I've been thinking a lot lately of Senator Ted Kennedy's speeches from 1994. The polls looked horrid for Democrats in that year's congressional elections, and their candidates were running scared. Kennedy toured the nation addressing state and county party leaders, imploring them it was no time to run just a focused group's breathe to the left of their opponents. He exhorted campaigns to take off their gloves, stand up for their principles, and in turn the voters would stand up for them. His advice went largely unheeded. Many campaign's concerns were not entirely unfounded. When a small group of special interests fund the campaigns of both parties, as well as the media which provides most of us with our images of them, serving the interests of the people when they are in conflict with the interests of these financiers is not for the faint of heart. It could require several cycles of electoral defeat before people understood the new dynamic.
When I consider the results from last night's election, Republican Scott Brown's defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley to serve the balance of Kennedy's term, I wonder if nationally Democratic candidates will become more timid and cowering in the face of corporate interests, wheather our public debate will run a gamut beyond A to B, and where it all leads.
Early in the evening I had several fares who had come to Boston from Washington DC. In the course of conversation they identified themselves as Republicans who had once worked here and had moved on to other things. Not a good omen, but I took heart from my own neighborhood's high turn-out of voters, thinking it would aid Coakley's chances. That was until 8:05 PM, five minutes after the polls closed, when NPR reported a 40% turn-out in the suburbs and a 30% turn-out in the state's urban areas. From then on, as results trickled in, Coakley's odds grew worse.
Any cabbie in search of fares knows to play the losing campaign first.
I pulled in front of Coakley's headquarters at the Boston Sheraton beyond a bevy of satellite news trucks. 'If it bleeds, it leads', I thought to myself, as the party was hemorraging hope and guests.
I grabbed several fares and kept returning.
At 9:34 a black Chevy Tahoe Hybrid with Senator John Kerry in the passenger seat paused by my cab. His long face looked longer than usual, with two fingers to his temple and a countenance of disbelief.
A Hispanic girl entered my cab the next moment. I pointed to Kerry's vehicle, telling her he'd just arrived. Struggling to speak English, she told me she didn't know who he was. She was the coat check girl for Coakley's event, but as guests were leaving before removing their coats, she explained, she was being sent to the function at the Park Plaza, where Brown's campaign was headquartered.
I dropped her at the rear entrance to the Plaza, beyond another series of satellite trucks, and returned again to the Sheraton with my radio on and heard Coakley begin her concession speech.
In a moment I had another Sheraton fare. He entered the cab, begining the ritual of hello's and destination, which he suddenly dispensed upon hearing Coakley on my radio.
"The other hotel," he said curtly as he threw himself down into the back seat.
"Are you with the media?" I asked.
"I'm representing the British government," he replied.
"I guess you're stuck with whoever we throw at you," I laughed.
"I thought I would be at the victor's party here," he said somewhat sullenly.
"So did I," I replied, "Until 8:05."
We continued to the Plaza discussing the race's implications for the future, and I probably became more bitter than I should have.
He wondered wheather he'd hear Brown's victory speech. I told him, as the hour hadn't yet reached 11:00 and Coakley was still conceeding, it was tradition for the victor to wait. He'd be sure to hear it.
As he exited the cab, I cautioned, "Don't eat too much at the buffet," adding, "It might not be easy on a full stomache." Oh- well.
I returned for the last time to the Sheraton, to find a long line of cabs waiting for guests who had already departed. I knew the new hotbed for fares would now be the Plaza, and began an empty cruise back.
As I approached the area, I could see the growing throngs of Brown enthusiasts filling the streets. I knew they had earned their night of joy and triumph, but couldn't trust myself to hold my tongue in the midst of it.
I headed off for another neighborhood and resigned myself to a night of diminishing returns. And I thought back on the senator who'd served us from 1962 to 2009, knowing, after today, I'd miss him just a little more.