At the Democratic Candidates’ Forum last night at Framingham State it wasn’t exactly a debate. It was more along the lines of a pageant contest. Each was given his or her turn to answer the same question with little or no challenge, argument, or counter argument among the contestants themselves. More than once it was acknowledged that all of these candidates were saying the same thing about the policies they’d champion, the fights they’d fight. We in the audience were left to judge on style and approach more than points of argument or policy.
The telling moment in the contest for me came with a pair of questions, the moderator, John Walsh posited to the candidates. First he joked that he had been texting with John Boehner and the Speaker had agreed to a $50 billion dollar earmark as a ‘Welcome to Congress’ present for whoever turned out to be the winning candidate. Walsh posed to each —how would you spend it? The answers ranged from infrastucture to education, to green energy, the full sampler of liberal pets. When they’d each spent their coin, Walsh followed up with a zinger though —oops, he said, I didn’t read the fine print. Here at the bottom of Mr. Speaker’s message he says if you want the earmark you have to come up with $250 billion in non-defense discretionary spending cuts! …Candidates?
The scene for a moment was seven slack jaws and silence, then they each took their turn answering, or not. One repeated her answer to the previous question as if she hadn’t heard a word of the harder question, others intoned against big oil’s subsidies or defense, in their turn dismissing the question as well. Peter Koutoujian struck the right note with me— “I’d tell the Speaker he could have his $50 billion back.” I suppose that qualifies as a non-answer just as well, but at least he took the fifth with something of a sense of humor —and concisely.
But seriously folks, Koutoujian did strike me as the candidate with a solid command of issues and a clear voice, genuine concern and commitment to the cause of working families in their struggles in this economy — a clear head and feet on the ground. There were others on the stage who impressed me. Senator Brownsberger came across as an eminently reasonable man —which of course left me to wonder about the prospects for his survival in the current congress. Rep. Carl Sciortino of Medford impressed me as a true believer in the Liberal cause —someone I’d like to hear more from, whether he’s in Washington or on Beacon Hill.
I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience next to a colleague of ours, a past contributor to our very own commentariat. He told me as we sat down he’d been following the race from its beginnings. One candidate had his heart while another one had his head, he said. (The one who had his head also currently had the button on his lapel.) For me right now, my gut is going with Koutoujian. I’d be curious to hear what others have gathered thus far in this race.