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JUST two years after Gov. Michael S. Dukakis rode the "Massachusetts Miracle" to the Democratic presidential nomination, the outcome of the Commonwealth's race for governor rests on which candidate can capitalize most on the Massachusetts Debacle. Over the last 24 months, the state budget has plunged into the red, more than 100,000 jobs have left the Commonwealth, and poverty and unemployment rates are on the rise. It is a crisis of more than economic proportions. Massachusetts voters--who have voted against virtually every incumbent for statewide office thus far--feel betrayed by their political system. First and foremost, the next governor must repair that broken trust by steering the statehouse through the untested economic and political waters ahead.
It is a task that requires more than "tough talk," the kind that Democratic nominee John Silber has spewed forth on a variety of issues. It is a task that requires an ability to manage a complicated political system, forge consensus around a budget, all while not alienating key groups and remaining free from the entrenched interests on Beacon Hill. Of the two candidates who stand a chance of winning the election, only Republican William F. Weld '66 possesses that ability. We endorse Weld for governor and his running-mate Paul Cellucci for lieutenant governor.
MANY disenchanted Massachusetts voters see "straight shooting" Silber as the remedy for a diseased political system that has lost touch with the people. According to this line of reasoning, Silber's penchant for telling it like it is--and his experience running a large University--make him the kind of "outsider" needed to lead the state through economic crisis.
But this argument mistakes a symbol of an "outsider"--offending people--for the concrete ability to change the system. As president of Boston University, Silber forged close ties with political insiders such as Senate President William Bulger and the established business elite of the city. In a number of questionable deals involving investment in the companies owned by Boston University trustees, Silber may have used those connections for personal enrichment. Never once in his tenure did he publicly oppose inside dealings and corruption.
Silber's business management of Boston University is also questionable. He managed the school's fantastic explosion by tripling tuition. Silber's political strategy for his expansion plan could be easily described as authoritarian; using secret police-like tactics, he cracked down on student protestors and tried to squelch student free speech. In his drive for power consolidation, Silber alienated students, faculty and staff at Boston University and created an atmosphere of intimidation that prompted several prominent scholars to resign their posts. Such an
The real way to change the system of government in Massachusetts is to reinvigorate the two-party system. A victory for Weld will force both parties--but particularly the Democrats--to reform. It will also put into office a person who has proven through his actions (and not just through shocking statements) that he will not be pushed around by wasteful and corrupt dealings. Weld's resignation from the attorney general's office in protest of his boss Edwin Meese's misconduct is a more appropriate "outsider" image than Silber's offending large chunks of the electorate.
AND offend them Silber has. On many key issues, Silber has made inflammatory statements that represent less realistic and thoughtful positions than Weld's. Some see these Silber Shockers, as these outbursts have been called, as proof of his honesty on tough issues. If obnoxiousness is the new measuring stick for political leadership, perhaps Massachusetts voters should just write in Morton Downey Jr. We see Silber's statements from a different perspective--as revealing outdated and even bigoted attitudes, evident from his actions as well as his words.
Some of the most recent Shockers:
. "We have a generation of abused children, by women who have thought that a third-rate day care center was just as good as a first-rate home." Not only did this statement show Silber's ignorance of the composition of the workforce and the financial necessity that forces many women to work, it is indicative of Silber's cavalier and offensive attitude toward women's concerns.
Silber's support of abortion rights is lukewarm at best--he believes a woman should have to inform her husband before she gets an abortion, and once referred to abortion as "homicide." And his conviction that the English Department of B.U. was a "damn matriarchy" (six of 23 professors were women) is just ugly sexism. Weld's positions, in contrast, have earned the support of women's groups.
. "Beavers have been making wetlands on a daily basis, and there is no reason why some of these wetlands can't be used for other things, such as parking lots or shopping centers." Silber may have been joking (although he rarely does) when he reportedly made this statement that justifies trading acres of natural resources for inches of chewed lumber. But more likely, he was just reinforcing his opposition to a host of environmental initiatives--such as key recycling legislation sponsored by Weld.
Previous Silber Shockers include his assertion that so many Cambodian immigrants live in Lowell because Massachusetts' welfare policies are too generous and his claim that giving a speech on drug abuse in Roxbury would be equivalent to talking to a bunch of drug addicts. If these comments reflect "straight shooting" Silber's true feelings--as his backers claim--then his true feelings do not belong on Beacon Hill.
WE are admittedly disappointed with some of Weld's positions. We find his opposition to the gay rights bill very unfortunate. His plan to cut Medicaid costs by throwing new Massachusetts residents off the roles is heartless and counterproductive; the state will be forced to pay higher costs after the people do become residents. We disagree with his support of the death penalty, and his backing Question 3 shows a disregard for local aid and state programs--or, more likely, an unwillingness to take a principled stand against a popular sentiment that he knows to be wrong.
But these issues aren't the most relevant for the current campaign. Weld has promised not to work to repeal the gay rights law (and has won the support of area gay rights groups); the state legislature can mediate his attacks on state aid to the impoverished; and Question 3 will be decided by an independent ballot initiative. Weld's worst attributes will be counterbalanced by a Democratic state legislature.
What matters most for the election at hand is who has the skills and demeanor to bring back confidence in government. In the last gubernatorial debate, Silber compared 1990 to 1776, and said the Massachusetts voters are angry now like they were then. He was right. But the solution in both cases is the same--a healthy democratic state, free from political intimidation and ruled by spirited compromise.
In 1776, the analog to John Silber wasn't Samuel Adams.
It was King George III.
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