Reflections on 2012: General Education and the Boston Red Sox

( – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)

NB: I intend this only as a starting point for further thoughts. More to come in the next couple weeks.

Tuesday was the last day of my first general election campaign as the GOP state committeeman for Middlesex and Suffolk. Needless to say, our party’s loss of a US Senator, a Governor’s Councilor, and 4 seats in the state House did not make for a pleasant night. Many candidates we all knew and liked lost, some very narrowly, others by surprisingly wide margins. I’ve spent much of my time since Tuesday, as I’m sure many others have, trying to figure out what happened, and I’m left with two main thoughts, both prompted by a recent anecdote.

For the past two and a half years, I’ve served on Harvard’s Committee on General Education (GenEd), a group of faculty and students responsible for overseeing what amounts to Harvard’s program of distribution requirements (though it’s set up to be something more.) Recently, we discussed the problem of communicating our vision of the program to other faculty and students, especially since many of us were frustrated at how little both the broad intentions and specific goals of the program seemed to be understood. One professor made a very crucial point: the dozen or so of us sitting in the room were there for a reason, namely that we all had a rough understanding of, and believed in, the goals of the program. It was obvious to us why GenEd was valuable; the challenge was to get others to see as we did. She suggested that the key to resolving this problem was to (try to) recall what had convinced us in the first place: how had we viewed the program initially, and what had converted us to the ranks of the believers?

It seems to me that her advice is spot-on for those of us in the MassGOP. Those of us who are out there, whether running for office, volunteering for candidates, or both, already get it: we know why Scott Brown would make a better senator than Elizabeth Warren, why Richard Tisei is much superior to John Tierney, why despicable liars like Denise Andrews should be replaced by honorable public servants such as Susannah Whipps Lee. What we evidently have failed to get is why so few of our fellow Bay Staters have reached a similar understanding.

One approach is that taken by Howie Carr and Holly Robichaud in Wednesday’s Boston Herald,1 and by countless others in my Facebook news feed and my Twitter stream: blame the voters, for if they can’t figure it out, they’re just too stupid to know what’s best for them. Even if this is true, and I doubt that it is, it is an utterly unproductive way of thinking. “You’re too dumb to have voted for my candidate” is not the slogan of a healthy party. However frustrated we may be at voters’ sometimes limitless-seeming toleration for criminal and incompetent Democratic politicians, we cannot blame the voters if we hope for increased future success. We must figure out what prevents our fellow Bay Staters from seeing the world as we do, and I think it would prove fruitful to start by trying to remember how we saw the world before we saw it as we do now. It is, after all, not enough to know how to present an argument; it is equally important, if not more so, to understand how it will be received. To be sure, this is only the beginning, and not everyone will be persuadable. But if we don’t believe that at least some are, we’re probably better off watching more of the Sox or Pats (or Celtics or Bruins!) every year anyway.

The mention of our beloved Red Sox brings me, at long last, to my second point. I should mention, for those of you who don’t know me, that I’m the youngest member of the state committee; I only turned 21 this past August. Thus in the realms of both politics and sports, I’ve gotten spoiled by success: Boston pro sports teams have won 7 titles in my lifetime; I was only 13 before I watched the Red Sox break the Curse. I also cast my first vote in Massachusetts for Scott Brown in the 2010 special election. This has gotten me used to winning, which, especially after similar ill fortune befell the Red Sox and Republicans this year, I must say I like a lot better than losing.

When trudging back to South Station at 11 pm on Election Night, I (not terribly seriously) asked my friend whether this was what it usually felt like. I found his reply telling: “Yeah — we expect to lose, just like we expect the Red Sox to lose.” Granted, we live in Cambridge, where Scott Brown lost in 2010 and 2012 by 69%, but I fear his comment is generally applicable. Though it’s understandable, it seems we are a party that, in many ways, does not believe we can win: during the past cycle, for instance, we failed to contest 4 of the 5 most Republican Senate districts in the Commonwealth (including the top 2), as well as an overall majority of seats in both houses of the General Court.  I fear, too, that this is in part the product of having spent far too long buried deep in the minority. All of our legislators, whether they’ve served for two or twenty years, have served our state, their constituents, and the GOP honorably, but I worry that the decades of being buried deep in the minority have done great harm to their belief in the possibility of victory and the value of providing a distinct alternative. Sooner or later, and my preference would be the former, those who have led others in fighting the good fight seemingly in vain for so many years must give way to a new generation imbued with hope of victory, just as the end of futility at Fenway came only when new blood replaced old on the highest rungs of the Yawkey Way ladder.

I do not mean to deflect blame by writing this. I take full responsibility for my role as a member of the state committee in the defeats we suffered this week. I know full well how much more I could have done, and I apologize for failing in that regard. Indeed, I suspect that only begins to scratch the surface of what is ultimately possible, even in my deep-blue district. Moreover, we are a conservative party, and a conservative party must always have room for voices of wisdom borne from experience. We must also, however, recognize the constancy of change, and the power of harnessing the energy of those who don’t know what “impossible” or “pointless.”

Twenty-two years ago, a swing of less than 15,000 votes in 5 districts would have given our party control of the Massachusetts Senate. If we want to return to and surpass that point, if we want to double and then triple our 2010 gains in the state House, if we want to elect our first congressman in 20 years and our first governor in 12 years, we must not yield to the temptation of blaming the voters, but instead focus on ourselves, and how we can help others see what has long since been obvious to us. We must also, if not immediately, then soon, begin the process of transitioning to the new generation of leadership, one less laden down with the baggage of the past and more trusting in the possibility of ultimate success.

“If you always do what you’ve always done,” the saying goes, “then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” If we wish to avoid the “then,” we must render the “if” false. I certainly would not dare suggest a path to lasting relevance — ideas, for one thing, and better-targeted messaging are far too important, as are a host of other issues. But I do believe that the two steps I’ve outlined here represent a good place to start.

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Reflections on 2012: General Education and the Boston Red Sox

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