I wrote this piece on post-election day. It’s about politicians being nice. Some editors I sent it to said they liked it but couldn’t run it. Maybe they were all opined out on elections at that point. Other editors haven’t responded yet. Is that nice?
Anyway, here it is for your enjoyment and inspiration.
We gained a governor and lost a mayor, but those facts feel like footnotes to the real story politics told last week. Tom Menino and Martha Coakley reminded us of a truism we all know but often forget: character wins.
Late Mayor Menino showed his early and often. Yes, he helped make Boston safer and prettier. But his real accomplishments went deeper than that. According to the city’s scribes and blabbers, he regularly visited and called constituents who’d suffered horrific personal tragedies to offer his support. After the Marathon bombings. After drive-by shootings. He did this, they all said, quietly, repeatedly and long after flashes of pain had started to cool.
Coakley, who’d already pissed off most Massachusetts Democrats when her lackluster, arrogant campaign to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in 2010 resulted in a win for Republican Scott Brown, reminded voters of her character after their votes had been cast. She refused to concede to winner Charlie Baker, which, as he said, was her right until all the votes were counted, then she ignored the volunteers who’d spent months trying to get her elected. She just went home. She apparently couldn’t be bothered to even throw a partially gnawed on fragment of a bone along the lines of thank you for your time and passion, but we’re waiting until morning to concede or I’m sorry I can’t give you the answers you want, but I love you. Not even a display of genuine frustration, whatever that might look like. No graciousness. No manners. Nothing.
This isn’t to say that Menino was perfect. Besides being big-hearted and apparently friendlier than a New Englander has the right to be, he was also legendarily fierce. In an unpleasant way, a don’t-cross-me-or-else way. He may have even been disliked by many people at many times. Folks loved him anyway.
That’s probably because he did the right thing. More often than he did wrong? Just as frequently? The answers to those questions can’t be tallied as easily as all the votes he won and Martha lost. But we know that he treated humans as they want to be treated enough times to win him the rarely bestowed title of Good Politician.
Martha? Well, the results of both of her failed bids for political queenships write that coda. However skilled she may have been as attorney general or however effective she would have been as senator or governor, her behavior on election night solidifies a reputation that wasn’t so hot to begin with. She’s not that likable. Now we have an (another) idea why.
There’s a lesson here for politicians, to be sure, but also for the rest of us. It’s pretty much the message our elders have been trying to shove down our throats for eternity: Be nice.
People respond to kindness and decency even if it’s mixed with a bit of rancor. People will line up for miles to watch your hearse drive by if you give a hoot about them when you’re alive. People, even if they hope so bad that their instincts are wrong because they really want a female governor and they really wanted a Democratic senator and they felt really bad about your brother’s suicide, can sniff out jerks.
Every time a politician is admirably good or shamefully bad, people remember. Even more than laws passed and promises broken, voters remember actions.
Be nice. Do the right thing. Care.
Keep these tips in mind, Charlie Baker. Work on your manners, Martha Coakley. People are watching.
Susan Kushner Resnick is a Massachusetts voter and Brown University writing professor.
Tags: Boston, Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley, Massachusetts, politics, Tom Menino