“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 in 1964. The current auditor, Thaddeus M. Buczko, was low on name recognition, and Republicans hoped voters would confuse their Buckley with the Democrat who had been dead for two years. 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 quintessential Boston Irish working-class Democratic neighborhood, to put up our new signs on telephone polls.
“As long as you’re 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 become Sheriff of Middlesex County, where he instituted a number of progressive reforms, including inmate rehabilitation programs, opposition to the death penalty, and support of gun control. He even sued his own office to stop juveniles from being incarcerated with adult criminals.
Buckley personified the kind of moderate Republicanism that members of his party to win 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 and the announcement by the contemptible Joe Arpaio 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, more progressive on some issues than their opponents and a necessary antidote to an entrenched and sometimes corrupt Democratic machine.