The Incredible Incompetence of Martha Coakley

The race for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat gets weirder-and tighter-by the hour.


Comrades in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, stay alert for a telephone call from President Barack Obama. He "truly apologize[s] for intruding on your day," but according to recent polls, Republican hopeful Scott Brown has overtaken Democrat Martha Coakley in the race for the state's open Senate seat. So pardon the interruption, but if you don't act now there is a very good chance that a troglodyte Republican will sink ObamaCare.

After an uninspired YouTube endorsement (which looked like a hi-def hostage video) and today's uninspired robocall, Obama, whose own poll numbers are looking Coakley-esque, plans to travel to Massachusetts on Sunday in a risky attempt to save his party's 60-seat Senate majority. Projecting an outward calm—White House spokesman Robert Gibbs confidently told reporters that he "didn't think Brown was going to win"—Democrats are in full panic mode after a Suffolk University poll released yesterday gave Brown a slight edge over Coakley. According to polling wizard Nate Silver, Coakley supporters can pick at pollsters' biases if they desire but, right now, the race is most certainty a toss-up.

How could such a thing happen in Massachusetts, a state so progressive that the Cambridge Bolshevik can purchase the complete works of Josef Stalin and receive training at the Center for Marxist Education within a few short blocks; a state so lefty that, in the 1980s, my hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, became a "sister city" of Sandinista-ruled San Marcos, Nicaragua? What was the Kronstadt moment for my fellow Bay Staters?

Two things: a monstrous health care bill and a candidate almost Dukakis-like in her on-the-trail incompetence.

Coakley's defenders say that a poorly run campaign—and not skepticism of ObamaCare—is driving her poll numbers south. An endless string of gaffes is doubtless adding to her troubles, but there is significant evidence that health care and the prospect of massive budget deficits are more proximate causes. As the Boston Herald noted, that Suffolk University poll also showed "51 percent of voters saying they oppose the 'national near-universal health-care package' and 61 percent saying they believe the government cannot afford to pay for it."

And while they might often act like robots programmed at Democratic National Committee headquarters, Massachusetts voters have reacted negatively to Coakley's stunningly cavalier campaign style. Brian McGrory, a columnist at the Coakley-friendly Boston Globe, accused her of being a "diva" who was dodging debates and skipping the flesh-pressing necessary to win. When asked by the Globe why she wasn't out stumping like Brown, she fired back: "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" When she was a rising star in the D.A.'s office, the Globe admitted, in an otherwise obsequious profile, that she was "Relentless. Icy. Unflappable. Never nice."

In a moment of unconscious channeling of Pete Seeger, Florence Reese, and the East German youth movement, Coakley this week crowed that "Now is the time for Scott Brown to tell us what side he's on" regarding proposed bank fees, adding that "Despite his tea party rhetoric about never supporting a tax hike, the truth is that he has supported more than $300 million in new taxes and fees on middle class families." In an exquisite Palinism largely ignored by the local media, Coakley included visits to her London-based sister in a list of her foreign policy credentials.

So what's wrong with her opponent? Brown, voters are constantly reminded, is a Republican—a foreign virus in the Massachusetts body politic—and his talk of tax cuts echoes rhetoric employed by those mad Tea Party rubes. When he isn't conspiring with the knuckle-draggers, Brown is spending time at one of his "five properties," which includes an Aruba timeshare valued between $10,000 and $20,000. It's more than a little bizarre to accuse Brown of being too rich, too bourgeois, to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

As for Coakley's record as a prosecutor and district attorney, it inspires even less confidence in Massachusetts voters. As the head of a child abuse and sex crimes unit and later as district attorney, Martha Coakley was a strong proponent of using discredited techniques of "recovering memory" of past child abuse.

As a result, innocent men like Gerald Amirault, a former daycare operator who, along with his mother and sister, was accused of molesting children in his care, was released a long 18 years after his conviction. Wall Street Journal writer Dorthy Rabinowitz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the Amirault case, wrote that after coaching by therapists, "Mrs. Amirault was accused of raping a child with a magic wand, of assaulting another sexually with a large butcher knife, Gerald of abusing children in a magic room while dressed as a clown, and Cheryl of similar unspeakable violations." After the case collapsed, and long after the family had been convicted, Coakley personally lobbied then-Governor Jane Swift to block Gerald Amirault's release.

While the Amirault case has received the most coverage, there's also the case of Ray and Shirley Souza, who were accused of molesting both their children and grandchildren. As with the Amarault case, no credible physical evidence existed of sexual assault—but that didn't stand in the way of the hyper-ambitious Coakley. "What we have are 6- and 7-year-old female children testifying credibly about incidents in the recent past." Those credible incidents included being forced to drink a "green potion" before being inappropriately touched, being molested by a giant robot, and Ray Souza putting his head in his granddaughter's vagina and "wiggling" it around.

The Amiraults and Souzas were railroaded; their lives were ruined. Coakley, always forthright about her political ambitions (in 2004, she announced that she would seek Sen. John Kerry's seat if he won the presidency), stands by her overzealous prosecutions and defends the convictions. When asked about the bizarre and incredible tales "recovered" by the Souza grandchildren, Coakley offered this curious defense of the prosecutions: "Kids cannot fabricate a comprehensive lie about putting their fingers in their grandmother's vagina and say it feels slimy and tell that to an interviewer and say it in court again six months later."

A decade ago, Coakley told The Boston Globe that if her political career were to flame out she would likely "retire to Martha's Vineyard and write murder mysteries." On Friday, liberal journalist Steve Kornacki reported that Coakley's own internal polling shows Brown with a three-point lead. I eagerly await Coakley's literary debut.

Michael C. Moynihan is a senior editor of Reason magazine.