Gizzi: Centrist Democrats Nearly Extinct in Massachusetts

Tuesday, 02 Apr 2013 08:09 AM

By John Gizzi

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Massachusetts Democrats have a most intriguing situation in the race to replace Secretary of State John Kerry in the Senate: Two U.S. congressmen, Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, are squaring off in a primary seeking their party’s nod.

As the April 30 primary grows closer, it is common for out-of-state pundits to portray the Bay State’s Senate primary as the site of a great battle royal between two disparate wings of the Democratic Party.

It is Markey of Malden, a committed liberal intellectual, vs. Lynch of South Boston, former blue-collar worker and union lawyer.

In some accounts of the race, Lynch has been referred to as a “centrist” or even a “conservative” Democrat, since he disagrees sharply with his opponent on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and Obamacare.

As enticing as this characterization of the upcoming Senate primary is to political scientists and the punditry, it has one fatal flaw: It’s all moonshine.

With a lifetime rating of 11.83 from the American Conservative Union, Lynch is only a hair less conservative than Markey’s lifetime ACU rating of 3.36.

In 2011, in fact, Markey actually emerged as more conservative than Lynch with an ACU rating of 8.00 for the year compared to a “zero” for Lynch.

The difference comes from two key votes. Markey agreed with the conservative ACU position both times, voting against increasing the debt ceiling to $2.5 trillion and against a $915 billion omnibus spending bill, with Lynch voting in favor of both measures.

Still, Markey is seen as more liberal on most issues. While Markey calls his vote for Obamacare “the proudest vote of my career,” Lynch was the lone congressman from New England to oppose the measure.

But Lynch’s explanation for his vote is not exactly that of a conservative champion of private healthcare. He wanted to go a step further toward nationalized healthcare than Obamacare did, seeking the so-called “public option” that would have created government-run plans to compete with private insurance companies.

Lynch has always taken the anti-abortion position of his Roman Catholicism, a stand which remains popular in his heavily Catholic, blue-collar district.

But while he once was seen as a vigorous opponent of anything favored by the gay community, Lynch has come around to the position held by most Democrats in Congress today. He voted against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and in favor of granting medical benefits to domestic partners of federal employees.

There was a time in Massachusetts when the term “conservative” or “centrist” Democrat meant just that.

Edward J. King was one such conservative Democrat. In 1978, the former offensive guard for the Baltimore Colts mobilized a team of pro-lifers, gun-owners, and anti-taxers to defeat Gov. Michael Dukakis, a committed liberal.

In an upset that made national headlines, King defeated Dukakis in the Democratic primary and went on to turn in as conservative of a record as any modern governor of the Bay State.

Whatever liberals may have thought of Dukakis personally, they regrouped in 1982 out of fear of four more years of “Eddie” King and Dukakis turned the tables on his arch-nemesis, winning back the governor’s seat.

King eventually left the Democratic Party and became a Republican, strongly supporting George H.W. Bush in his winning race for president in 1988 against Dukakis.

These days, there are no more politicians like Edward J. King among Massachusetts Democrats. There are only ones like Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, and, as a look at their records show, there isn’t much of a difference between them.

John Gizzi is the former political editor for Human Events, working for the conservative weekly from 1979 to 2013. Gizzi is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence, was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002, and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows.

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