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JEFF JACOBY

Two pandering poseurs

Gallup reported last week that Americans’ confidence in Congress as an institution has fallen to just 10 percent — an all-time low. After watching last night’s debate between Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez, I don’t think the next US senator from Massachusetts is likely to reverse the public’s low opinion.

Markey repeatedly charged his opponent with advocating the “oldest, stalest Republican ideas.” Time and again he ran through the litany, determined to taint Gomez with positions held by the most conservative Republicans — on gun control, abortion, taxes, financial regulation, Social Security. Yet is it really the “oldest, stalest” idea that Supreme Court nominees should be confirmed — as Gomez believes — not on the basis of a single ideological litmus test about Roe v. Wade, but on the strength of their scholarship and character? Is it truly old and stale to suggest, as Gomez does, that any comprehensive reform of the tax code will have to mean putting even sacred cows like the mortgage-interest deduction up for discussion? Or is the real reactionary the candidate who flatly insists, as Markey did last night: “For me, that is off the table”?

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The problem with Gomez isn’t that he is a right-wing Tea Party clone — he’s not. It is that he gives every indication of running for the Senate merely because a seat happened to open up and he would like to be a senator. “In the military we say, Lead or get out of the way,” he intoned several times, suggesting that he is the natural-born political leader Markey never was and never will be. “You’ve had 37 years down in D.C.,” he scolded his opponent over and over, and yet the nation still has serious problems — a $17 trillion debt, high unemployment, an entitlement crisis. “Give me 17 months” and things will be better, he all but promised voters.

Lawmaking may not be rocket science, but candidates asking to be entrusted with senatorial authority ought to be willing to think and speak more seriously, and to show more respect for the voters’ intelligence, than either of these two pandering poseurs does. One of these two characters will be the next senator from Massachusetts. If voters in a democracy get the government they deserve, what does that say about us?

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.
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