Author Archives: Maurice T. Cunningham

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.

From the Archives: Lincoln and Religion

Even on vacation I think of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It beats the latest polling news, which I don’t get anyway.

Religion in Politics: It’s Not the Certainty, It’s the Doubt

One of the most fascinating columns I’ve read in some time is from the Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh, his Gay Marriage: A Look Back After 10 Years.  He vividly recalls the turmoil at the State House as conservatives fought to overturn the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision. Lehigh especially decried “fanatics and fundamentalists” “who believed they had a direct line to God.” It’s enough to make many of us wish religion would just go away from American politics.

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From the Archives: The Coakley Media Narrative

Prof. Cunningham is on vacation but has left behind some favorite posts from the archives. Read on to consider that Martha Coakley’s 2010 mistakes did not cost her that race but could cost her this one.

The Stumbling and Bumbling Martha Coakley

coakleyMartha Coakley, this time you’ve gone too far. When the Boston Globe ran an article in which Democrats fretted that you are a political bumbler and fumbler, my colleague Professor Ubertaccio rose to your defense.  I made fun of the Democratic knee-knockers too. Then in The Myth of Martha Coakley’s Mistakes I argued that the AG’s fumbles and bumbles didn’t really impact the 2010 special election loss to Scott Brown.

So how does the AG thank us? With this, from Frank Phillips of the Globe: Martha Coakley’s Campaign Funds in Disarray.

I’ll continue to maintain that Coakley’s fumbles and bumbles didn’t cost her the election in 2010. But they might cost her the election of 2014.

That is because the media frame established on Coakley from 2010 is one of an inept politician who commits serial unforced errors. A frame is a window through which we perceive reality.

Coakley seemed to recognize the stark force of the Globe story depicting Democratic insiders as anxious that she could fall apart in a gubernatorial contest.   Even though those experts were wrong that her miscues cost the party the special senate election, the story is strong enough that it had to be addressed. So she set about to combat the notion that she isn’t a hard working campaigner by getting all around the state. She did her mea culpas. She even campaigned outside of Fenway Park, adding to the list of miracles occurring at the lyrical bandbox this year. Her announcement video didn’t offer any reason to vote for her but still, some polls showed her beating the Democratic field and Republican Charlie Baker.

But then along comes the Phillips story in the Sunday Globe revealing that Coakley has so mismanaged her leftover federal campaign account from the senate race that she may have committed “a violation of campaign finance law.” It’s hard to tell if the account is flush or in deficit because the records are so inaccurate. Oh, and one of the individuals paid to oversee the accuracy of the account is Coakley’s sister.

Plus as AG, Coakley has pursued state political figures including former Lt. Governor Tim Murray for campaign finance violations. Naughty naughty Tim.

So in other words, she has completely blown the effort to alter the media frame.

Let’s also remember this bit of inside information from a September 5 Globe story by Phillips and Jim Sullivan, Baker Enters Governor’s Race, Coakley Weighs Bid:

Coakley insiders say she has yet to make a final decision about whether to run, but confirm that much of her decision depends on whether she can assemble a highly talented group of organizers, media consultants, and pollsters.

Organizers, consultants, and pollsters; that ought to do it.

In one piece of good news for the Coakley campaign, Massachusetts has no statewide version of Saturday Night Live. Tina Fey would have a field day.

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Globe Poll: So Much Data, So Little Context

Conflict and controversy are marketable media commodities and stability is just plain boooooorrrring. Thus we have Sunday’s Boston Globe story based on the newspaper’s poll showing that if Martha Coakley loses to Charlie Baker in November it might be attributed to disloyal Democratic followers of Steve Grossman.

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Massachusetts Madisonianism

Recently in thinking about the Massachusetts legislature I’ve come across some academic arguments that the power of the legislature has deteriorated significantly over the years. These arguments take the long view – legislative dominance from the time of the 1780 Constitution, a draining of power while the executive’s power increased from the early twentieth century onward. Then there is my colleague Professor Duquette’s argument that there is no need for business interests to support Republicans because the Democratic legislature already acts like it is Republican.

The work of these scholars is important in understanding how our legislature conducts the public business. I tend to agree that the legislature’s power has receded some through history, but that it retains enormous power that only a legislature can properly exercise. Moreover in the differences the legislature has had with both Republican governors and the progressive Democrat Deval Patrick a sort of Massachusetts Madisonianism may be at work.

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Questioning Faith and Politics

Recently Governor Deval Patrick stood with leaders of diverse faith communities and invoked his own religious faith as a rationale for accepting immigrant children into the commonwealth. I wrote admiringly of that decision and some among our commenters suggested that when religion calls to ideas that are not consistent with the prevailing liberal ideology around here, our Democratic politicians are more likely to spurn than to heed faith leaders. I think those critics are justified and they rightly point out the complicated nature of religion and politics in the land our forebears sought to establish as a Model of Christian Charity.

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Media Coverage of Women Candidates

Do the media treat women candidates for governor or senator differently, focusing more on personal traits than on substantive issues or on horse race? Is that sort of coverage helpful or harmful to women candidates? If there are such effects do they hold for primaries as well as general elections?

I can’t answer those questions in the context of a Democratic Party primary for governor featuring a woman candidate but an article in Political Research Quarterly has me thinking: Johanna Dunaway, Regina G. Lawrence, Melody Rose and Christopher R. Weber, “Traits versus Issues: How Female Candidates Shape coverage of Senate and Gubernatorial Elections.” (2013).

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Lincoln and Douglas Debate Immigrant Children

Obviously Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas never debated immigrant children; they were one issue candidates in 1858 and the issue was slavery. Circumstances were quite different regarding immigration in the 1850s; no one could be “illegal” since the nation had done nothing to restrict immigration. Still, the different understandings Douglas and Lincoln had of the Declaration of Independence are instructive for our current heated debate over immigrant children.

The Declaration was all to Lincoln. In Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1861 he told a crowd: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence….which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men.”

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The Legislature and the Digital Divide Crisis

We are experiencing a digital divide crisis in the commonwealth of Massachusetts as it regards our legislature. We have been saluting them with only one digit when they deserve all ten digits thundering together in hearty applause.

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Probation Mess: Go for the Jugular, Charlie

Yesterday my colleague Professor Duquette counseled Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker to forego attacks on the Democrats over corruption. Professor Duquette’s reasoning was that an attack on the leadership in the wake of the Probation Department verdict would incite legislative Democrats to deploy their mighty organizations against Baker; thus campaigning on Democratic corruption would backfire on Baker.

Professor Duquette is wrong. Here’s why.

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Speaking of Immigrants

Joanna Weiss began her column on immigrant children in powerful fashion the other day: “What if the Irish potato famine happened today?” We do have that history and I’ve always marveled at how it was summarized by my late friend the Boston College historian Thomas O’Connor in his book The Boston Irish: A Political History “If there had existed in the nineteenth century a computer able to digest all the appropriate data, it would have reported one city in the entire world where an Irish Catholic, under any circumstance, should never, ever, set foot. That city was Boston, Massachusetts.”

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