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That chip on Capuano's shoulder

Posted by Dante Ramos  November 18, 2010 02:10 PM

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cap.JPGSome politicians stress their humble roots as a way of gaining trust with voters. But class resentments play so prominently in US Representative Michael Capuano's political message that one has to assume they're deeply felt. A year ago, a Globe editorial endorsing one of Capuano's opponents in the Democratic Senate primary described the Somerville Congressman this way:

...he believes himself to be underestimated and type-cast because of his Somerville upbringing. He often expresses a sense of class-based anger. Any such us-against-them attitude is inherently divisive, and makes a deeply admirable quality -- his desire to stand up for average people -- seem more like personal grievance.

Capuano's "decision to base his current campaign on populist anger," the piece went on to say, "suggests that he doesn’t really want to change."

Then there's Exhibit B -- the congressman's reaction last week to the dedication of a grand new wing at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Amid effusive praise for the expansion and the museum more generally, Globe critic Sebastian Smee's story captured this odd moment from Capuano:

Capuano spoke about passing by the MFA as a younger man and feeling shut out, as if the museum had a sign in front of it that said, “You are not welcome here.’’

“[Museum chief] Malcolm Rogers and the museum’s board of trustees have taken down that sign. They have made it clear that you are welcome here. This museum is for everyone. It’s a reminder that we as a culture don’t distinguish between where you come from or who you are.’’

This is a little unfair to the MFA of yore, isn't it? As various biographical sources make clear, Capuano's father was an elected official in Somerville and worked for the state revenue department. Capuano himself graduated from Dartmouth at 21, got elected to the Somerville board of alderman at 24, and got his law degree at 25. Now, maybe that hypothetical sign on the MFA said, "AMBITIOUS YOUNG MEN ON THE POLITICAL FAST TRACK ARE NOT WELCOME HERE." But that's probably not what Capuano meant.

Capuano would surprise nobody if he runs against Senator Scott Brown in 2012. If so, his consultants will likely urge him to tout his many achievements in Congress, rather than focusing so much on real or imagined slights.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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