…you see, it’s not that the Democrats are playing checkers and the Republicans are playing chess, it’s that the Republicans are playing chess and the Democrats are in the nurse’s office because, once again, they glued their balls to their thighs.
— Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, channeling the almost overpowering frustration and disillusionment felt for a decade or more by many progressives towards the Democratic party’s tendency toward self-sabotage and ineptitude. Watch it, it’s excruciatingly funny.
Today is the date of the special election in Massachusetts to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who’d held the seat for forty-six years. Massachusetts is a Democratic stronghold (though in recent years there are a lot of “independent” or unaffiliated voters). And, though they’re in the midst of not only the most difficult of times, but also the most ambitious of agendas since the 1930s, the entire Democratic party structure, including (but not limited to) the Democratic candidate herself, Martha Coakley, apparently decided that this seat was such a sinecure that they didn’t even need to campaign all that hard for it.
And the result? Republican nude model and über–wingnut Scott Brown was actually ahead in some polls, going into today’s election – and dead even in others. This is a candidate who states flatly that he will be the “41st vote” against health care, environmental reform legislation and any of a number of other crown jewels on Obama and the Democrats’ wish lists. He’s made no secret of the fact, or of his fondness for the banksters who got us into last year’s financial collapse. And he is within a hair’s breadth of being the next Senator from Massachusetts – ascending from the state Senate to the seat held by Ted Kennedy and John F. Kennedy before him.
Nice work, Democrats.
I’ve already seen commentary on blogs and on Twitter to the effect that Jon Stewart’s brilliant, near-apoplectic rant last night was directed at those Democrats and progressives who are disappointed with Obama’s (and particularly Congressional Democrats’) lack of progress on the things they said they’d push hard – and needed a sixty-vote majority – for, instead of at the ossified, incompetent party candidates and hierarchy which could have looked at ANY seat in such important times as a “gimme.”
There’s no way this is true: Stewart’s sputtering is directed at Coakley and at the Democratic party leadership – both in MA and national – who allowed it to come to this, not at individual voters who have a (D) after their name, but are significantly less fired-up than they were a year and change ago about the prospect of 60 seats and an Obama Presidency. Any time you’re working with a sample-size as large as a state’s population (even a small one like Massachusetts), there’s going to be a measurable drop-off in actual turnout numbers that corresponds to a drop-off in enthusiasm.
Let’s be clear: I think any liberal voting for Scott Brown – an out-and-out wingnut – is counterproductive and will harm the progressive agenda in many more ways than just on the immediate health care debate. He’ll be the gift that keeps on giving turd that keeps on stinking for months if not years, if he wins today. But most voters (with the exception of political junkies like me – and probably like you if you’re reading this blog) don’t go vote for someone with diametrically opposed views just to “send a message.” What they do, however, is simply stay home. It’s usually not done out of spite or even as a conscious decision; voting simply becomes much less of a priority in a hectic daily schedule, to voters who feel like even the “team” they’d normally vote for hasn’t represented them well or accomplished much. And that’ll go double or triple if people get the sense that they haven’t even really tried. There’s a reason why teams that have had significantly losing records for a few seasons in a row tend to have some of the lowest fan-attendance numbers: people just can’t get all that enthusiastic about turning out for a team/group/person who rarely delivers. They know it’s the only game in town…but the number of people who’re motivated to care drops off in direct proportion to the performance of the team.
That’s not evil intent, it’s not even really political intent – it’s just human nature. Yes, I’ve seen some overpoweringly frustrated progressives who’ve snapped and started trying to tear down the entire edifice, urging a vote for Brown, etc — and I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I certainly don’t think it’s productive. But if Martha Coakley – a committed, credentialed – if uninspired – liberal in the Kennedy mold loses to (as Stewart referred to him) “Captain FreeBall,” (side note: Best. Super-Hero. Name. Ever.) it won’t be primarily because of some horrible – and horribly misguided – doctrinaire progressive putsch that drove the bus of health care reform into the ditch, it’ll be due to a much more ordinary (and therefore much harder to prevent) phenomenon: the steady attrition that comes from the individual disillusionment of everyday, non political-junkie Democratic (and “gettable” independent) voters; the same people who handed Barack Obama a 26-point victory just fourteen short months ago.