Clarke Hayes

Bay State Blues

Bay State Blues
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I have just returned from Massachusetts, where I cast my vote in an absentee ballot for Super Tuesday. This wildly wide-open presidential race is like mainlining for political junkies, and it’s a pretty exhilarating rollercoaster ride for the ordinary voter too. But what happened last week, when the economy crashed headlong into the election bandwagon, will be fascinating to watch – the battle of the Big E’s, I call it.

Now Massachusetts politics is an incestuously Democratic affair, and with John Edwards effectively out of the running in the state, it’s the big clash once again between Hillary and Obama. I can’t see a cigarette paper between them. In fact, in a privately held straw poll, I guestimate that up to four in five voters are undecided in the Bay state — with the primary just three weeks away. And if they are decided, they’re not saying – which makes you wonder why not.

My instinct tells me that, right now, Hillary has it by a shade, mainly in the area of experience and familiarity. Especially among older voters, Obama is seen as just too wet behind the ears, not (yet) a safe pair of hands. (Is this why the Obama camp is poaching some of Hillary’s senior advisers?) Having said that, I do like the WBZ Talk Radio slogan (I quote from memory): ‘Hillary Clinton has worked for two people in her life – Hillary and Bill Clinton. She’s a throwback to the Sixties who won’t go away until she’s had her way, which is a one-way ticket to the White House.’ On the other side, Obama has taken stick here for his cutting put-down of Mrs Clinton during the New Hampshire primary debate – ‘You’re likeable enough, Hillary’ (it was all in the intonation) — giving the public a view of a darker, perhaps nastier side to his character.

And now we’re on the very brink of a recession. What, many now wonder, do Clinton and Obama know between them about running an economy? And over the horizon rides Mitt, the Monster of Michigan, former governor of Massachusetts itself. Now Romney has no chance of gathering the delegates from Massachusetts, knowing as he does that Bay-staters only vote for Republicans through some misguided quest for checks and balances in the state. But what of the rest of the country?

The minted Mitt, with an ego to match, will spend many millions trying to convince Americans that he is the only candidate with a business background who understands that economics comes before politics, and not just in the dictionary. He will play the immortal Clinton — Bill, that is — card (yes, join in everybody): ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ Will it get him the nomination? Who knows. What everyone does know is that Bush’s pathetic little ‘rescue package’ — throwing dollars at the low- and middle-income earners who will immediately run to the shops and spend it all, thus saving the economy within weeks — makes ‘too little, too late’ seems like the understatement of the year. Worse than that, it’s an insult — for ‘low- and middle-income earners’ read Bush-speak for ‘stupid’; let’s hope all the ‘stupids’ put the money in the bank or pay off the credit that’s crunching around their ears, thus washing away the vestiges of this administration down the pan of recession.

Americans know that this recession was created on Wall Street, not born on the high street. Romney knows it too. But what will Clinton and Obama do about that, when the race has moved so dramatically from politics to economics? For the people of Massachusetts — just one of so many crucial states on 5 February — there’s at least one bit of good news. Whoever takes the delegates of the Bay state, and both would very much like to do so in their alma mater state, it will be a sop to our liberal tradition — either female or black, it’s politically correct and we can’t lose.

But if the New England Patriots lose in the Super Bowl on Sunday 3 February — now that really would be a catastrophe!