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I now understand why it was a Massachusetts politician, Tip O'Neill, who said, ``All politics is local.' The locality is the Twilight Zone.

Tuning into the debate between the Democratic candidates for governor last Tuesday night was like stepping into a time warp. The words and the style of the thing all seemed to be from the 1950s - except the show was in color.The candidates in the Sept. 18 primary election to succeed Gov. Michael Dukakis seemed plausible enough. Francis X. Bellotti was once the attorney general of Massachusetts and has run for almost every other office in the state for the past 30 years. John Silber is the president of Boston University, a ``people's candidate' who doesn't seem to like people very much.

Bellotti came across as a guy getting his shoes shined in a courthouse, telling anyone who would listen stories of how it was in the old days. This is a man who has been mixing apples and oranges for a lifetime. One of his ``charges' in the debate was that ``the dropout rate' at Boston University was 38 percent, even higher than in Massachusetts high schools.

Think about that one. Then think about the fact that Silber repeatedly refers to his profession as ``philosopher.'

The philosopher-candidate said his campaign was ``amateur hour.' He then proved it, enraging Boston blacks by saying the reason he has not made a major speech in black neighborhoods was, ``There is no point in making a speech on crime control to a group of drug addicts.'

The campaign is a mess. The two-man debate was supposed to be a two-man, one-woman debate, but Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy dropped out the day before. There was negative public reaction when Murphy attempted a coup of sorts after Dukakis went to Europe last week on a trade mission. Under Massachusetts law the lieutenant governor automatically becomes acting governor when the governor is out of the state, and, as Dukakis took off, Murphy actually tried to take over and cut $150 million from the state budget.

The state is in a deepening recession as jobs move around the country and the world. Not all economics, it seems, are local. And, like most urban states, Massachusetts has been badly hurt by Reagan / Bush-era policies shifting burdens from Washington to state capitals - New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, in Boston the other day, called it ``fend-for-yourself federalism that forces the states to go it alone.' Talking about that and about rising health care costs, Silber suggested, too accurately, that too much public money is being wasted on medical care for old people. ``When you've lived a long life and you're ripe,' he said, ``then it's time to go.'

Meanwhile, the Republican front-runner, a former U.S. attorney named Steven Pierce, is running on the coattails of Citizens for Limited Taxation, which is sponsoring a referendum to roll back state taxes to pre-1988 levels. A recent poll shows that 48 percent of the people of Massachusetts say they would move out of the state if they had the chance. Watching the men who would be their leaders, I understand why they might feel that way.

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