Bryan Joiner

Why then I

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Connecting the Dots on Health Care

If Martha Coakley loses today, and if Scott Brown effectively scuttles the Obama Health Care bill, someone’s eventually going to connect the dots and conclude that it might be Ted Kennedy’s fault. I’m going to do it first.

The facts are these: Ted Kennedy’s wish was to see a health care bill passed. He died while it was being constructed, and it has taken longer than expected to get to the final stages before some version of it is signed into law. None of this, nor the fact that the exuberance of the 18-month campaign has fizzled under the work of actual governance, could really be considered a momentus surprise. Nor is it incredibly surprising, despite what most national news outlets make you think, that a Republican could mount an effective campaign in Massachusetts. I lived there almost exclusively under Republican governors, and more recently, Mitt Romney held that position. I knew far more Republicans when I grew up in Massachusetts than I do now because I chose to be in a place teeming with liberals, just as political pundits seek out other political pundits and create a self-serving narrative where it’s a “shock” that a GOP candidate can compete in the Bay State. Both classes of people — the blue establishment and the punditry — underestimate Republicans at their own risk.

My friend Robb, who is a Republican living in Massachusetts, is pro-Scott Brown. To him, and to others, I sense that they see his insurgent candidacy as a vindication of sorts; Robb parrots tea-party rhetoric on his Facebook page, and while I don’t get the sense he actually believes Barack Obama is a socialist, there’s a certain resentment there that’s exacerbated by living in Massachusetts, which is sort of a Petri Dish for blue ideas. For all I’ve just written, Massachusetts is obviously solidly blue; it’s just that the state has never been afraid to elect a single member of the GOP at any given time. The Republican Party is Massachusetts is always ready to send a message, and the Democratic Party is able to stay in “bend-but-don’t-break” mode and flourish. One loss, for them, isn’t worth crying about—usually.

If Scott Brown wins, it will certainly disrupt the health care bill and possibly scuttle it altogether. Is that worth crying about if you’re a Democrat? Absolutely. Is that worth beating a drum over if you’re a Massachusetts Republican? Strangely enough, I don’t think that’s the motivation here. I think the motivation is far more provincial than that. This move is really meant to stick it to Massachusetts Democrats, and my reasoning is this: If Ted Kennedy was still alive, and this election was still happening, Martha Coakley would wipe the floor with Scott Brown.

Robb posted this Brown quote on his Facebook page the other day—one that I happen to agree with:

“With all due respect, it’s not the Kennedy seat and it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat.”

… but as true as that is, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference if Kennedy was still alive: If he had resigned early in the Obama term, that would have pegged a special election somewhere between 145 and 160 days from the time of his resignation. Obviously he didn’t know when he was going to die, but having taken the Senate seat with him, he didn’t get to throw his support behind a candidate while he was still alive. Scott Brown tore down the perception that the seat belonged to Kennedy, but he did so because the perception was strong. He has done so as effectively as he could have done, and Martha Coakley has fought back as weakly as anyone could have done. But suppose Ted Kennedy has resigned and his office spent his final weeks urging his supporters that the cause endured, the hope lived, and the dream would never die with Martha Coakley in office. Are you telling me that a guy who posed naked in Cosmo would beat that?

So to any voters in Massachusetts who read this: If you think Scott Brown is a better representative of the people of Massachusetts than Martha Coakley, vote for him. But if you’re voting for Scott Brown as a referendum on Obama, think about this for a second. Obama was a objectively great campaigner, and you likely think he’s a bad President. Scott Brown is objectively a good campaigner… but that doesn’t necessarily make him a good Senator. What you’re taking away from with this vote has the strong, strong potential to affect every American and their children, and their children’s children, for decades. If no one has explained to you why that’s so important, imagine Ted Kennedy is doing it as you enter the voting booth. He might have messed up: He wasn’t there to help you through it, because he didn’t foresee the sequence of events that got us here today. That may be his mistake, but it’s one that hundreds of of millions of Americans will pay for. Health care might die because Ted Kennedy, of all people, miscalculated. It’s my hope that if your mind isn’t made up, you can find that mistake worth forgiving.

That’s the best I can do.

The Reminders

The reminders are there, just off to my right. They’re on each level of the bookshelf. Red Sox Century. Patriot Reign. Now I Can Die In Peace. Faithful. Hell, even John Adams.

I am not where I belong.

The books are taunting me, like a child on a playground. What did I watch today? I watched the Jets play the Titans. The Jets.

Flying start aside, watching the Jets, for a Patriots fan, is like the varsity football team for the much smaller school across town. New York may dominate Boston in size, but the Patriots dwarf the Jets in stature. The Patriots resonate across six states, even in the lean years. The Jets can’t even make it out of the Giants Stadium parking lot.

I was walking around this morning when I considered sidling up to a bar to watch the Pats, but it’s just not the same. The three hours, drinking piss beer under cover of darkness, cheering against everybody who’s cheering for every other team? That’s not Patriots football. For me, Patriots football is the slow anticipation of gameday on my hometown soil of West Tisbury, confident that, whatever happens, it will be dissected six ways to next Sunday in the hours and days following the final snap. Of course, it only matters if they won. When the Patriots lose, I don’t want recaps — I want a re-do. All is not right in the world, and there’s no way to fix it. Either way, the only way to catch it is on my own TV, with the real or virtual accompaniment of good buddies. That is, and always has been, Patriots football.

I know how people root for other teams, but I don’t get it. I feel the Patriots in my bones in a way I don’t even feel the Red Sox. The Sox, with their connection to the soul of New England, represent something different entirely. The Patriots make me think of walking out to the car, seeing my breath in the second week of December, bundled up against a blue slate sky and the frost that radiates from the ground up.

As far as I can tell, being a football fan in this city means something different. But then again, being any type of fan in this city is different. The first question you ask isn’t, “Did you see the game?” but “What team do you like?” The fact is, the New York region is either underserved or overserved on teams, but it’s far from on the nose. The popular teams like the Yankees and Giants are so popular that you could halve their fanbase and get one to rival that of the Mets and Jets. From the beginning you’re either a bully or burning with resentment, and in the common case that your allegiances cross those lines, a mess of contradictions.

That’s not the New England way, but it’s a way I’ve come to embrace if only to survive in this sports wilderness. It’s a bit of “water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” — there will be football on all day, every Sunday, and more baseball than I can handle, but not the right football, or the right baseball. When the Pats do grace my screen, it’s a gift that I know will be gone too soon, and I’m not able to totally enjoy it.

The promise of the 21st century was that you could follow your teams wherever you lived, whether you were in New York, Newark or Nairobi. The reality is that you might just remember how far you are from home.