The Deep Rot of the Massachusetts Democratic Party

In the 4th District, a young Jake Auchincloss—with the help of his mother’s expansive donor network, forged through her role as head of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and her cozy relationship to The Boston Globe—won Congressman Joe Kennedy’s former seat. Prior to his electoral victory, Auchincloss worked for Baker; he is viewed by progressives in the state as little better than a Republican in Democrat’s clothing. Recent additions to the state delegation, such as Seth Moulton and Lori Trahan, offer policies similar to their moderate Democratic colleagues in competitive Southern and Midwestern districts, albeit polished with a progressive sheen to reflect Massachusetts’s bleeding heart facade.

As Ezra Klein observed in relation to California last week, “progressive” states are often fraught with contradictions between the superficial image promulgated by the national media and the economic and social realities on the ground. The lack of attention afforded to these contradictions allows for the further erosion of progressive institutions in the very states that claim to be their champions. With Republican state legislatures in states like Arizona and Texas weaponizing Trump’s legacy to pass increasingly right-wingand increasingly cravenpolicies, Massachusetts has failed to offer a rejoinder. No one seems to notice that despite being plastered with “RESIST” yard signs, the state is devoid of inspiration when it comes to developing a policy response to the rise of the far right.

During his second term as a state representative, Ed Markey fought for legislation to end part-time district court judgeships in Massachusetts and, by extension, the cycle of corruption whereby judges curried favor with the politicians who appointed them through the private practices they were allowed to maintain. In an episode that could easily have played out today given the perpetuation of concentrated power in the hands of the House speaker, Markey was stripped of his seat on the Judiciary Committee, his desk literally thrown out into the hall. As he then quipped, “The bosses may tell me where to sit, but nobody tells me where to stand.”

To transform Massachusetts into the progressive beacon it’s often mistaken for, Markey and his fellow progressives will have to break from the tradition of supporting incumbents at all costs, especially when they categorically oppose the most basic tenets of the progressive agenda. Like-minded liberals must support the same challenge to the status quo that Markey mounted in 1976, spending equal time fighting for left-wing legislation in Washington and energizing grassroots movements back home. During his 2020 campaign, Markey flipped the Kennedy script, declaring in his most celebrated ad, “With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.” The joke landed, and Markey won a mandate with a 10-point victory. What Massachusetts is doing for its residents, however, remains unclear.

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