Why Charlie Baker’s New Book Isn’t Required Reading

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/05/24/why-charlie-bakers-new-book-isnt-required-reading/

Charlie Baker wrote a book.

And like him, it’s sort of just there.

You probably didn’t hear about it because there was no aggressive media frenzy. I only found out about the book on Monday morning.

It’s called Results:  Getting Beyond Politics To Get Important Work Done. He wrote it with his former chief of staff Steve Kadish, a Democrat. 

If your name is Chris Sununu, Larry Hogan, Gina Raimondo, Maura Healey, or Phil Scott, then this is the book for you. If you’re interested in an eastern establishment Republican’s mindset when it comes to reforming various state departments without any grand ideological bent, clear off the comfy couch.

But for most people, the eight hours necessary to complete the read are better used elsewhere.

There are no intriguing behind-the-scenes anecdotes. The book doesn’t touch on Baker’s grand vision for the state — because Baker seems proud not to have one. It doesn’t get into the heated debates that happened behind the scenes, the scandals his administration has endured, his feud with state GOP party chairman Jim Lyons and more than half of the state committee members of the Massachusetts Republican Party, or even his thoughts on the state legislature. 

Baker’s focuses and conclusions are different from what one would expect for a Republican governor; this book could have been written by a moderate in either political party and it would read the same way.

Baker gets a couple of things right, but let’s start with the one place he gets wrong:  his notion that so-called wedge issues are too divisive and that focusing on them doesn’t move the state forward.

If Baker doesn’t want to devote news cycle upon news cycle to the legality of flag burning, that’s understandable. However, social issues are vital to many people, and they affect our way of life. Abortion, physician-assisted suicide, capital punishment, Second Amendment rights, and what children are learning in schools are not peripheral matters. In some ways they define who we are as a society.

A handful of those aforementioned issues are matters of life and death. For the millions of people born as a result of unintended pregnancies, abortion isn’t a wedge issue; the fact that they weren’t aborted is the reason why they’re alive today. People who are victims of gun violence – whether they support gun rights or gun control – don’t see this as some divisive sideshow, either. The same is true of the people whose children are being taught sexually inappropriate and politically charged content in public schools.  

There’s irony to Baker saying wedge issues don’t move the state forward when he and much of his state government embrace them. He has no problem reminding people he supports legal abortion (and doubling taxpayer funding for it) or advocating to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts. And some departments under him have replaced Mother and Father with Parent 1 and Parent 2 on government forms, while the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles started issuing Gender X driver’s licenses, even though no law exists saying government officials must do it. 

Another irony of the book is when Baker talks about his philosophy of hiring good people and how people are policy; patronage is rampant in this administration, at the expense of taxpayers and the well-being of the Commonwealth. 

The theme of the book isn’t what one would expect from a typical Republican. Baker advocates for good government, not limited government. He rejects the notion offered by many constitutional conservatives that the government sucks at its job. Instead, he thinks government provides many vital services that go far beyond the role of night watchman (roads, police, military). 

Baker spends a lot of time focusing on issues he sees as market failure – issues like improving Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority services, streamlining the Affordable Care Act health connector, and even the government’s role in broadband expansion to Western Massachusetts (a region of the state that Baker says often feels neglected by politicians on Beacon Hill). 

Access to health care and information and having reliable transportation to get to work are vital issues. Baker takes pragmatic approaches to them. Instead of offering grand solutions, his approach is what he can do here and now to improve the situation. 

So perhaps that tiny fraction of the populace that makes laws will consider the book worthwhile. But Joe the Plumber probably won’t gain much by looking at the intricacies of how Baker wants to run things more efficiently. 

Baker’s approach to governance, however, does offer insight into why he favored a heavy-handed approach from the government in response to the coronavirus pandemic – an issue he addresses at length in the book. Baker believes government make things better, including public health during a pandemic. 

The book should put an end to the rumors that Baker has an interest in national politics. The kinds of issues that interest Baker are not the kinds of things that get you a speaking slot at CPAC or a party convention or soundbites on Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC.

To his credit, Baker doesn’t offer pie-in-the-sky solutions that he knows will never happen in this country; if you want that, go buy a book written by Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or any hardcore libertarian ever.  

It’s not a bad book. Policy wonks and businessmen may even learn a thing or two from it. But I don’t think I’ll even remember writing this review a week from now.


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