MA-Sen Election And Quote Of The Day

…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 überwingnut 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.

7 thoughts on “MA-Sen Election And Quote Of The Day

  1. Here, here. I wrote something similar, albeit, shorter, to someone else yesterday.

    I also think where Dems fail, aside from delivering the goods, is in style. Here me out. Most polls I’ve ever seen on the subject seem to indicate that most Americans, most of the time, mostly share policy positions more aligned with the Democrats. (I was gobsmacked only 2 months after Bush’s “reelection” [hard to call it that when his first term was by appointment] when poll numbers came out which showed Americans deeply dissatisfied with his policies. As if after 4 years, the secret just came out?)

    Briefly, my point is this: I think Americans want Democrats that ACT like Republicans – not in policy, but in the way they lead and conduct their affairs. This year-long display of legislative sausage-making, with all the drama and delays, is a major turn off. R’s handle their shit behind closed doors – for the most part – and then do it (or don’t). Their presidents, no matter how unpopular they may or may not be, talk like a commander-in-chief, not a professor. I assert that Americans like their political leaders to be assertive, if not arrogant, and want a political party that acts decisively and shows discipline.

    I could be wrong.

    But, I think this is exactly why the R’s have refused to play ball. They probably understood that if they just left the D’s to their own devices, the D’s wouldn’t have the internal discipline to move quickly and decisively. The electorate will remember not that the R’s refused to play ball, but that when the D’s had all the power and everything going for them, they still couldn’t get it done.

    Separately, I think it’ll be interesting to see how Obama and the D’s respond to this loss. I do not think they will respond by becoming more liberal. More likely, they will respond by becoming more conservative, misjudging the real source of the problem which is neither about where the party is on the political spectrum or how ambitious their agenda is.

    I’m of the opinion that it’s time for Obama to knock some heads in his congress. Publicly. There needs to be consequences for the likes of Lieberman, Baucus and their ilk. No senator who caucuses with the D’s should be allowed to join a filibuster. (This goes for the liberal wing as well.) Bills supported by the majority of their party should reach the floor, and then if they want to vote “no”, fine. If not, they lose their chairmanships or prized committee seats. If they wanna switch to the R party, let them (they were already voting that way anyhow). This might amount to a short term loss, but I think the discipline will result in a stronger party, and instill more confidence with voters which should translate into bigger gains in the long run.

    But, I don’t expect Obama or the D’s to do that. We’ll see.

    1. What I failed to say in my sleep-deprived rush to write quickly is that this matter of “style” is not much of an issue when the economy is going gang-busters. But when there are big issues at stake, and especially when times are tough economically, I think voters have little tolerance for the kind of ineffective fiddling about and inward beltway-focused drama. I seem to recall some guy once said, “It’s the economy, stupid!!”

    2. Agree on all points, with two caveats:

      First, on the “style” issue, my only slight disagreement would be that I do think most Americans appreciate not being bullshitted and condescended to like they were in the Bush administration. That part of Obama’s “professorial” tone, they actually appreciate. But the endless back-and-forth, the hesitance (especially among the Dems in Congress), and the inability to get it done, as you put it, people have had enough. Way more than enough. They want someone to start giving orders (or at least direction) in a clear, consistent, coherent, and above all, UNIFIED voice.

      Second, I actually think – and it may just be wishful thinking, I’ll admit (especially based on past performance) – that the election of Scott Brown WILL serve to make the Democrats, particularly the Obama White House….if not more liberal, per se, at least more assertive, combative and blunt in the Howard Dean sense of the term. Dean’s not a screaming radical, but he IS a pugnacious and unapologetic bastard, and that’s EXACTLY what the Dems have been needing for years now. It’s also, coincidentally, the exact remedy for the ills you referred to about “style.” If the Democrats can become a party that retains their values and ideals, but fights and thinks like the Republicans about strategy and tactics, they will crush brief-less (pun intended) nobodies like Scott Brown and Sarah Palin, instead of helping turn them into minor wingnut celebrities.

      1. I agree, and you said it better than I. I don’t mean lead like Bush, but just freaking lead with authority and confidence.

  2. Oops – forgot to say WHY I think Dems will change. Briefly, it’s this: Obama’s no dummy, and I think he can learn from his mistakes. If there were ever a greater display of political mistakes than the election of Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy’s seat, I don’t know what it is. That’s not Obama’s mistake – or, on the list of responsible parties, Obama is well down the list – but it’s a big, blinking-neon mistake, and I think Obama knows it.

    The mistake Obama made – in my opinion – coming into his first term was in assuming that the Republicans would be ANYTHING but obstructionist. Historically, perhaps he felt (or got advice to the effect) that surely, once they lost, the GOP would at least play ball to some degree. But the GOP of today is a historical anomaly; far more interested in party than in country. And the signs of it WERE there to be read (and they should have been). I think what Obama and the Dems came in with was a combination of their traditional fear of looking “too radical” coupled with a belief that their majorities were now SO large (they finally got the magic 60-vote “supermajority”) that he (Obama) could AFFORD to play at bipartisanship, even if there were skeptics in the administration who doubted it’d work. With a commanding mandate and huge majorities, he could AFFORD to offer the olive branch to the GOP, thinking that either a)_they would understand and respect the power that the Dems COULD bring to bear, or b) that if they somehow didn’t understand that, well, he and Congressional Democrats could simply USE their towering supermajorities in both houses occasionally, if it became necessary….which he doubted it would. That’s why we had the asinine spectacle of allowing the Baucus-Grassley kabuki dance played out over the entire summer and into fall, while the teabaggers mounted their disgusting protests.

