Kane when Kane manages to destroy his career and marriage in one fell swoop and is told by his chief adversary, “You’re going to need more than one lesson.  And you’re going to get more than one lesson.”

For me, hopefully one lesson will be enough.  Considering the damage to my vehicle—I believe the clinical term is “dead as a doornail”—it’s certainly something close to a miracle that I managed to walk away with nothing more than a slightly stiff lower back (since healed) and a general but fleeting sense of having failed as a human being.  Wouldn’t it be nice if this incident constitutes the worst thing that will ever happen to me—or anyone—behind the wheel of a car?  Wouldn’t it be even nicer if cars could drive themselves?  Someone really oughta work on that.

In the meantime, I now have a brand-new Subaru to get me where I need to go.  Unlike the Mazda, it includes all-wheel drive and an array of safety features specifically designed to protect me from myself—as they surely will a dozen times per day.  I triumphantly drove it off the lot mere hours after attending the Red Sox victory parade in downtown Boston.  Partly for that reason, I decided to name it Mookie.  I think it has a nice ring to it.

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2020 is Not 20/20

Now that the 2018 midterms are finally, blessedly behind us, the 2020 presidential campaign can officially begin—and, with it, the mother-of-all-$64,000 questions:  Who will be sworn in as commander-in-chief on January 20, 2021?

The correct answer—or at least the most likely—is Donald Trump.  Like Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton before him, Trump in 2020 will carry all the built-in advantages of incumbency—money, familiarity and the presumed endorsement of his party.  Add to that his utter shamelessness and Triumph of the Will-style campaign rallies, and you have a nearly unbeatable force of nature that the Democratic Party is thus far unprepared to vanquish on a national scale.

That said, if the Democrats manage to field a challenger to Trump who succeeds in becoming the 46th president, history suggests he or she will be someone none of us is taking seriously today—and probably won’t take seriously until maybe a week or two before the New Hampshire primary some 14 months from now.

Lord knows this was the case two years ago, when the very notion of Donald Trump as a public official struck the entire media-industrial complex as an absurd fever dream until around 10:30 on Election Night.  So, too, was Barack Obama’s candidacy, eight years earlier, seen as a quixotic curiosity against the Hillary Clinton juggernaut until Obama nabbed one more delegate than Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and turned the entire 2008 narrative on its head.

Then there was the previous Democratic golden boy, Bill Clinton, who began the 1992 primaries all-but-unknown outside his home state of Arkansas and didn’t win a single primary until Super Tuesday—nearly a month after the Iowa caucuses, where he placed a very distant third.  Going back even further, much the same was the case with Jimmy Carter—a Southern governor who emerged from essentially nowhere and charged to the front of the pack, accumulating delegates and raw popular excitement along the way.

As I see it, the lesson from this is twofold.  First:  If the Democrats are interested in defeating Trump in 2020, the worst they could possibly do is to nominate a known quantity.  And second:  Anyone who believes he or she knows how the Democratic primaries will shake out is utterly and irretrievably full of it and should be ignored for as long as possible.

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Nice and Not Crazy

I’ll begin with a confession:  I like Charlie Baker.  I like him a lot.  When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2014, I voted for him on the assumption that he was a competent, decent, even-tempered guy who shared most of my core values and would play well with others on Beacon Hill.

After four years on the job—and on the eve of his likely election to a second term—Baker strikes me as a competent, decent, even-tempered guy who shares most of my core values and plays well with others on Beacon Hill.

Broadly speaking, Baker has been exactly the sort of governor I expected him to be, and I’ve never once regretted endorsing him the first time around.  All things being equal, I would have no qualms voting for him again on Tuesday, if only in recognition of the refreshing normalness and temperance of both his administration and his own character.

And yet, in 2018, all things are not equal.  Our country runs on a two-party system, and over the last several years, one of those parties has retained a minimal sense of civic responsibility, while the other has lost its goddamned mind.

For all his personal and political strengths, Charlie Baker is a card-carrying Republican at a moment in history when Republicans, as a group, have proved themselves both unable and unwilling to govern in a rational, productive manner—opting, instead, to tether themselves to the moral abomination that is President Donald Trump.

Until this changes—that is, until Trump ceases to be the embodiment and figurehead of the present-day GOP—I simply cannot stomach lending support to any candidate who identifies with the same party as our insane commander-in-chief.

In some ways, this is unfair—if only in this one case.  As Massachusetts residents well know, Baker is about as un-Trump-like as a Republican could possibly be in 2018.  He’s the guy, for instance, who signed a first-in-the-nation bump stock ban following the massacre in Las Vegas last October.  He’s the guy who (belatedly) supported a law protecting transgender rights, and is now defending said law against a ballot referendum that would reverse it.  He’s the guy who violated his own “no new taxes” pledge in order to fund paid family leave and raise the state’s minimum wage.  He’s the guy who, when asked to pick three words to describe President Trump, chose, “Outrageous.  Disgraceful.  Divider.”

With a record like that, one wonders why Baker doesn’t just get it over with and declare himself a Democrat—or, at the very least, pull a Jeff Flake and publicly lament that the GOP of yore is nothing like the GOP of today.  With an approval rating in the upper 60s and arguably the most liberal constituency in the nation, what, for heaven’s sake, would he have to lose by turning his back on the Republican Party once and for all?

While we wait for a satisfactory answer, the good people of Massachusetts have another choice for governor this year in the person of Jay Gonzalez—like Baker, a former health insurance executive and secretary of administration and finance—whose progressive bona fides are unassailable and in perfect sync with those of the commonwealth he hopes to lead, up to and including his pledge to enact single-payer healthcare and tax the rich to pay for it.

Indeed, from transportation to the environment, from education to civil rights, Gonzalez’s pitch to voters can roughly be distilled to, “I will do what Baker is doing, but with more enthusiasm and higher taxes.”  As a candidate, Gonzalez has effectively diagnosed Baker’s most glaring flaw—namely, his maddening reluctance to tackle major problems in a bold, aggressive manner—and spoken truth to lameness in arguing, “The measure of whether our governor’s doing a good job shouldn’t be that he’s nice and not crazy.”

Fair enough.  But if that’s really the case, why is Gonzalez—the more natural ideological fit for Massachusetts—currently trailing Baker by nearly 40 points in the polls?

My own answer—the one that nearly drove me back into Baker’s arms until the final days of this campaign—is that America deserves two fully-functioning political parties, each populated by the best and brightest minds available, and when it comes to the GOP, Charlie Baker is about as good as it’s gonna get.  If we throw Baker out with the bath water, his party’s ideological center of gravity will move ever-farther to the right, which in the long run would bode well neither for the party nor America as a whole.  That may not be reason enough for liberals to vote for him on November 6, but it’s nonetheless sufficient to make one feel a slight tinge of relief that he’s probably gonna stick around for another four years.