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Adrian Walker

Playing to resentment

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / May 29, 2010

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Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, the president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, isn’t the kind of person to level criticism casually.

That makes his reaction to Tim Cahill’s mindless attempt to win votes by trashing local Muslims all the more striking.

"There are two environmental disasters in our country right now,’’ Hamilton said yesterday. “One is the oil spill that is threatening the coastline of my home state of Louisiana. The other is the toxic hatred and viciousness that has seeped into mainstream political and cultural life."

Cahill — he of the fast-sinking gubernatorial campaign — couldn’t resist trying to squeeze some mileage out of Governor Deval Patrick’s meeting last weekend with about 1,000 local Muslims. The candidate issued a ludicrous statement accusing Patrick of “pandering to special interest groups" by, you know, meeting with some constituents.

“Now is the time for Governor Patrick to look radical Islamic terrorism full in the face, call it what it is, and make sure that federal law enforcement officials who are tracking the Times Square case give our local law enforcement the information they have in real time.’’

Again, Patrick’s crime here was to meet with a group of people who are not accused of anything, or suspected of anything. But in Tim Cahill’s world, it’s as if any gathering of Muslims is the moral equivalent of an Al Qaeda meeting.

No doubt here who was doing the pandering.

Yesterday, Cahill met with several hundred religious leaders to try to explain his incendiary remarks. He said, as small men so often do, that he’d been misinterpreted.

The meeting was private, but clearly his comments did little to satisfy Hamilton, or many others who were in the room. They came out of the meeting and promptly trashed the treasurer.

Hamilton said he had worked with Cahill on several issues in the past, and thought well of him. “I know him, I like him and I respect him,’’ Hamilton said. “But that statement represents the kind of thinking we have to stop. This is the worst kind of American politics.’’

This has been a dismal week, and month, for Cahill. Just weeks ago, he and Republican Charles D. Baker were neck-and-neck in the polls, well within striking distance of Patrick. Now he is a distant third, and falling fast.

Part of that, of course, can be attributed to the advertising blitzkrieg launched by the Republican Governors Association, which has spent more than $1 million to either force him from the race or destroy his viability. Their punches — also way over the top — have clearly done damage, and Cahill is either unwilling or unable to spend money to respond.

But most of his drop can be attributed to Cahill himself — and his too often principle-free approach to this campaign.

Consider his response to the scandal in the state Probation Department reported in the Globe last week. Cahill — whose connections to embattled Probation head John O’Brien run deep — has basically declared the shenanigans in the department to be business as usual. That is a strange position for a man who entered the race claiming to be a change candidate, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with O’Brien helping to raise campaign cash for him while Cahill employs O’Brien’s wife and daughter.

It is in that same high-minded vein that Cahill casually equates Islam with terrorism. The fact that his comments are transparently bigoted and manipulative doesn’t seem to slow him down a bit. Somehow, he has made the awful calculation that hatred has an audience.

“This is so much bigger than Tim Cahill,’’ Hamilton said. “Christians and Jews are not going to allow Muslims to be used like this. We’re closing ranks.’’

Cahill likes to point out, accurately, that he has more experience in office than both of his opponents combined. But instead of running on his record, or some identifiable ideology or vision of government, he has decided to play to fears and resentment. That is the strategy of a loser.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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