The three gubernatorial candidates who emerged from Saturday’s state Democratic convention in Worcester should unite around one goal: putting that convention behind them and engaging in a real battle of ideas. In Worcester, the need to appease longtime party activists — a task that bears little resemblance to actually winning the election — repeatedly trumped the introduction of new approaches to addressing the state’s problems.
State Treasurer Steve Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley each used their roughly 10 minutes of speaking time to stress their commitment to the broadest consensus positions of the state party — better access to jobs and health care for struggling workers, continuing to fight climate change — and to contrast it with the likely Republican nominee Charlie Baker’s efforts to take the state back to the 16 supposedly dark years of Republican governance. This was catnip for a crowd that already embraces the Democratic agenda on Beacon Hill and fears a Baker victory, but there was little to persuade anyone outside the room who may be looking for a fresh reason to pull the Democratic lever.
The third candidate to make the ballot — former Medicare chief Don Berwick — wasn’t nearly so enamored of the status quo. He urged Democrats to remember their first principles, to be far more progressive in their values and urgent in applying them to social problems. His speech was more compelling because it focused on a former patient of Berwick’s, a young black man who grew up amid blight, carried a gun before puberty, and fought leukemia and won, only to succumb to hopelessness and despair. It was the type of story Bob Dylan would have written a ballad about 30 or 40 years ago, and the Dylan-generation crowd of delegates seemed appropriately moved. Berwick vowed never to forget that racism and deprivation still thwarts human potential.
Indeed, Berwick actually has a bold policy proposal to back it up — a “Medicare for all” single-payer health plan that would roil the state’s hospitals and insurers — but he gave it only a scant mention amid all the storytelling. That, and any other plans the candidates have for the future, need to be fleshed out and debated extensively before the September primary. And they should remember that primary voters won’t be as easy a sell as convention delegates.