The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

More on Massachusetts

Posted by demkid on January 21, 2010

First, what went wrong?  Nate Silver uses some hypothetical numbers to explain how President Obama’s 26-point November 2008 MA victory moved to a 5-point Martha Coakley loss yesterday:

If you follow through on the math, this would suggest that Coakley would have won by about 8 points, rather than losing by 5, had the national environment not deteriorated so significantly for Democrats. It suggests that the Democrats would have won by 9 points, rather than losing by 5, had the candidate been someone other than Coakley. And it suggests that the race would have been a 1-point loss (that is, basically too close to call), rather than a 5-point loss, even if Coakley had run such a bad campaign and even if the national environment had deteriorated as much as it has, but had there not been the unusual circumstances associated with this particular election.

Second, what does this all mean going forward in this election year?  Well, if you like punditry, like I do, there’s enough to read coming out of yesterday’s senate election to keep a political junkie occupied for a long while.  Some of my favorites:

Obama has one big job ahead: He has to let people know not only that he won’t fold his tents but also that he understands the anger, confusion, impatience, irritation, and skepticism that are abroad in the land.

Obama’s attempts to find compromise solutions did not stop Republicans from labelling him as a radical – or their nutty tea-party allies from calling him a “socialist” and worse. And, in retrospect, that was going to happen no matter what he did. His real problem has been that, to his supporters, he looked as though he’d been sucked into the very system he was elected to reform.

The White House and the Democratic Party still have time to change course. Surely Obama knows his strategy of reaching out to Republicans was an utter failure. It’s time to try something new – not necessarily a lurch to the left, but a move toward passion and populism and idealism of the sort that impressed so many millions of Americans during Obama’s historic presidential campaign, and that we’ve seen so little of since then.

But if the lessons gleaned from Massachusetts stop with healthcare, something far more profound and potentially disruptive will have been missed. There is a deep and increasingly restive anger stirring in the country. Its focal points at the moment may seem to be healthcare and “big government,” but if there were a Republican in the White House, they might just as well be tax cuts and “limited government.” The fact is that the president and both parties’ congressional delegations have approval ratings under 50%.

For the moment, Mr. Obama enjoys no such reputation. His own starry-eyed supporters, who believed his rhetoric of change, are disillusioned to discover that he is a politician, not a messiah. His opponents, who once pretended to share his bipartisan instincts, are delighted to obstruct his agenda, even though they have no solutions of their own. He seems to be locked in partisan stasis despite the great mandate he won in November 2008 and the overwhelming Democratic majority. The result is that too many Americans today believe that he has accomplished little and forfeited their trust. They happen to be wrong—just as they were wrong when they dismissed the Clinton presidency less than halfway into his first term.

Democratic candidates in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts tried the same old approach to wooing these independents. Yet, in this environment, traditional attacks aren’t the silver bullet. Voters want to end “politics as usual” — grainy attack ads with forbidding disembodied voices sure doesn’t sound or look like change. This isn’t to suggest that Democrats simply drop negative advertising and go for a purely positive approach in the 2010 midterms. That won’t work. But they do need to do as much work in defining themselves as they do their opponents. This means finding a way to meet independent voters where they are now — angry and frustrated and fed up with Washington. Joining with them in this frustration while upholding the importance of a Democratic majority and a Democratic president is a tough balancing act. Good thing they have nine more months to figure out how to do it.

For those who think the dream is over, the proper response is: politics is not a dream to begin with. It’s hard work. And it rarely goes the way one expects it to go. Tuesday was proof enough of that.

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One Response to “More on Massachusetts”

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