One of the great subplots of this midterm election is Republican candidate for Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker’s debate performance this week, during which he apparently broke down in tears while telling debate moderators when the last time he cried was. The story he told, and the raw emotion he appeared to display, got him all kinds of positive ink from the political press, but as Rachel Maddow detailed on her show last night, both the accuracy of the story and the authenticity of Baker’s tears were shortly called into question.
The moderators asked the candidates about the last time each of them had cried, and after Democratic candidate and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley talked about a funeral she had just been to, Baker delivered his star-making performance. He described, in great detail, meeting a fisherman who moved him to tears with his tale of fishing overregulation, which have dented the industry in Massachusetts. You can judge the story and the tears for yourself. I see dry eyes here:
[My sons] were both spectacular football players in New Bedford High School, who were given college scholarships to go play football, and I told them no, I said, ‘You’re going to be fisherman… I ruined their lives.’
The story began a humanizing narrative for Baker, but when reporters tried to verify the story’s very specific, very unusual details, they couldn’t, and they asked lots of people who would have known. Baker and his campaign eventually fell back to claiming that the story was from 2009 (he’s apparently cried many times since then), and might not be entirely true.
What I love about this story is that it combines everything that’s wrong with politics and the media, but especially the media. If you’re like me. you’re first wondering why the eff a grown-ass debate moderator is asking candidates for governor about the last time they cried, followed shortly by wondering why neither of the candidates answered, “It was about two seconds ago, when you killed journalism before my very eyes.”
Similarly, you have to also wonder why a candidate for high office gets credit from journalists for successfully pantomiming emotion, no matter the reason, and specifically for this reason, even if the story is true. Hell, especially if the story is true. Under what regulatory regime would it ever be advantageous to forego a college education and/or a career in the NFL to go fishing? If Baker really was crying, it should have been because he was imagining having such a horrible father.
But even if you grant that some magical regulatory scheme could have salvaged those boys’ lives, the fisheries in New England are regulated by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, an executive branch agency. That means Baker’s fisherman, in 2009, would have been talking about regulations that were enacted under eight years of a Republican presidency.
Ar worst, Charlie Baker is guilty of peddling a bogus story because he thinks we’re all stupid, but by scrupulously following the tracks of Baker’s tears, the political media has proven, without a doubt, that they’re all stupid.