The Democrats' final debate | Scot Lehigh

The cool prosecutor and the haughty legislator

By Scot Lehigh
December 3, 2009

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ATTORNEY GENERAL Martha Coakley hit her debate stride at just the right moment, turning in a confident, assertive, and likable performance and emerging unscathed from the final face-off.

City Year co-founder Alan Khazei was gutsy in voicing support for a tax to pay for any increased troop presence in Afghanistan, even though he doesn’t support such a deployment.

And businessman Steve Pagliuca finally found his confidence.

But what I found most interesting was the contrast between the cool, composed manner in which Coakley responded when US Representative Michael Capuano queried her about the Patriot Act, and the exasperated way Capuano reacted when Pagliuca pressed him on his health care position.

Coakley turned away Capuano’s question by saying she would oppose reauthorizing the Patriot Act as currently written but noted that it did contain some other worthwhile tools for law enforcement officials.

Now to Pagliuca-Capuano. Pagliuca, who has stressed that he will support a health care bill even if it includes new restrictions on abortion funding, said he couldn’t tell where Capuano stood.

In reply, Capuano again tried to portray those abortion restrictions as something that would “send poor women back to the alleys of America’’ for abortions.

“That’s ridiculous. That’s like death panels,’’ Pagliuca said, alluding to Sarah Palin’s absurd health care claim.

He’s right. The restriction in question is not about banning abortion, but rather about limiting insurance coverage for a procedure that usually costs about $400, one for which most poor women in the United States don’t have coverage anyway.

“Are we going to have to get into this again?’’ Capuano replied. “Are we going to be able to move forward . . . Am I going to be able to finish, or are we going to have this childish . . . back and forth?’’ He was just as dismissive when the matter came up again later.

His disingenuous and haughty reply showed viewers something instructive about how he responds to critics. And now it’s up to the voters.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at

Correction: In an earlier version of this column, the quote "That's ridiculous. That's like death panels," was incorrectly attributed to Michael Capuano. It was said by Steve Pagliuca.

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