Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Temple of revolutionary liberalism

I spent the day in the Massachusetts State House attending the swearing in of freshman legislators. Can I just stop all my bitter cynical bullshit and bullshit sensitivity for a moment to say that it was a naive thrill to be there?

This opened the 186th biennial session of the Great and General Court, which is just a fancy and old-fashioned way of saying the legislature. Three hundred and seventy years! The pols love to call this an "august body," whatever that means, but I have to admit that its continuous existence from 1639 to now is impressive.

Wander around the State House or take the tour, and you can't help but be impressed with its role as a temple of American liberty. Add in the pomp and circumstance of the opening session, and there's a resemblance to mass at St. Peter's. Some of the rituals done in utmost seriousness have grown a bit ridiculously out of date, but their seriousness is fitting anyway.

It's also undeniable that Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of American liberalism, now perhaps more than ever. It's a challenging time to be a Democrat even here, even with the Republican Party a neutered, if slightly fractious, house pet. There's little revenue to build that city on the hill, but there's great responsibility to triage the budget to preserve as best we can what we have already built.

Yes, Sal DiMasi was overwhelmingly reelected Speaker, and his scandals make that far less than ideal. But his list of legislative accomplishments was indeed impressive - America's highest rate of health insurance, very strong environment work, equal marriage for gays and lesbians, and strong commitments of money that have made Massachusetts public education the envy of the rest of the nation and among the best in the world.

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