Posted using ShareThis
Posted using ShareThis
So Brown is off to a bit of a rough start in his relationship to the facts, not an entirely unknown flaw in a politician. But he’s in the big leagues now, so he better do his homework before he talks on national network TV, or else Tina Fey might be impersonating him on Saturday Night Live sometime soon. People loved his populist truck driving image on the campaign trail, and his fiery rhetoric about the rascals in Washington. But now he’s in Washington, and people do actually pay attention to what you say there.
Last night I turned the television off after CNN called the special Senate election for the Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley, with Brown getting 52% of the vote to Coakley’s 47%.
This morning I am trying to get my head around what happened. In this traditionally bluest of blue states Republicans are not supposed to be elected senator. The last Republican United States senator from Massachusetts was Edward Brooke, who left the senate in 1979. But Brooke was unlike any Republican you will find today. He was a moderate Republican, who co-authored the 1968 Fair Housing Act. He was staunchly bi-partisan and was the first Republican senator to ask for President Richard Nixon’s resignation after the post-Watergate “Saturday Night Massacre.”
Brooke was also the first African-American to be elected to the Senate since Reconstruction, and the only African-American in the Senate in the Twentieth Century until Carol Mosely Braun was elected in 1993. To younger Americans living in the Obama era, it is hard to conceive of the symbolic significance of Brooke’s active presence in the Senate in those days, and Massachusetts’ voters re-elected him by 62% to 34% in 1972, and he served until 1979.
We haven’t had a Republican senator since. My grown children haven’t known one in their lifetimes. But they have one now, Scott Brown, who is not a moderate, but a pro-life, anti-tax, anti-immigration politician who opposes health care reform among other things. He fills the seat left vacant by the death of Edward Kennedy, and he gets two years before he has to run for re-election. That’s right, Ted Kennedy, the “Lion of the Senate,” who championed health care reform his entire career, is now replaced by someone who has vowed to vote against the current bill. His election deprives the Democrats of their 60 votes in the Senate that preclude a filibuster.
So what happened? There is already a lot of finger pointing, but there is plenty of blame to go around the Democratic Party. And Brown gets credit for running an energetic campaign. Coakley had a nearly 30% lead in an early poll, and as late as last week was still predicted to have a double-digit lead.
Here’s my take on it. First of all, as President Obama’s political guru, David Axelrod, said last night on the eve of the defeat, “Elections matter.” That’s why we have them, just like why we play the games to see who wins rather than relying on the predictions.
There was a perception by many that Martha Coakley and the Democrats were arrogant and entitled. In one of the debates Coakly said something about Kennedy’s seat and Brown retorted, “It is not Kennedy’s seat, it’s the people’s seat.” That moment crystallized a populist resentment toward the establishment. As things were sinking fast Coakley brought in Presidents Clinton and Obama to campaign. That may only have reinforced the view that the elites were behind her. Brown, on the other hand, has popular sports figures like Doug Flutie (of the Miami miracle pass), and Curt Schilling, the Boston Red Sox pitcher (of “bloody sock” fame.) To me, nothing sums up this election more than that contrast, the smart attorney general supported by two Presidents versus the truck-driving state senator supported by sports icons.
So Brown tapped into class resentments against the powers that be in this scary economic time. Ironic that many of those who voted for Brown were suburbanites, a usually well-off and typically liberal crowd, but who now seem to fear that the American Dream may be slipping from their grasp. Many have lost jobs, or fear they will. Some have lost their homes or their mortgages are now bigger than the worth of their home. These concerns are real and some of the anger about these things seems to have accrued to the President and those in office.
Others have interpreted the vote as a referendum on the Health Care Bill, but that is too simplistic. For one thing, Massachusetts has a near universal health care system already. What the vote more likely signals is a fear of big government spending, as people watch dizzying deficits being piled up in Washington. It is, of course, unfair to hang that on President Obama, since it was actually George W. Bush and Henry Paulson who launched the early big bailouts to keep the whole financial system from crashing in the fall of 2008, but many people have short memories.
And on the other side many liberal Democrats think the health care bill is so compromised that it is not worth passing, especially with the elimination of the public option. So did they stay away from the polls yesterday? If they did it is yet another example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.
