BOSTON—Abandoned. Used and abused. Thrown under the bus. Stomped upon for political convenience, then left behind like worthless electoral baggage.
And the contempt isn’t just palpable in the state that knows him best; it’s more like an alternate-universe episode of Cheers — where everybody knows his name. And they’re never glad he came.
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Yet Romney, should he win the White House on Nov. 6, won’t just get the last laugh in the land of the Kennedys. The triumph inside his election-night headquarters at the Boston Convention Centre will be ringed by a doughnut of disdain for the first president in more than 50 years to claim victory while losing at home. Badly.
It will be an even rarer double-whammy if Romney wins the presidency while also losing lose his birth state, Michigan, as projected — a feat unmatched since 1844, when Democrat James Polk took the White House despite losing his native North Carolina and his resident state of Tennessee.
Indeed, Massachusetts appears to be saving a special place in hell for Romney, with polls suggesting he will lose here to Obama by about 20 percentage points.
No other state bears the Republican standard-bearer such ill will. Which leaves many of America’s political observers wondering whether the Democrats are leaving something profound on the table in all but ignoring Romney’s home state blues.
“It’s remarkable that Democrats have not made more of this,” said Robert McElvaine, a Millsaps College history professor who first documented the Massachusetts gap in a Politico article titled “Un-favourite Son.”
one in a line of GOP governors, including former Paul Cellucci, who went on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Canada. And the very specific anti-Romney sentiment is evident in how he has fallen off the Massachusetts radar even as the state’s best-known Republican senator, Scott Brown, is still in a very competitive race against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Everyday Bostonians and the state’s close political watchers alike say the depth of the enmity is cumulative. It began long ago, and only worsened because Romney didn’t just run for president so much as run from Massachusetts.
“It’s reminiscent of what Sarah Palin did in Alaska. Midway through his term as governor he lost all interest in Massachusetts and set his sights on the presidency,” said longtime Democratic activist Richard Hall, a community development consultant steeped in Massachusetts politics.
“And so, for the last two years, he was a governor in absentia, flying around the country to attend conservative junkets, shifting his positions. He had his ‘epiphany,’ switching from pro-choice to pro-life on abortion. And, worst of all, that’s when he began insulting Massachusetts — ridiculing us to expand his national appeal.”
That perception sets him apart from the likes of Sen. Scott Brown, who even if he proves not to be Boston’s cup of tea, is still very much regarded as a New England patriot, a born-and-bred politician who truly loves his state.
Ruth Balser, a seven-term Democratic state representative from Newton, Mass., said the home-state resentment metastasized into something far more bitter in 2012 when Romney began trashing his signature accomplishment — the Massachusetts health-care overhaul many regard as the forerunner to Obamacare.
Balser herself wasn’t surprised. What loyal Democrats elsewhere call Romney’s political flip-flops, she considers triple-axel political pirouettes worthy of Olympic gold.
“Long before Romney had his ‘epiphany’ on abortion, even before he ran in Massachusetts, there was talk he might run for governor in Utah — on a pro-life platform,” remembers Balser.
“In the end, he decided his chances were better in Massachusetts, where he had to be pro-choice to win,” she said.
“It’s the same with health care. He helped create a model for the nation in truly bipartisan fashion and then proceeded to trash it. And now he’s turning a third time, trying to sound in these final weeks like the moderate Republican.
“We admire and respect plenty of Republicans. But if you make fun of Massachusetts, if you wear whatever political clothes are in season, it’s just the sheer opportunism that rankles. It’s the way you used our state — nobody likes to feel used.”
Boston author Sally McGinty, an educational consultant and former Harvard faculty member, suggests the numbers driving Romney down in Massachusetts are symptomatic of a larger malaise affecting that shrinking constituency known as moderate Republicans.
McGinty used to consider herself one, pointing proudly to her past support of Ronald Reagan. But as “Tea Party forces” take greater hold on the party’s centre, she feels increasingly isolated.
“Romney was a very successful business person and that’s a positive way to begin as Massachusetts governor. I’m an in-town Bostonian, but I’m originally from the New York area, where being Republican wasn’t a despicable thing — it represented a reasonable-minded position,” said McGinty.
“But today, in order to have a Republican affiliation, people are required to talk seriously about insane candidates like Michelle Bachmann. And to me Romney is a part of that shiftiness, to the point where I don’t have a sense of who we’ll really get as president if we elect him.”
McGinty doesn’t wear rose-coloured glasses when it comes to Romney’s Massachusetts health-care overhaul. “It seems to work, but it might be too expensive for the state to sustain.
“But for me, I just can’t bear the thought that Romney will be spending the next four years trying to take it apart rather than spending his efforts to make health care work. It might be the electable answer, but it’s very troubling.”
Balser and others describe the vetoes — nearly 800 in all — that Romney wielded during his governorship as evidence that puts the lie to his campaign’s bipartisan claims.
“The one I was most closely involved in was Romney’s rejection of funding for kosher meals in nursing homes. It applied to only a few hundred people; there wasn’t a huge amount of money involved,” Balser said.
“We saw it as a question of religious freedom and appealed to Romney on that basis, thinking he would surely come around. But his veto stood — and we eventually were able to use the Massachusetts supermajority to overturn his decision.”
With Romney now polling strongly against Obama, many in Massachusetts now are bracing for the New England equivalent of political vertigo — that nine nights from now, Romney will stroll up to the microphone in Boston as president-elect. And it will be Massachusetts that launched him on America.
