Charles in charge?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 7, 2010

It more closely reflects Baker's own attitude. He seems to be genuinely offended by what he sees as wasteful government spending, and that is where he almost inevitably veers, regardless of the topic or question. (He also gets viscerally angry over the Patrick administration's decision to "abandon" the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) in favor of national Common Core standards, a reaction that seems less to do with a comparison of the two measures, and more to do with a perceived slight to the work he, Weld, and the Pioneer Institute did in creating MCAS.)

In contrast to his deep feelings about the budget, Baker almost never speaks about, let alone gets animated over, actual hardships or difficult choices that people are dealing with.

When I pressed Baker about his understanding of those hardships, he cited only "this notion that state government doesn't play by the same rules I play by," a regular theme of his on the stump, and something he says regular people tell him "all the time."

There's no "feeling your pain" in that response — nor is there ever. Other than occasional clichés and generalizations, I have yet to hear during the campaign Baker describe or acknowledge any problem or fear faced by any actual family. Not even when it's right in front of him. At a Women for Baker town-hall meeting last week, a new mother living in Boston asked Baker about her concern that, if her child doesn't get into one of the few elite public schools in Boston, she will need to spend a fortune on a private education. Baker joked about her worrying so early about such a thing, and then talked about the need to cut state expenses so that local aid could remain at current levels. I have witnessed other oddly cold responses like that.

To Baker, expressing empathy seems irrelevant — and cutting government is the answer to all the problems. He believes, wholeheartedly, that state government's bloat, in both spending and regulation, creates a poor business climate that discourages business investment, which is why we have high unemployment. "If we had a state government that was affordable, and competitive," he told me, "this state would rock."

Maybe so, but that connection between cutting obscure budget line items and getting someone a full-time job is tenuous to voters, and he's coming across as a cold bean-counter, not someone solving their problems.

Ice man
That icy reputation is heightened by his apparent lack of concern about the affects his budget cuts would have. A woman in her 60s, ready to vote against Patrick and generally impressed by what she's heard about Baker, told me at the Needham Harvest Fair that she was concerned by his plan to fire 5000 state employees. "What happens to them?" she wondered. I've heard the same thought expressed repeatedly, including from a strong Baker supporter at the Women for Baker event.

A reporter asked, at a recent public event, "how much pain and suffering" Baker was willing to inflict through budget cuts; he didn't offer even a half-hearted expression of concern, countering instead that people out of work were experiencing the real pain and suffering, and needed the state to cut so that businesses can expand and start hiring.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Massachusetts, Mitt Romney,  More more >
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