So the perfect storm that nobody predicted took place. Coakley ran a safe and lackluster campaign designed not to lose. Brown ran to win and captured something that is in the air. I happen to think that a good deal of what is in the air is pretty ugly. I don’t want to hang this on Scott Brown. I wish him well, and hope he can appeal to “the better angels of our nature.”
But to do so he will need to distance himself from some of the rhetoric of his supporters, especially the hate-mongers on the airways. Some of what I have seen in on-line and TV discussions, and heard on the radio, is truly scary. Some of it, sad to say, is clearly sexist and racist. There is a strong anti-immigrant impulse along with a derisive attitude toward the poor and disadvantaged. We have seen this before in American history when economic times were tough, but it doesn’t bode well for us, especially coming so soon after Barack Obama’s large-hearted campaign rhetoric and historic electoral victory that inspired so many people, many of them young and voting for the first time. It was just a year ago, but things move quickly in politics, and in Massachusetts yesterday the audacity of hope lost out to the resentment of fear.
I got a call from Barack Obama yesterday afternoon, so I knew something was up. True, it was a robo-call, and every other Democrat in Massachusetts most likely got one. Still, it was a rare occurance, because usually nobody is interested in my vote unless it is a primary or a local election.
Here in the Bay State, where even the dogs and cats are Democrats, our votes are taken for granted. It is true that we had several moderate Republican governors before our current Democratic one, Deval Patrick, was elected. I have always thought that was because even Democrats know that there is a high rascal factor in our state politics, and a moderate Republican governor reassured us that the henhouse wasn’t entirely under the watch of the foxes.
Then last night I got a call from an old dear high school friend from New Jersey imploring me and my family to be sure to vote in Tuesday’s special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward Kennedy last year.
I voted in the special Democratic primary awhile back, and had assumed that the winner, state Attorney General Martha Coakley (photo: above left), was the heir presumptive, this being Massachusetts. That was “the conventional wisdom.” But apparently too many people, perhaps including the candidate, thought this, and now it looks like her opponent, State Senator Scott Brown, has closed the gap and the polls are saying the race is too close to call.
This is a dramatic development and has Democrats in a state of high anxiety. Bill Clinton is already here campaigning for Coakley, and the President is coming tomorrow (after earlier saying he wasn’t.)
The stakes are pretty high for Democrats, not just here in the Bay State (we call it that so we don’t have to keep typing in Massachusetts, which nobody really knows how to spell.) First of all, Scott Brown is not a moderate Republican like former governors Bill Weld or Jane Swift, or even Mitt Romney, who didn’t get in touch with his conservative inner child until he ran for President.
Brown is an unabashed conservative, pro-life, anti-taxes, and, most decisively for national politics, anti-health care reform. He has vowed to vote down the current health care bill, and, if he wins, he takes away the Democrats’ 60 votes they need to pass the thing. Now the bill will be far from perfect, but it is better than nothing, and nothing would be a blow for the country and a real defeat for the Obama administration. It is possible that the failure of this bill would mean we’d go another generation with our immoral and inefficient health care system, which would be, quite literally, a shame.
A Brown win could also be interpreted as a changing of the political winds, putting the fear into some of the wavering Democrats that aren’t too excited by the health care bill anyway, and maybe encouraging other vulnerable Democrats in unsafe seats to retire.
The great irony of it all is that if Brown wins and Coakley loses, the seat of Ted Kennedy, the iconic “Lion of the Senate” will become the vote that brings down health care reform. That would be sad.
Special elections are funny things. With nothing else on the ballot they have low turn-outs and can be swung by the zealous and the angry. Brown has channeled populist anger at the banking bailouts, and has galvanized a coalition made up of the few remaining reasonable Republican party loyalists with an assortment of Tea Partiers and other “were mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” types, all fired up by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and talk radio. It’s not pretty.
So it all depends on who turns out to vote on Tuesday. Coakley should beat Brown in Massachusetts, but then again, the New England Patriots were supposed to beat the Ravens in Foxboro last weekend in the playoffs. So stay tuned.