So, this Tim Murray thing.
I've been steering clear of this controversy, not least because I know I can't resist the inappropriate driving-related puns like the one I just made, but mostly because I'm not really sure what to make of it.
You see, a lieutenant governor scandal/controversy is an odd duck, because
the LG job is an odd one. In physics terms, the LG has "potential"
rather than "kinetic" energy -- like a ball sitting at the top of a
ramp. The ball is just sitting there, doing nothing to nobody; but because it's at the top of the ramp, it has
stored-up potential to do a lot in the future.
Likewise, almost nobody cares at all about Tim Murray's fitness to conduct his
duties in office, because the LG has no duties. (At least, no official ones that
anybody cares about.) People do, however, care a LOT about Murray's stored-up potential, partly in the
sense that he can influence activity inside the Patrick administration, but
mostly in the sense that he is a likely future governor.
And here's an important thing: Murray uses that stored-up potential
political energy to influence people to build that potential energy even
further -- in this horribly strained analogy, to push the ball further up the
ramp. They raise money for him; they put his people in key positions; they
help his allies' campaigns; they don't assist his potential opponents; and so
on. All of that makes it seem more and more likely that he will become
governor, which gives him more potential political energy, which makes more
people want to join the effort to build it even more. The ball goes higher and higher up the ramp.
But the perceived likelihood of Murray becoming governor involves the calculus of conventional wisdom regarding his ability to win election in 2014. If his current troubles start eroding that perception, his
potential political energy drops -- regardless of whether these insiders think that the troubles say anything about his fitness for office. The people making that analysis know that
when it comes to big, high-profile gubernatorial elections, voters judge on a
whole range of character issues beyond just those issues that they, or the candidate, may
think are relevant to performing the duties of office.
So, in other words, when the
Boston Globe does a big story tying together the car crash,
McLaughlin, and patronage hackery (a la the Zimini story), people doing their
mental political calculations begin to conclude that this is going to continue
to be a major public-image problem for Murray
for some time to come.
The big thing, so far, has been Deval Patrick very solidly saying, and
signalling, that he's fully supporting Murray.
That has maintained the impression that Murray
is still well propped up high on that ramp.
I think that early and enthusiastic Patrick support was a big mistake, both
for Patrick and for Murray.
For one (probably minor) thing, the contrast with Patrick's cold kicking of Ron Bell to the
curb, over his driving-related allegations, has infuriated some people, particularly in the African-American community. But also, it was a
response appropriate for a story that was going to just go away in a day or
two. Since it hasn't, it has left the Governor boxed in. He didn't say that he
needed to wait for all the facts to come in, so it would look bad if facts
coming in change his conclusion. He also can't use any good news to signal that
concerns have been allayed, since he claimed that there were no concerns.
Basically, once Patrick squeezed his arm around Murray, there was nowhere left to go but away
from him -- and everybody will be watching for that to happen.
If it does, that could easily be a turning point (which might come regardless) in which people stop believing in Murray's potential political energy, and thus stop helping push that ball up the ramp -- leading to further decline in his potential energy, leading to more abandonment, leading to the ball rolling further and further down that ramp, at ever-increasing speed, eventually skidding on black ice into a railing at 100 miles per hour. Metaphorically speaking.
I don't think we've hit that tipping point yet. But today's Globe story was a call of "look out below!"