Of course there was plenty of message in Governor Baker’s visit to Boston’s huge Islamic Center, the largest mosque in the entire Boston area. This was not just a visit of friendship in the ordinary course, though a friendship visit it was. After all, a Governor who sincerely wants to serve all the people of his state, as Baker has proven he does, wants personally to connect with every important state community, faith or otherwise. Governors of Massachusetts have been doing this for 100 years at least, when hundreds of 1000s of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe came to our ports to begin new lives; and though there was plenty of dislike cast upon those immigrants by people who thought them alien, political leaders competed with each other to enlist the newcomers in their followings. Thus it was with Baker. Though many Muslims have lived in Boston for some decades now, it has only been recently that their presence as a community has become a force. If anything, the opposition to Muslim immigrants expressed by the President has enhanced the significance of Massachusetts’s Muslim residents — made it imperative to welcome the community, praise it, incorporate it into the power structure.
Thus the visit by Governor Baker had a larger purpose than the usual political practice. There was more purpose in it for the Islamic Center, and there was more purpose in it for Baker. Partisan Democrats like to chaff Baker for not being a loud voice against Mr. Trump, which they are and he is not: but these partisans either overlook, or choose to not recognize, that Governor Baker by his deeds demonstrates opposition to the ways of Mr. much moire effectively than would any words. Actions really do speak louder; and Baker, in almost all that he does — bipartisan legislative co-operation, open-ended outreach to everyone, embrace of sort of person no matter his or her gender or identity, faith or no faith — acts the opposite of how Mr. Trump acts. Baker is a uniter, not a divider. He never “speaks to a base,” indeed he seems not to acknowledge or identify an ideological or ethnic, gender or faith base. I say “seems” because Baker does in fact speak to a “base” voter : the ordinary voter of all sorts, who does not breathe ideological fire but just wants state government to do its job and electeds to address the challenges that taxpayers pay to see worked upon.
Clearly there’s an awful lot of ordinary voters of the kind I have described, for Baker won 67 percent of the vote in the recent election against a very decent, well versed opponent. Other candidates should take notice. Ordinary voters make up by far the overwhelming majority of all — at least three quarters of the whole number. Why does this huge majority not get more attention than it does, by more than a handful of candidates who see things the Baker way ? In particular, why do most of our candidates for national office act like firebrands ? Why do they sound like no one you ever meet in the regular course of your goings and doings ? When Baker talks to a room of voters — or of managers — he sounds like a normal guy, a manager describing his management problem, occasionally a fun guy telling a joke or a quick anecdote, always easy to listen to: he sounds like people you actually know and work with. Why do our national office holders, in contrast, sound so different, so strange, so hepped up, so humorless ?
To some extent the humorless ways of our national office holders comes with the territory: they’re tribunes of the people, modern-day Gracchi fighting against the powers that be , warriors for this cause or that interest. After all, the Roman Senate was not exactly a forum of buddies. The speeches of Cicero — especially those against Cataline, or Clodius — pulled no punches; people were assassinated (as was Cicero himself, eventually) over the bitter divisions that fought to the death in that first great legislature. Yet one would like to think that we in America have improved the process a bit. The Romans had no Constitution, neither or written, and thus the rules were whatever the powers wanted them to be. We, however, have a written Constitution. It makes very clear what the legislature’s duties are, its priorities, its purposes. We have a Supreme Court to umpire interpretations of it. We have universal suffrage to assure that no office holder is there merely by inheritance or granted privilege. What, then, is the problem ?
Every time I think I have the answer, I find myself mistaken. The problem is not money, because Baker has to solicit donations just as national office seekers do. It isn’t faction, because we have factions in Massachusetts just as they do in Washington. It isn’t even the irresponsibilities and bigotries of Mr. Trump, for we have had such before, albeit not in the same degree. Partisanship certainly aggravates political irresponsibility, because those who live politics 24 hours a day can take over the process from people who live regular lives with little time for or interest in never-ending meetings and schemings. Yet we have partisan zealotry in Massachusetts too, and though it has impacted the edges of our governance, it hasn’t affected the actual decisions and accomplishments at all. Yet the presence of partisan zealotry does point me to an actual problem : party primaries. In Massachusetts, we elect a Governor at the November election, with 60 to 75 percent of voters voting. Most other offices — especially for national office — are decided in the Democratic primary, with 15 percent of voters voting. The Republican primary is even worse. It nominates mostly unelectable candidates, because the party numbers only ten percent of voters, and about half of them do not vote in their primary.
The smaller the party, and its primary, the more ideological the tone, because once we gave up the patronage system, as we did about 30 years , there was no incentive for anyone to be a primary voting stalwart except for ideology’s sake. This happened nationally, and it did so at the exact time that the Republican party was being taken over by cadres with a religion agenda on the one hand and, more recently, by identity politicians in the Democratic primary (which has now become an arena for eco-socialism as well). Yet there’s another factor at work beyond that of ideology or even of partisanship generally. I refer to impatience. It’s a commonplace that Americans want instant gratification. Easy it is to carry that mindset into the political arena. And now we see the REAL difference between Governor Baker and the others : Baker is a man of infinite patience. He doesn’t expect things to be done tomorrow, nor does he expect it. He is not in a hurry. He seems to understand that reforming huge institutions — and the state bureaucracies are all that — is best accomplished by small degrees, small enough as to hardly be noticed one by one but which, seen over time, look very significant indeed. Baker’s patient approach to reform works so well because it is natural : we all age, and learn, but we do so very slowly. Day to day one sees little or no change to who we are or what we look like, but over a stretch of years, the change is enormous, and we accept it.
That is why Governor Baker has had the political success that he profits by. He is as natural as he can be, in his actions and in his patience. That is what our national office seekers so often lack and why they arouse more trouble than benefit. They want it all done NOW : racism must end NOW, if not 35 years ago; sexual customs must be disciplined NOW, if not 34 years back. Transformation of our energy system must happen immediately. Everything is on the hurry, hurry, hurry. Well guess what ? You want to hurry people, expect huge push back. Push back strong enough to defeat you and make things worse than they would have been had you done nothing. No, no, no: if you want reform — truly want reform — in a nation where every voter can — and should be encouraged to — vote, you must change a significant majority of minds. It cannot be forced. You have to respect the voter whose mind you seek to change.
Changing minds — and mindsets — takes time. Takes patience.
That is why Governor Baker visited the Islamic Center of Boston.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere