^ addition versus subtraction ? Politics at its most basic lesson

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My friend Dan Winslow, an insurgent, civil rights Republican to whose US Senate campaign I consulted before gearing up Here and Sphere, liked to say to me, “addition, not subtraction.” Every time I groused about our campaign finding favor with this or that constituency whose agenda or outlook I disagreed with, he would say it to me : “Addition, not subtraction.”

Winslow has since left the State Legislature — a huge loss for imaginative politics in Massachusetts and for a constructive GOP — but his observation remains so true. In our democracy of many, many communities, interests, and individuals, the successful campaign draws from many people different. More singly defined campaigns tend otherwise. There are so, so many voters; hardly any single interest can compass more than a small portion. It’s a losing situation in almost all cases. And once the “everybody else” begin to not see themselves within that single interest, the single interest campaign is cooked.

In this election, there is a single interest campaign almost feral in its singularity. Martin Walsh is a fine, fine man, and a hero of civil rights and personal struggle. By no means should any one disparage him. His friends follow him passionately : that says a whole lot. But as a candidate — on the large picture — he has defined single interest politics. He is a labor leader, labor unions are his career, his expertise, his theme, his following. Articulate he is — though not in debate — and, on many issues, extremely well informed. But everywhere he goes it is palpable that his goals are labor union goals. Labor union’s goals are not, however, everybody’s. Union labor comprises about 14 % of Boston voters. That is a mighty small minority. And the City’s wisest labor leaders know it. They know that if union labor is to advance it must join with other constituencies, other interests, and add to a coalition, not stand alone.

Marty Walsh has worked tirelessly in his campaign to attract other interests. He addresses arts issues, school issues, diversity, interfaith, even innovation; has commissioned 40 position papers, 37 of which his campaign reports are now written; has won to his side many politicians from Boston’s communities of color plus some State Legislators and two Boston Congressmen. Clearly he knows that without allies, his labor union following cannot win.

Walsh has bet the farm, that his outreach will not expose labor’s numerical weakness. This is to risk a lot.

He has allowed labor unions to become a major issue in this campaign; and that is bad for labor unions ; because labor unions aren’t exactly popular with most of the public, even in Massachusetts. Strikes send an unpleasant message of intimidation and intransigence. Take the school bus drivers’ walkout, for example. Yes, Walsh condemned it. But the impression made was not an untrue one. Everyone also remembers the Verizon strike, with its images of angry picketers and stories of vandalism. Nor have Boston’s public worker unions exactly made friends and influenced people. Arbitrators’ awards that risk the City’s finances and portend cuts in other City services make City unions look militantly selfish. Same too for the Boston Teachers’ Union (BTU), which so far refuses to accept that school transformation will happen and that it would be better to help forge it rather than doggedly resist it.

Walsh rejects none of it. How can he ?

Thus his campaign has put labor unions under public scrutiny, in all their stubbornness, their resistance to change, their adversary attitude to everybody else. The passion, the heavy-handedness, the rush of politicians to get with Walsh because they don’t want to break with labor — all of it has been a disaster for labor because it has engendered criticism of labor unions from people who would not have gone down that road, and because those criticisms have now become the common perception.

Labor actually emerges weaker from this campaign than had Walsh not become a candidate. As the respected leader of a powerful force in the city, Walsh had enormous influence. As a candidate, he has risked that influence upon a pitiless test : the judgment of the voters.

ALL the voters.

Meanwhile, John Connolly keeps on adding to his following the “everybody else” who are not members of City labor unions or followers of Walsh’s labor-allied office holders.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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