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Gerard F. Doherty '52 has a problem. He is chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, and his party is in trouble.
Last year, despite the Johnson landslide, a massive fund raising campaign, and a 700,000 bulge in registration, the Democrats somehow contrived to lose the state's three most important constitutional offices. Next year they will probably do even worse.
Doherty tries hard to belittle the Republican surge in Massachusetts. He says of Governor Volpe, "He'll be buried when people go to the store and find out that they have to pay his tax." Of the leaders of the "new" Republicanism, "They remind me of Dwight Eisenhower." Of Attorney General Brooke, "I will do many great things, what they are I know not."
As chairman of the State Committee, Doherty is supposed to avoid criticizing his party or its leaders. But the sting of last year's defeats has left him so bitter that he cannot remain alert. Remembering the ruinous interparty squabbling of the past, such as last year's Bellotti-Peabody fiasco, he blames the Democrats' failures on their lack of party discipline. If Bellotti had run for reelection as lieutenant governor, instead of challenging his own incumbent governor, both would have won impressive victories, according to Doherty.
As it was, vitally needed funds were siphoned off from the general election into the primary, diehard Peabody partisans refused to support Bellotti against his Republican opponent, and the accusations that one Democrat had hurled against another provided Governor Volpe with all the ammunition he needed for a winning campaign.
Next year bitter primary fights will almost certainly weaken the party's chances in contests for attorney general, senator, and governor. Not since the legendary strong-man leadership of the late Governor Paul Dever has the party been spared from ruinous infighting.
This same lack of discipline, Doherty insists, has also been the cause of the widespread corruption which the average voter has come to associate with the Democratic party. When candidates are forced to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars themselves, they must make promises which leave them vulnerable to pressure and bribery. According to Doherty, lack of interparty discipline can result in only two possible outcomes: a party of millionaires or a party of crooks and clowns. The ideal alternative is the system now in use in Indiana in which the party itself raises the campaign funds, and the danger of a candidate being bought is alleviated.
Doherty's pleas for unity are far from a complete answer to his party's problems, and it is hard to believe that such an experienced politician could be so superficial in his analysis. For, in addition to its perennial power struggles, the weakness of the Democratic party under Doherty may be traced to a breakdown in performance, a dearth of exciting candidates, and the unwillingness of Senator Kennedy to provide the leadership that is so desperately needed.
The failures of the state's Democrats have included their unwillingness to aid Boston, to follow the principle of home rule, to support metropolitan planning, to exercise restraint in doling out patronage plums, or to pay for the costly programs they have supported.
The most recent example of this meager performance record was, of course, the irresponsible (and ultimately ineffective) opposition of the Democratic majority in the General Court to the Governor's sales tax plan. In the House, Majority Leader John F.X. Davoren (D-Milford) pledged to oppose the sales tax, but offered no reasonable alternative. In the Senate, President Maurice Donahue (D-Holyoke) continued to oppose the measure until long after all of the substitute measures had been killed. By the end of the battle, almost half of Donahue's supporters, disillusioned with his delaying tactics, deserted him. The image of the party that has emerged is one of an ineffectual band of obstructionists.
The Democrats under Doherty are also suffering from their failure to offer the public fresh, young candidates. Next year, for example, they will be offering such old party workhorses as Endicott Peabody '42, Edward J. McCormack, Francis X. Bellotti, and Foster Furcolo. All were defeated in their last bids for public office, and some of them have lost more elections than they've won. In addition, such hacks as Francis E. Kelley ("a lightbulb for every housewife") and Pasquale Caggiano ("I been robbed") will undoubtedly decide to run for something and discredit their party still further.
One man alone could solve most of these problems if he were willing. He is Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54, to whom Doherty and most of the other party leaders look for leadership.
Tragically, this leadership has not been forth-coming. It is estimated that Kennedy controls over 800 votes at the Democratic preprimary convention; if he were to use these votes and his well-known fund-raising ability wisely, he could, like Governor Dever before him, insure that the Democratic party goes into every election united behind its strongest possible ticket. And yet, whether from fear that his image will be damaged or that some of his supporters will leave him, he has refused to mix in state politics. His party has suffered as a result.
Doherty probably understands the extent and the causes of his party's problem much better than he lets on. But the nature of his position does not allow him to speak out. As chairman of the State Committee, he must be prepared to work closely with whatever candidates emerge from the primaries; and as chief party fund-raiser, he can show partiality towards none. Above all, he cannot afford to offend Senator Kennedy, who proved conclusively in his 1962 battle with McCormack that he has the power to make or break almost any state Democrat at will.
As a result Doherty can do little more than mouth pious phrases about the "vitality" of the Democratic party or about "John Kennedy passing on the torch." But Doherty's words belie his thoughts. He knows that he has a problem, and he has some ideas about how to meet it. Unfortunately, he may never be given a chance.
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