A Real Democrat From South Boston: Social Traditionalism & Economic Populism

When you associate in socially traditional Catholic circles it’s hard to find anyone who will say anything nice about Massachusetts politics, or more broadly of the Democratic Party that mostly owns national elections in the Bay State. While Massachusetts’ people may elect a Republican to statewide office—as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney proves—it rarely goes further than that, as the 20-point lead President Barack Obama holds over Romney in current Massachusetts’ polling also proves.

Is there hope in Massachusetts that someone could break through the Left-dominated political establishment and give a voice to those who believe that the unborn have rights while still holding to a program of economic populism? I say yes, but with reservations. I put forth the congressman of the 9th District in the state, South Boston’s own Stephen Lynch. His career successes and shortcomings outline the challenges facing socially traditional Democrats and independents who might be inclined to support them.

South Boston Democrat Stephen Lynch brings a refreshing blend of social traditionalism and economic populism

Congressman Lynch is pro-life and has consistently separated himself from the Massachusetts delegation on fundamental human rights. Furthermore, he brings a welcome dose of economic populism to a bipartisan atmosphere in Washington that is often all too corporate. Most notably, Lynch has fought against the worst economic tendencies of globalization in resisting fast-track trade authority, a tool that has allowed presidents of both parties to easily negotiate and pass trade bills which favor multi-national firms that can quickly move jobs abroad and then export back into the American market with no penalty. The congressman also voted against President Obama’s health care reform, in large part because it was too soft on the insurance industry.

The people of South Boston—proudly Democratic and heavily Irish—sent Lynch to the statehouse in 1996, to Congress in 2000 and back each election cycle since. Even when a left-wing challenger tried to go after him in 2010, due to his pro-life stance and support of the Iraq War—Lynch won the primary with relative ease and in “Southie” that’s the equivalent of winning the general election. Clearly, a pro-life Democrat, laced with traditionalism and populism can win elections in Massachusetts.

One can reasonably argue that Southie is different than the rest of the city of Boston, much less the state of Massachusetts. And there’s certainly truth to that. But it would have been nice to see Lynch get an honest crack at the U.S. Senate when the time came to replace the late Ted Kennedy.

Lynch was interested in making the run and ready to file papers, but in the end opted not to. The compressed window the election was held in made it difficult to raise money. Why was that? It’s because organized labor, the same institution that Lynch has grown up with (he was an ironworker and union rep in Southie) declined to give him their support. Instead, the unions opted for either Martha Coakley or Michael Capuano, both of whom were typical of the upscale suburban liberal that’s been allowed to masquerade as a mainstream Democrat for far too long. Lynch was left in the cold—or at least back in the House of Representatives.

What happened in the election itself was historic. Coakley won the nomination, but then managed to cough up a big lead in the polls in the face of underdog challenger Scott Brown on the Republican side, who came on and won the race.

The surprise Senate win of Republican Scott Brown showed the possiblities alive in Massachusetts politics

Brown’s victory rightfully rattled the cages of the national Democratic Party and rallied the Republican mainstream. In defeating a doctrinaire liberal, the voters of Massachusetts demonstrated quite clearly they are willing to elect more than one type of candidate. It is not necessary for every candidate to come out of the cookie-cutter stamped “Kennedy Liberal”.

Therefore, why the hesitancy of labor to back Congressman Lynch? He fits into the state’s Democratic heritage—with his blue-collar roots he’s frankly a much better fit than the Coakley or this year’s candidate, Elizabeth Warren. His willingness to show independence would have gone over well in a year where that’s something voters were looking for. In short, at a time when there is the possibility for Bay State politics to have its own version of Vatican II and throw open the windows to new ideas, is it required that socially traditional and economically populist voters be the one group left on the sideline?

The problem lies in something I touched on in a column last week and it’s that organized labor has spent too much time tying itself to various left-wing causes rather than focusing on the bread-and-butter interests of its membership, along with the values of the socially conservative values held in Democratic bastions like Southie. As the case of Congressman Lynch makes clear, no one is telling the unions to get behind Newt Gingrich or to run out and distribute Ayn Rand’s writing to the rank-and-file. Just get back to basics and supporting real Democrats rather than desperately trying to be relevant.

At the grass-roots level, what it means is that the socially conservative/economically populist vote doesn’t have to play the stomped-on victim of the political process, nor submerge themselves in the all-or-nothing approaches of The Daily Kos Left or The Sean Hannity Right.

What happens in Boston rarely stays in Boston, especially when it concerns the Democratic Party. A breakthrough by a pro-life populist here can have ripple effects across the country. Congressman Lynch opted not to make the race in 2012, so it looks like this opportunity has passed. But when the next one comes by, it should be taken.



  • Charles Tolle

    Sounds familiar. Once people like Bobby Kennedy were Democrats. I would join that party. They represented working people and their tradional values. This once great party has been taken over by a small number of fanatics with large bank accounts. We independents are now one third of the electorate.



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