Looking for America: My first political campaign (a series)

“I’ve gone to look for America.” Simon and Garfunkel

In the late summer of 1966, with nothing much to do and, in the words of Chuck Berry, “no particular place to go,” I signed on to the campaign of John J. Buckley, who was running for Massachusetts state auditor. A little-known Republican running in a heavily Democratic state, Buckley’s main political attribute was his name. Thomas J. Buckley, a Democrat and no relation, had been the auditor for 23 years when he died of a heart attack the day before the primary two years earlier. The current auditor, Thaddeus M. Buczko, was low on name recognition, and Republicans hoped that voters would confuse their Buckley with the deceased Democrat. This was a pretty common political tactic in those days in Massachusetts: in 1960, for example, six John Kennedys ran for various offices in the Massachusetts Democratic primary; a seventh, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was elected president of the United States.

Our signs and bumper stickers read: “For AUDITOR vote BUCKLEY.” The “for” and the “vote” were in such small print that from a distance it just read: AUDITOR BUCKLEY, thus feeding the illusion that Tom Buckley had been reincarnated.

One evening my college roommate Moose Mason, our friend Fred Dabney, and I were sent into South Boston, the archetypal Boston Irish working-class Democratic neighborhood, to put up our signs on telephone polls.

“As long as you are putting ours up,” campaign manager Jimmy Lombard told us, “you might as well take Buczko’s down.”

And so it happened that I was high on a ladder in Southie when a pickup truck pulled up next to ours and three large members of the political opposition got out.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” their leader asked?

“Putting up signs for John Buckley.”

“Oh? Then what are those Buczko signs doing in the back of your truck?”

This was a question for which we did not have a good answer.

But instead of getting all politically correct about what would later be called “dirty tricks,” our interrogator simply said, “Get down from that pole and get out of South Boston because if we see you here again we will wrap that f**king ladder around your f**king neck.”

We got the message.

Buczko easily carried South Boston in November and would serve as the state auditor for the next 17 years.

John Buckley, meanwhile, went on to be Sheriff of Middlesex County, where he instituted a number of progressive reforms, including . . . He even sued his own office.

While he had little success at the polls, Buckley personified the kind of moderate Republicanism that allowed others in his party to gain statewide offices in heavily Democratic Massachusetts — including Ed Brooke, the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since reconstruction (and the first black senator ever elected from the North), and governors Bill Weld, Mitt Romney (the father of “Romneycare”), and the incumbent, Charlie Baker.

In the wake of the senatorial campaign of the egregious Roy Moore in Alabama the contemptible Joe Arpaio’s announcement that he will seek John McCain’s seat in Arizona, moderate Republicans seem a dying breed. Yet they were essential to the stability of Massachusetts politics, often more progressive on some issues than their opponents and a necessary antidote to an entrenched and sometimes corrupt Democratic machine.

James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.