Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scott Brown: The Massachusetts Wake-Up Call

On Tuesday, the "Mother of All Political Earthquakes" hit

It what can only be described as an 8.0 Richter scale
political event, Democratic Senate candidate Martha
Coakley went down to defeat at the hands of Republican
insurgent Senate candidate Scott Brown.

And, unlike other unforeseen upsets, this one wasn't
a squeaker. Rather, it was a convincing 53% to 47%
win, with Brown carrying not only conservative
rural districts but liberal precincts such as
Andover, Brookline and Cambridge as well.

And the world's press is having a field day with the story.
London's Daily Telegraph hinted at "The end of the Obama
era", saying that "there will be many more Scott Browns"
before the year is out. Agence France-Presse blamed the
"inept and incompetent" campaign run by Coakley. And
the New York Times, in a slew of front-page articles and
multiple Op-Eds, stated that Obama needs to "radically
change course to the Center", to avoid a repeat of the
"disaster of 1994". That, of course, was the wholesale
repudiation of the Democratic Party engineered by
Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America".

But in reading through the stories, four items
stand out. First, Tip O'Neill's dictum that "All
Politics is Local". Second, for an establishment-selected
candidate, Martha Coakley ran an incredibly inept and
tone-deaf campaign, an ineptitude reflected by the Democratic
National Committee in its lack of attention to the race.
Third, Scott Brown successfully positioned himself as a
fresh-faced, independent-minded outsider, downplaying
the fact that in real life he is a prominent attorney,
a former three-term State Assemblyman and an
incumbent third-term State Senator. And finally, Brown's
election may be read as the Triumph of the Independent Voter ,
whose numbers in Massachusetts exceed those of registered
Democrats and Republicans combined.

On "All Politics is Local" , Scott Brown did all the right things
the right way. He went door-to-door in neighborhoods with yard
signs in hand, worked the local diners and taverns, and famously
criss-crossed the state in his pickup truck, asking ordinary folks
for their support at every opportunity. As he later put it, he did
nothing other than what he had done previously in his runs for
the State House and Senate.

Martha Coakley, on the other hand, was almost invisible
to the voting public - unless it was at an assembly of
high-ranking insiders with assured media coverage.
Incredibly, when asked about this by a TV reporter,
she retorted, "What do you expect me to do? Stand
outside Fenway Park in the cold and shake hands?".

That TV snippet was replayed endlessly by the Brown
campaign, and the very next day Scott Brown was standing
outside Fenway Park shaking hands, with Boston sports icons
Curt Schilling and Doug Flutie in tow.

This incredible tone-deafness by Coakley the candidate was
matched by the ineptness of Coakley the campaigner. While
her pollster and chief adviser Celia Lake was pleading with
the DNC for more support and attention to the campaign,
warning that Brown was a far more formidable opponent
than anyone realized, Coakley took a two-week Caribbean
vacation to "escape the cold weather".

This studious lack of campaign effort did not go unnoticed,
either in the White House or elsewhere in Washington.

And, on the campaign stump, Coakley looked and sounded
every bit the frumpy, shopworn Democratic Party
that Brown made her out to be. Her
standard stump speech was one of " Preserving a
Democratic Senate Seat", combined with a recitation
of the long list of parasitic special interests and public
employee unions that supported her.

Brown, on the other hand, reminded her that the
seat belonged not to the Democratic Party but to
the people of Massachusetts, and invited his audiences
to compare their well-being with those of the special
interests (particularly the unions) in the Coakley

In desperation, Coakley responded by committing gaffe
after misstep after gaffe. Calling Brown supporter and
Red Sox icon Curt Schilling a "closet Yankee fan" alienated
male voters, who regardless of social or economic status
take their Boston sports teams seriously. Her retort that
Massachusetts voters should be "grateful" for the
"sacrifices" of its unionized public sector fell on deaf ears.
Trumpeting Massachusetts' mandated health care
plan as a model for the nation was a particular laugher,
as the plan is famous for its high costs, coverage gaps and
exclusions, and lack of support by both doctors and the
public. And telling Massachusetts Catholics that if they
could not support abortion on demand they shouldn't
be working in health care was a gratuitous insult to many
Irish Catholic Democratic voters, many of whom promptly
abandoned her.

The end result of all this soon became apparent to
Democratic Party professionals. On December 1st of
last year, Coakley had a 21-point lead over Brown. By
the first week of January, that lead had shrunk to four.
By the middle of January, Brown had taken a four-point
lead. And the weekend before the election, Rahm Emanuel
and David Axelrod were telling President Obama that,
absent a miracle, Coakley was a confirmed loser.

But it took more than just Coakley gaffes and Brown's
right moves to make a victory. From the start, Brown
courted Independents - a plurality among Massachusetts
voters and a growing force nationwide. And Independents
increasingly believe the following:

1) Incumbents of both parties, particularly the Democrats,
are happy, even eager, to do the bidding of moneyed
special interests against the interests of the people;

2) The Pelosi-Reid-Obama Health Care plan is dead
in the water and should be either completely overhauled
or scrapped;

3) On jobs and the economy, "free trade" and "globalization",
long supported by incumbents of both parties, have saddled
us with permanently high unemployment and a permanent
trade deficit;

4) Spending and the Deficit are totally out of control
and need to be reined in before disaster strikes;

5) On terrorism and National Defense, no "civil rights" for
terrorists, and no more permanent no-win wars.

On all these issues and more, Brown sounded the right notes,
while Coakley remained silent. But, Coakley's loss is not the
end of the world, just a wake-up call. There's still time for
Team Obama and the Democrats to get it right.

But, if the call isn't heeded, Obama and the Democrats are
going to be dealing with many more losing Martha Coakleys
and winning Scott Browns.

1 comment:

  1. Coakley is a disgrace. Democrats need way more than the right policies, they need the Scott Brown style and edge. If Democrats run left-wing Scott Browns they can put a possibly irreversable dent in the GOP.

    I would welcome a bipartisan crusade against moneyed interests, "free" trade, elitist globalization, the deficit, and soft treatment of terrorists.