HISTORY IS a two-way street.
Charlie Baker can't take credit for whatever good he thinks happened during 16 years of Republican governors without owning the bad stuff. But he can try, and that's what he's doing as he works to frame the debate for the 2010 gubernatorial election.
The Republican candidate is blaming Governor Deval Patrick and the Democrats for all the state's fiscal woes, as if a succession of Republican governors had nothing to do with spending priorities.
That's pure myth and it starts with a false premise - that government shrunk under the administration of Republican Governor William F. Weld.
You don't believe me? Then believe my friend and politically-conservative colleague, Jeff Jacoby.
"For all Weld's talk of downsizing, his administration has 'upsized' in every year save its first," reported Jacoby, in a 1996 article written for City Journal, which is published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.
To reiterate: Spending during the Weld years went up, not down. Bureaucracy got bigger, not smaller.
"How could Weld, who had come to office waving a budget-slashing scimitar, have turned into a bigger spender than his predecessor?" moaned Jacoby. He described Weld's answer to the query as "incoherent."
This horrid-to-conservatives truth was corroborated by Barbara Anderson, the mother of Massachusetts' modern tax-cutting movement. "Spending is out of control, just like it used to be," she told Jacoby.
Now, the pat excuse is that loony liberals forced Weld to pour more public money into wasteful programs. But reality is more complicated than that, as Baker knows from his insider perspective as Undersecretary of Health and Human Services to Weld and as Administration and Finance Secretary for Weld and Governor Paul Cellucci.
Once you are off the campaign trail and inside government, there are roads to build, bridges to fix, children to educate, police to pay, and the poor and weak to protect - or abandon, take your pick. Election year rhetoric runs into real people and their needs.
But there's no room for nuance when you're running on myth.
When you're running on myth, you boast, as Baker does, about "30 years of experience fixing things that were broken." You ignore what you helped break - the state's transportation system.
When the Big Dig was short on cash, state officials found a way to fund it. They borrowed $1.5 billion against future highway aid, a debt that left various transportation agencies in economic shambles and a public transit system in dire straits.
Baker was top financial adviser to Cellucci at the time, but he refuses to accept any responsibility for Big Dig decisions made on his watch. They don't fit the fiscal genius myth he cultivates.
His role as secretary of health and human services when the Weld administration deregulated the health care industry shatters another myth: cost-cutter. After deregulation, health care providers now compete with each other and the state no longer sets rates. It adds up to high health costs in Massachusetts. As CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker described the fallout as "having the grenade that you throw on one end of the boat roll back down and blow up on you when the boat shifts."
Baker's blame-the-Democrats narrative turns Massachusetts once again into a microcosm of the national political dialogue.
Republicans in Washington blame President Obama and the Democrats for all the bad economic news, without acknowledging the eight years of Republican-inspired policies that led up to it.
It's all about shifting blame to the party currently in power. Nationally and locally, that means blame the Democrats.
The strategy is helped by a public short on memory and long on anger. When you're mad, it's easier to digest campaign soundbites than to dig back and trace the decisions that got us to this point and who made them.
From Boston to Washington, there's blame enough on both sides.
The Harvard-educated Baker is smart enough to know that. But that's not the way the way the blame game is played in American politics.
Baker can run from history, but he can't hide from it, unless voters prefer myth to history. And they might.
(Joan Vennochi is a Boston Globe columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].)