It’s not what we’re owed, but it’s what we’ve earned
If you haven’t already heard, Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for Senator from Massachusetts, just won the special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. You heard that right. Massachusetts, which hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, just voted for a Republican to replace Ted Kennedy. Of the Kennedy family.
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun can surmise how I feel about all this. And if you want to read some informed commentary about the implications of this vote for the country, you can check it out here, here, here, here, and here. Suffice it to say, this is a big deal.
And look, I’ll probably be fine tomorrow, and if not then, then the next day. But right now, I have a hard time having any faith in the Democratic party. Which is nuts, right? They still control 59 seats in the Senate, which is a bigger majority than either party has enjoyed in years. This should be a drop in the bucket. But let’s not talk about how arcane and despotic procedural rules in the Senate mandate a 60-vote supermajority to get anything done, except to say that James Madison and Alexander Hamilton are no doubt joining Senator Kennedy in grave-spinning tonight.
My buddy is fond of saying that the voters get what they deserve. I’m not really sure what else to say. After eight years of allowing George Bush to enmesh us in two wars, let financial institutions leverage themselves beyond all logical comprehension based on the seemingly unassailable notion that housing prices would keep going up forever and hence miring us in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, enact unfunded mandates (No Child Left Behind), pass deficit-crippling entitlements (the prescription drug benefit), and drag our country’s good name through the mud (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay), the voters of my beloved Commonwealth of Massachusetts were ready to send a message to the Democratic party that, you know what? You guys had all of a year to turn the ship around, and you only sorta kinda started to succeed. We’re ready to put the guys that ran the ship aground in the first place back in charge. Whatever. At the most fundamental level, I’m a believer in representative democracy. I think that the people that just elected Scott Brown are wrong, but this is the system by which we hold our elected leaders accountable. This was clearly an accountability moment for the Democratic party, and they only have themselves to blame.
Paul Krugman wrote about this in a column in the New York Times on Monday, and I’m about to quote liberally from it.
It’s instructive to compare Mr. Obama’s rhetorical stance on the economy with that of Ronald Reagan. It’s often forgotten now, but unemployment actually soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Reagan, however, had a ready answer for critics: everything going wrong was the result of the failed policies of the past. In effect, Reagan spent his first few years in office continuing to run against Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Obama could have done the same — with, I’d argue, considerably more justice. He could have pointed out, repeatedly, that the continuing troubles of America’s economy are the result of a financial crisis that developed under the Bush administration, and was at least in part the result of the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate the banks.
But he didn’t. Maybe he still dreams of bridging the partisan divide; maybe he fears the ire of pundits who consider blaming your predecessor for current problems uncouth — if you’re a Democrat. (It’s O.K. if you’re a Republican.) Whatever the reason, Mr. Obama has allowed the public to forget, with remarkable speed, that the economy’s troubles didn’t start on his watch.
When it comes to low-information voters, narrative is the most important thing. I’m a junkie, so I read about politics every day. I represent a tremendously small fraction of the electorate. I know many, many smart, capable, respectable people who just don’t keep up with politics. Plus, there are scores of just blithering idiots who still happen to vote. For these people, overarching narratives are key. And the sad truth is, the narrative was stacked against Democrats in this election. Massachusetts voted for Barack Obama by a 62 to 36 margin in 2008. Did his brand, objectively, become so odious in a year since his inauguration? Or did the perception change. Deep down, you know the answer.
Which is why I find the scapegoating of the Coakley campaign to be insidious. She was a lousy candidate, for sure. But guess what? Irregardless of Scott Brown’s “People’s Seat” talk, Martha Coakley is a Democrat. In Massachusetts. It’s unseemly to say that a certain party takes a certain seat for granted. But please be honest with yourself. This is Massachusetts we’re talking about here. A Kelly’s roast beef sandwich should be able to get elected if it has a (D) next to its name. So I don’t want to hear anything about Coakley taking her win for granted.
The fact is, she should have been able to take it for granted. The national Democratic Party had as much skin in this game as Coakley herself. We’re talking about President Obama’s agenda here, to say nothing of the votes that various fringe Democrats stuck their necks out for in the hopes of the health care bill passing. So to hear about backbiting and infighting taking place before the polls even closed is sincerely disheartening.
There are two possible scenarios. Either the national party and the White House gave Martha Coakley all the support she needed, and they failed miserably. That would be pretty bad. What would be worse is if they barely gave her any help at all. That would represent a level of arrogance, gall, and incompetence that’s almost unforgivable. Either way, to lay the blame at the feet of Martha Coakley, who had the opportunity to become the first female senator that Massachusetts has ever elected, is to focus on all the wrong sort of details.
I’m reminded of the sad tale of Trey Junkin. Many of you are no doubt perplexed that I’m about to make a long-snapper analogy, but the Giants fans among Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun’s readership should know exactly what I’m talking about. It was the wild card round of the 2002 playoffs, and the Giants were facing the 49ers. The Giants were able to jump to a seemingly insurmountable 38–14 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter. Only one team had ever come back from a bigger deficit in the playoffs: the Buffalo Bills trailed the Houston Oilers 34–3 in 1993, only to come back and win 41–38. You can see where this is going.
San Francisco led 39–38 when New York was about to attempt a 41–yard field goal with seconds left on the clock. But Junkin, who came out of retirement for the sole purpose to long snap for the Giants in this game, botched the snap, leading to an incomplete pass from the kicker as time expired. Game over, Giants lose.
Trey Junkin is a presence of folkloric proportions in the annals of Giants history, but until I just looked up that link up there, I couldn’t remember the name of the kicker who, because it was a third down play, could have spiked the botched snap and bought the Giants another opportunity for points. (Matt Allen, btw.)
Point being, everybody remembers the very memorable Trey Junkin fuckup, but far fewer probably remember the guy that could have made that fuckup moot. And barely anyone cares to pore through the game and look at the myriad different defensive stops that could have been made, offensive plays that could have been executed, or schemes that could have been drawn up that could have prevented San Francisco from scoring just two additional points. Junkin is a convenient patsy, so he gets remembered. Martha Coakley is going to be the Trey Junkin of this election. She bears responsibility at the end of this election, but there are a host of factors that went completely and utterly wrong in order to put her in a position to lose. Whatever.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 20th, 2010 at 1:07 am and is filed under Current Events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.