Politics: A Trivial Pursuit
By early December, most of us had read quite enough about the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, not to mention the most amazing athletes and most appalling crimes.
We’d like to point out that the art of politics has also changed a great deal in the past 100 years — in Massachusetts more than most places. We’ve gone from rock-ribbed Republican to diehard Democratic, from a Yankee political dynasty (the Lodges) to an Irish Catholic one (the Kennedys). At the beginning of the 20th century, when the state’s population was double that of California’s. Now the Bay State is one-fifth the size of California, but it’s still a national player, thanks to its deep pool of political talent and the deep pockets of its campaign contributors.
Here we offer a small taste of the events and personalities of Bay State politics in the 20th century in the form of a quiz. Don’t expect it to be easy; a century of hardball politics calls for tough questions.
2. What got ROAR so hot under the collar, and what did its initials stand for?
3. Who advanced this theory, which some would argue has already come true: “The only people who will be able to get to Congress will be the half-witted sons of the rich. The bright sons of the rich are needed to run the businesses, and the poor cannot afford to run.”
4. What political figure told a gathering that “I know … I should kiss your ass, but I haven’t learned to do that with equanimity yet”?
5. Who was the most popular 20th-century governor in Massachusetts, at least according to election returns? How about the most popular US senator?
6. David I. Walsh got to the State House ahead of James Michael Curley, becoming the Bay State’s first Catholic governor in 1913. Not content with this achievement, two years later Walsh became the first Catholic governor in Massachusetts to get tossed out of office. What disagreement with the Church contributed to his defeat?
7. Many “townies” never forgave Harvard University for its role in what 1919 event?
8. In 1927, the president of Harvard University, A. Lawrence Lowell, once again got the Cambridge institution into hot water by serving on a committee whose decision was overturned 50 years later by Gov. Michael Dukakis. What was the committee’s ruling?
10. Hard to believe now, but Massachusetts was once one of the most Republican states in the union. Who was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win a majority of the vote here?
11. Which presidential endorsement got James Michael Curley in such trouble with his fellow Democrats that he was forced to take on an assumed name?
12. What rock band recorded a tribute to James Michael Curley?
13. What office did the Republican party vacate — literally — in 1949?
14. Springfield native Lawrence F. O’Brien was a victim in what famous crime?
15. Elliot Richardson, the liberal Republican who held multiple cabinet posts in Washington, wasn’t so popular among his fellow GOP members in Massachusetts. He lost tough primary races here in 1962 and in 1984; who were the winners in each case?
16. What colorful Boston Democrat was bounced out of Congress by a challenger running as an independent?
17. The Massachusetts Legislature dabbled in foreign policy (not for the last time) when it passed the Shea Act in 1970. What did the Shea Act attempt to do?
18. Long before Pat Buchanan started running for president, what Bay Stater declared “We must be now and forever for Americanism and nationalism, and against internationalism”?
19. What “leadpipe guarantee” was broken in 1975?
20. The membership of what body plummeted by 33 percent in 1979?
21. Who was “named” — and not for an award — by state Senate President William M. Bulger in 1981?
22. Since Massachusetts began holding seriously contested presidential primaries in 1968, which “favorite son” has racked up the biggest win?
Everything you always wanted to know about Bay State politics (but were afraid to ask)
1. In the early part of the century, the Good Government Association investigated reports of corruption among Boston politicians — most of them Irish Democrats. James Michael Curley coined the nickname.
2. ROAR, or Restore Our Alienated Rights, fought “forced” school busing in Boston during the 1970s.
3. Former US House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, who made the prophecy on the television program Nightline in 1989.
4. Boston University President John Silber made the statement to reporters during his 1990 campaign for governor.
5. Republican Gov. William Weld won 70.9 percent in his 1994 re-election bid, and Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy won 74.3 in his 1964 re-election bid.
6. Walsh favored giving women the right to vote.
7. The Boston Police Strike. Gov. Calvin Coolidge fired all the strikers; many of their replacements were Harvard students. The incident brought Coolidge national visibility, which led to his nomination as vice president in 1920.
8. The Lowell Committee, as it came to be known, upheld death sentences for Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who had been convicted of armed robbery and murder. Most observers concluded that the pair were innocent and were actually convicted on the basis of their radical political beliefs.
9. He was speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1919 to 1925, the first of four Bay Staters to occupy that office. The others were Republican Joseph R. Martin Jr. (1947-49 and 1953-55) and Democrats John W. McCormack (1962-71) and Tip O’Neill (1977-87).
10. New York Gov. Al Smith, who won 50.2 percent in 1928. Smith was also the first Catholic nominated for president by a major party.
11. He backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt over Al Smith for the Democratic nomination in 1932. Kept out of the state’s official delegation, Curley went to the convention as a representative of Puerto Rico and made a speech under the name of Jaime Miguel Curleo.
12. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones wrote and sang “The Rascal King.” It’s recorded on their 1998 CD Live at the Middle East.
13. The office of the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Tip O’Neill became the first Democrat in state history to serve as Speaker. When he moved in to the wood-paneled office, however, he discovered that all of the furniture and files had been cleaned out.
14. O’Brien was chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1972, when men connected to the Nixon administration calling themselves “The Plumbers” broke into his office at the Watergate hotel and office complex. But rather than “plug leaks” they drained the life out of the Nixon presidency.
15. In 1962, Richardson lost the nomination for attorney general to Edward Brooke, who later became the first black US senator since Reconstruction. In 1984, he lost the nomination for US senator to businessman Ray Shamie.
16. Joe Moakley, now the dean of the state’s congressional delegation and a Democratic stalwart, ran as an independent to defeat one-term incumbent Democrat Louise Day Hicks in 1972. Moakley returned to the party fold as soon as the votes were counted. The next year, Hicks won a seat on the Boston City Council, where the anti-busing activist seemed happier anyway.
17. The Shea Act “exempted” Massachusetts residents from having to serve in Vietnam.
18. US Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, an opponent of American participation in the League of Nations, made the statement in a speech before the Republican National Convention in 1920.
19. Gubernatorial candidate Michael S. Dukakis’s 1974 campaign pledge not to seek additional state taxes.Facing a severe budget deficit, the newly elected governor proposed $687 million in tax hikes, of which the Legislature approved $364 million. George Bush went on to make the same unrealistic promise (“Read my lips ….”) when he ran against Dukakis for president in 1988. In 1990, Bush signed a deficit-reduction package that raised the top personal income tax rate from 28 percent to 31 percent.20. The state House of Representatives, which was reduced from 240 to 160 members.
21. Alan D. Sisitsky, a liberal Democrat from Springfield, became the first state senator in history to be “named,” or removed from the chamber, for “unparliamentary behavior during debate.” The cited “behavior” was the latest in a long series of angry speeches accusing Bulger, a fellow Democrat, of heavy-handed and unfair practices in his rule over the Senate. Sisitsky was allowed to return only after publicly apologizing for his conduct. He did not run for re-election the next year, and was instead treated for what his brother called “physical and emotional fatigue.” 22. Though his national appeal proved limited, Paul Tsongas won 66.4 percent of the vote in the 1992 Democratic primary, beating the records of Ted Kennedy (65.1 percent in 1980), Michael Dukakis (58.6 percent in 1988), and Robert Kennedy (27.6 percent as a write-in candidate in 1968).
Robert David Sullivan is a freelance writer who lives in Somerville. His e-mail address is Robt555@aol.com.