Jeff Jacoby

Ask Democrat Ed Markey or Republican Gabriel Gomez about guns or ObamaCare or each other's qualifications to be the next US senator from Massachusestts, and out come the canned talking points and put-downs that anyone following the Senate race quickly wearies of. But what if you toss them some questions from off the beaten path? I put some nonstandard queries to the two nominees, hoping their answers might be illuminating – or at least unexpected. Herewith excerpts from their replies. (The candidates' full responses are posted online: Click here for Markey's and here for Gomez's).

1. Are TV shows getting better or worse?

TV entertainment is more gorgeous, wide-ranging, and technically brilliant than anything viewers a generation ago could have imagined. At the same time, it's far more sexualized, violent and sleazy. I wondered if either candidate would express a preference for the sitcoms or game shows they grew up with.

Not a chance. Gomez emphatically said TV shows are "better!" – his exclamation point, not mine – but he does have limits: "I don't keep up with the Kardashians." Markey mildly praised the fact that "there are so many choices" and said that he usually chooses sports.

2. What popular political aphorism do you consider egregiously wrong?

Gomez rejects H. L. Mencken's sneer that no one ever lost money or an election "by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people." Voters, says Gomez, "are smarter than cynics give them credit for." Markey disputes the maxim "If you're not a liberal when you're 20, you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative at 40, you have no head."

3. Lord Acton famously warned that "power tends to corrupt." Do you feel that his warning applies to you?

I'd hoped the candidates might talk about personally resisting the dark temptations that come with power, but they played it safe. Markey praised the Founders for bequeathing us a republic in which power is restrained via checks, balances, and regular elections. Gomez reiterated his support for term limits on members of Congress.

4. Did you ever read a book that changed your way of looking at the world?

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for