“I recognize it intellectually. But I’m not braced for it, emotionally. I feel that now it’s all in the hands of low-information voters — political ignoramuses. I want to say shame on them — and shame that our politics feels it has to cater to them,” said Hall.
“I truly can’t stand Romney. I still feel he’s unsalable. And I remain an optimist, despite my jaded cynicism, that the American people are better than this. We’re not going to elect him.”
And if Massachusetts is wrong? What sort of Romney does he expect America will get?
“I’ve been thinking about that more and more,” said Hall. “He seems to have no core beliefs, but you can’t be alive for 65 years and not stand for anything, right?
“I do think Romney is basically a centrist at heart. If he’s forced to confront the question on his deathbed, that’s probably how he would call it.
“So we would be looking at a more conservative president than Barack Obama, but one who will adapt to his surroundings. Look at the way he turned chameleon in the presidential debates — that gives you a clue.”
But even Hall is able to swallow the bitterness and get his head around the notion that Massachusetts will survive a Romney presidency, should it materialize.
“I think this country, as screwed up as it may appear to someone from Canada, is still too strong and stable to be upended by any one individual,” said Hall.
“Our system is designed to weed out the clowns. And now all the clowns — and there were many — have fallen by the wayside. Whatever Romney is, he’s not a clown.
“He’s not morally despicable — he’s intellectually despicable, in my opinion. But the country would survive Mitt Romney, even if it’s a long and unpleasant four years.”
Massachusetts, Hall reminds us, does not take these matters lightly. This is a state where “only two things matter — politics and sport. And politics as played like a blood sport. We export political operatives around the country. It’s ingrained in our DNA like nowhere else.”
When Romney first ran for governor in 2002, said Hall, a rare opening was apparent. The Democratic state house was in disarray, with the public mood swinging against a party that had enjoyed too free a reign for too long.
Romney “adroitly” seized the moment, said Hall, with a campaign that labelled his opponent, then State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien, as part of the worst of the Democratic old guard — the so-called “Beacon Hill triumvirate.”
“Every speech, every debate, he just hammered and hammered and hammered. It was a boring, soul-crushing campaign — and the whole time the press was trying to find ways of describing this strange animal called Romney,” said Hall.
“He didn’t follow any mould seen before. You had the wonky guys like Michael Dukakis. You had the old Irish-Italians with their own brand, reaching out to the blue-collar union guys.
“But Romney wasn’t any of these things. And the press ended up with the words that hold to this day. ‘Wooden, stiff, awkward.’ Finally someone seized on ‘robotic’ and that became the word — a robotic candidate citing the same things over and over again. People didn’t take him seriously. But we were wrong and he was right — he won.”
Mother’s little helper? Moms who use marijuana to take the edge off say they’re tired of being looked down upon by the Mommy Wine Brigade.
By Corey Binns
Every night, Margaret’s two boys fly into the house after sports practice and flip on the TV, while she races to the kitchen to get dinner cooking. “It’s that tedious witching hour when I feel incredibly frazzled,” says the Tennessee singer/songwriter mom of a 6- and an 8-year-old. But instead of pouring herself a glass or two of merlot, she heads to the standalone garage next to their house for a few puffs of Humboldt Kush, one of the four strains of pot she smokes seven days a week.
The drug helps her keep focus on the giant statue of popsicle sticks she’s building with her kids and relaxes her so she can get through the rest of the night without stressing. “It can make folding a pile of laundry fun,” says Margaret, 45, who asked that we not use her last name for fear of getting in trouble with the law. “If I didn’t smoke, that’d be three piles later in the week.”
Still, she doesn’t flaunt her marijuana use. Her sons aren’t allowed to go into the room where she keeps the drugs locked up, and she hides it from other moms who would keep their kids away if they knew she smoked pot.
“Being judged for doing something nontoxic and totally organic, enjoying a god-given plant, by moms who suck back two bottles of Chardonnay like sports drinks feels like s—,” complains Margaret. “Any hypocrisy is hard to swallow. A drunk mother is pathetic and I often leave parties when I experience other mothers tying one on.”
Margaret isn’t the only pot-smoking mom tired of being judged by moms who religiously drink glasses of wine or “mommy juice.” Recently, one mom stirred up some controversy when she admitted to parenting while stoned in an essay on Jezebel.com. Today, the group Moms for Marijuana International has more than 18,000 likes on Facebook.
“No matter what you use, you shouldn’t be judged if it works for you, you’re productive, and you do no harm,” says Diane Fornbacher, co-vice chair of the Women’s Alliance at NORML, the non-profit lobbying organization working to legalize marijuana. “Marijuana parents aren’t perfect, but they’re far less imperfect than parents who use alcohol irresponsibly. Cannabis can influence people to be nicer to one another. You rarely find a story that says two stoners beat each other up outside of a bar.”
Sharon Letts, a California mom who brewed Cannabis tea for her 16-year-old daughter when she was stricken with pain from fibromyalgia, agrees. “Cannabis takes the edge off your day, in the same way wine does. But it’s not addictive, it is habitual. It doesn’t ruin your body like alcohol. I would much rather see parents using cannabis than alcohol — hands down.”
Of course, pot is illegal and alcohol is legal. Letts and her daughter felt paranoid that the tea’s smell would alert their neighbors. The price for getting caught is high. In some states, moms risk getting arrested and incarcerated, as well as having their kids taken away from them.
“If I wanted to, I could sit with a glass of wine in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, with a cigarette pressed between my lips, under the influence of prescription narcotics — all the while holding my child in my lap,” says Serra Frank, founding director of Moms for Marijuana and mother of two, ages 9 and 12.