DID YOU DOZE OFF during last night's gubernatorial debate? Don't feel bad; Governor Weld did, too. Oh, he talked when Natalie told him to talk and nodded agreeably when Mark Roosevelt told him what a disgrace to mankind he is, but mostly he looked as if all he really wanted was to stretch, yawn, and take a nap. Not running scared? Weld is barely running awake.
There was one moment, though, when he came to life. A woman in the audience asked about rehabilitating sex offenders. Bizarrely enough, that caught Weld's attention.
"I don't want to get anybody's hopes up," he declaimed, suddenly alert, eyes afire. "You're not going to cure the pedophiles. There's absolutely no cure for pedophilia! I was head of the antipornography unit when I was in Washington from '86 to '88 as head of the criminal division" in the Justice Department. "The only cure there is bars."
Got it. Anything besides pedophilia you want to get worked up about?
Well, last night there wasn't. The debate was half over before Weld even got around to mentioning his strongest credential -- that he not only stopped the Dukakis "trend of billion-dollar tax increases every year" but reversed it with some tax cuts of his own. Most governors wouldn't wait until the last two minutes of a debate to remind a statewide TV audience that unemployment had been chopped nearly in half on their watch, from the highest rate in the nation when they took office to one of the lowest.
But then, most governors running for reelection face tougher competition than Rep. Roosevelt. He may be a Democrat with a luminous Democratic name running in a Democratic state, but he can't raise carfare from Democratic donors and he trails his opponent even among Democrats, according to a recent Globe poll, by a humiliating 54-37.
If Roosevelt were running for Smartest Boy in the Class, he'd win hands down. His delivery last night was tough, focused, clear. Overcaffeinated? Yeah. Shrill, too. And characteristically self-righteous. But he had done his homework and had no trouble firing one sharp arrow after another in Weld's direction.
"Your local aid cuts have meant fewer police on the streets today than when you took office."
"Governor, we've had our first 14-, 15-, and 16-billion dollar budgets under you. We still don't know what your priorities are."
"I have visited DYS facilities during your term in office -- and I can tell you, sir, it's a disgrace. We had eight kids escape from Westfield, armed, last year. The summer before, six died."
Sharp reproaches, no doubt about it, and zing! went the strings of the hearts of Roosevelt's fans in the audience when they heard them. But the governor just nodded and blinked and paid Roosevelt no mind. Heck, he hadn't come to Faneuil Hall in order to argue with Roosevelt. All Weld had to do in last night's debate was show up.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)