Here And Sphere: Respecting Opinions Other Than Your Own
Jun 20, 2017 04:41PM ● Published by Mike Freedberg
Gov. Charlie Baker
Gallery: Charlie Baker [1 Image] Click any image to expand.
At a recent East Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Governor Baker gave the keynote speech. He spoke, of course, about what his administration has done, and is still doing, to reform Massachusetts government; but the words that most impressed upon me were these : “if you ant to get things done, you have to listen to opinions other than your own.”
Listen to them, and take them into account. Government — and politics generally — cannot work if people of differing opinions block each other out. As we all know, blocking has been all too common these past several years. People shout at each other; everybody is convinced that he is right and that the world will come to an end if those who are wrong win out. Worse, there exists an entire world of media enterprises which profit from shouting at others and tuning them out. These businesses — my cousin Chris calls them “hate profiteers” — amass fans, far too many fans, who feel good ranting bile at those who differ from them.
Even before the tragic shooting, barely a week ago, of a Congressman and staffers at a Congressional baseball practice, many political leaders had begun to change the message — to listen to those with opinions different from theirs. Senator Elizabeth Warren took the lead getting a confirmation vote for her former opponent Scott Brown, nominated to be ambassador to New Zealand, and voting yes to confirm him; and Scott Brown publicly thanked her for doing so. And yes, this is Massachusetts; it’s how we do.
We do this not because we’re better than other Americans but because the agents of demonization don’t control of our politics. Most of the inflammatory media aren’t programmed on Massachusetts radio, and almost no demonization money flows through super PACs into Massachusetts campaigns. Why would it ? Something like eighty percent of our voters agree on the most inflammatory issues, and we haven’t any kind of competitive two-party politics in place to change that. Our Democratic party isn’t really a party in the usual sense — it’s simply everybody who ants to win elections — and our Republican party, at barely eleven percent of our voters, is far too small to contest said “Democratic” monopoly; and the one thing our Republican party does do — elect a Governor — is done in a non-partisan manner, electing a sort of referee who negotiates reforms with various segments of the “Democrats” who control super majorities in our legislature. This system, unique in American politics, as worked well for 27 years now, since the election if Bill Weld as Governor in 1990.
This system was fairly easy to operate in the years before mutual demonization became the political norm a decade ago. Much less simple is it today, as Massachusetts pursues consensus governance while all around us rancor and partisanship rule. Nor is the baker observation true only of him. His method, of respecting and learning from opinions other than his own would be dead on arrival if it were not also the operating principle by which the rest of our elected leaders live. Almost all of the reforms that Baker has initiated have won unanimous, or almost unanimous, support vin the legislature. Three state budgets with no new taxes and no new fees all were adopted unanimously : “progressives” voted for them, as did right wing Republicans.
Divisive issues remain, and there are political forces at work bringing them forward. I think of the two-tier tax initiative that will appear on the 2018 ballot. Another such issue is the “sanctuary state” movement seeking to place Massachusetts in opposition to President Trump’s aggressive immigration police. Many advocates involved in these campaigns use them to force Governor Baker out of the consensus groove that has made him the state’s most popular politician; yet I doubt they will succeed. Baker knows that the two-tier tax question has broad support, and that his best response is to make sure that the money it seeks for education and transportation actually get allocated to these, and not to some other legislative priority. He also knows that the voters will support the tax question only for these purposes, and that those who are using the two tier tax idea to put him on the defensive misjudge voter sentiment.
As for the “safe communities” issue, Baker has never wavered from his middle position: that it’s a question not for the state as a whole but for each of our 351 towns and cities to decide; and while I favor the statewide view, I concede Baker’s point. Sanctuary has been a very divisive issue in some of our communities, and putting it to the entire state, by some sort of legislation, would needlessly fracture the state’s political peace. It’s not enough just to listen to opinion s other than one’s own, or to take them into account; there has to be a willingness to take this road, and the willingness has to come of its own accord, and not by an imposed political move. I think the Governor’s saying so, in a major speech, and demonstrating its successes in state reform, can have the persuasive power that will move our state in the consensus direction that other states — and the nation — are beginning to realize works better than angry accusation and fearful condemnation.
(Mike Freedberg is a political consultant and the Editor-in-Chief of Here and Sphere. His other writings can be found here.)