    I think Obama’s realized that no help will be forthcoming from the GOP. None. Unless he proposes legislation that is actually already on their wish list, the GOP is going to stand, unified, against him. Hell, they even seem to enjoy opposing him just for its own sake, often. I think he’s also, after last night, realized that he’s set himself on a now-unalterable ambitious course: he promised a lot of things – health care reform, financial reform with real regulation and real teeth to prevent another meltdown, any number of other legislative goals. And he’s got to deliver on them, or the steady drip-drip-drip of attrition that resulted in last night’s win for Captain Freeball will turn into an absolute FLOOD this fall – and again in two years. He’s GOT to show the public that he can deliver (plus, I think it pisses him off that he’s been unable to do so yet on health care). And, if he’s got to deliver to stave off further losses, and he KNOWS that the GOP won’t help him, AND the illusion of security that the 60-vote supermajority provided him is gone, he’ll have no CHOICE but to get much more pugnacious and work with his still-incredibly-large majorities to pass meaningful legislation. The only other choice, now that it’s 59 and not 60 (and two of those are Nelson and Lieberman) is to water everything down even further, and to start re-courting Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins again. I just don’t see Obama thinking that’s a good strategy. It’s time for some good, old-fashioned, LBJ-style head-cracking within the Democratic caucus. If there’s one silver lining from last night, it’s that – if Obama fully embraces the fact that 60 is impossible now on virtually every important issue – he can well and truly abandon having to give a shit about Lieberman (and also Nelson). Lieberman’s no longer the 60th vote that must be placated. He either votes with the Democrats now because he wants to (either it fits his values – if he has any left – or he thinks he needs to if he wants to be reelected), or he can go fuck off. If Obama embraces hardball tactics with 50+ Senators, he no longer has to kowtow to asshats like Lieberman and Nelson. That alone will be liberating.

    I agree, we’ll have to see. I’ve got too many dents in my forehead from having slammed my skull against the desk repeatedly after seeing the Democrats cave on something I thought there’s no WAY they’d cave on, or seeing them screw up something that seemed un-screw-uppable (like, say, losing Ted Kennedy’s seat), to ever be certain that the reflexive “thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another” attitude and general electoral incompetence of the Democratic party won’t rear its ugly head yet again. But I truly believe – and again, quite possible that it’s merely wishful thinking on my part – that this time, Obama knows that the chips are well and truly down: either he delivers on his agenda in SPITE of GOP obstructionism and losing that magical 60th vote…or the electorate will, as you say, give up on the Democrats completely as a vehicle for their aspirations, for at least a generation, maybe more. I could be wrong; maybe at this very moment, Rahm Emanuel is whispering into Obama’s ear sweet nothings to the effect of how he has a plan to get half a dozen fine, conservative, “electable” Democrats elected in precious “swing” districts and states, and if they just wait another ten months, they can have their “supermajority” back, and THEN…..yada, yada, yada….

    I just hope Obama recognizes this is no longer possible – and was never really true. It’s rubber-meets-road time now. Actually, it was rubber-meets-road time when Obama took office….but I think – THINK – that just MAYBE, he and other Democrats are starting to realize that if they don’t come through, disillusioned Dems will stay home and “independents” will swing to the teabaggers in enough numbers to banish the Democratic party for a long time, maybe for good.

    1. Unfortunately, it appears quite the opposite is happening. Dems are caving in. Go to TPM and read the blog. Obama thinks HCR should wait until Brown is seated, and the back channel talk indicates they;’re going to try and get Snow. The senate Dems released a statement which included this gem: “It is mathematically impossible for Democrats to pass legislation on our own. Senate Republicans to come to the table with ideas for improving our nation and not obstructionist tactics.” They’re conceding power to the R’s. They’ve given up… with a 59-41 Senate majority, a supermajority in the House, and a President in the WH… but no, they can’t get it done. November is going to be ugly if they keep this up.

      1. I read that letter from a Senate staffer. It was depressing. I also saw Debbie Stabenow’s interview on Rachel Maddow last night, which was equally depressing, if not more so, since she is an actual Senator. But then I saw Ed Rendell, Governor of Pennsylvania, later on in Rachel’s show. He’d just come back from saving fifty-four children in Haiti, and he was full of optimism, enthusiasm and love for America, and he talked about “getting things done” in the way that you and I – and Rachel – have been doing. It was a breath of fresh air. Sure, he’s a state governor and not a US Senator, but at least it gave me hope that people at a high level aren’t totally unfamiliar with the concepts plebes like us are throwing around. Sometimes it does seem as if people in Washington truly have never heard some of the ideas that are out here in the country’s consciousness – at least, you’d never know it from hearing them talk.

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