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Brian McGrory

Truth or consequences

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / May 14, 2010

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Charlie, Charlie, Charlie.

It was supposed to be so different. You were supposed to be the white knight who would lead us through the remnants of the recession, the well-spoken turnaround specialist who understood not only the essence of the state budget, but the nuance of the human condition.

You were supposed to be the forward-thinking candidate who would make a weary electorate upbeat about the possibilities of the future. You were going to elevate the dialogue and be, as you alluded to early on, the adult in the race.

Here’s what’s happened instead: You’re the most negative presence in a stunningly nasty gubernatorial campaign. You’ve tried to take a bottle of Wite-Out to your résumé and your life. You’re emerging not as a serious candidate with serious ideas, but as another politician who will say anything for a vote.

Unless you’re careful, the result is going to be a landslide for an incumbent governor who surely doesn’t deserve to win so easily. So please, use that big brain under your handsome head of hair, and start making some changes.

First and foremost, anyone giving you political advice right now — get rid of them. I’m sure they’re congratulating you for obliterating Tim Cahill, the independent candidate. What they’re not telling you is that most people who have fled Cahill have gone to Deval Patrick.

Stop those awful television and radio ads being aired by the Republican Governors Association that fabricate parts of Cahill’s record and make it sound like Massachusetts is about to fall into the sea. Knock off your mealy-mouthed assertion that they’re not your ads and you wish all independent committees would stay out of it. You own those ads and they say a lot about you that isn’t very good.

Here’s the important one: Tell the truth. You failed to do that one recent night when Janet Wu of Channel 5 asked you whether you supported the Proposition 2 1/2 overrides while you were a selectman in Swampscott, and you said, “I don’t remember.’’ You told the Globe’s Frank Phillips two weeks before that you supported overrides.

You failed to tell the truth when you also told Channel 5, “The two guys I’m running against are both on Beacon Hill and have been there, and I haven’t.’’ You spent nearly a decade working under the State House dome.

You failed to tell the truth when you told me that you were “one of about 50 people’’ making financing decisions on the Big Dig. You were one of the most important people.

You failed when you put your hand on your running mate’s shoulder in a ridiculous discussion about a transgender bill, called him a “gay fella,’’ and said you’re “pretty much not pandering to much of anybody.’’ You were doing exactly that.

The problem with these untruths, however inconsequential they may seem to you, is that when you speak the truth about needed reforms and budget-cutting measures, voters aren’t sure whether to believe you.

Which is the crux of your problem. Many months into your long-awaited race, there’s precious little that’s authentic about you or your campaign. Voters like politicians to be true to themselves, and you don’t seem to be comfortable with what you’ve done — surprising, because you’ve done a lot.

All over town, the sounds of silence you’re hearing are the sounds of disappointment. All those prominent people cheering you in December and January are scratching their heads about you in May. The good news is that there’s plenty of time to turn it around.

Try this: You’re a Charlie Baker Republican. You’re a social moderate and fiscal conservative who appreciates that not everything is cut and dried. You don’t need the consultants. You don’t need their generic playbook. You don’t need out-of-town groups trying to bail you out with negative ads.

Be bigger than the moment. Be more honest about yourself and your opponents. Be the candidate so many people thought they were getting before you seemed desperate for the job.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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