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Why Massachusetts Voters Saw Red

January 21, 2010

By now virtually every American journalist, amateur and professional alike, has commented on the stunning (but not totally unexpected) victory of GOP senatorial candidate Scott Brown in the bluest of blue states. I’ll be no different, but I’ll try to root around for some less obvious reasons behind the Democrats’ debacle in the land of the Kennedys.

First, the obvious reasons for Brown’s victory:

1. Democrat candidate Martha Coakley ran a poor campaign. She was overconfident, even arrogant — balking at the idea of pressing the flesh, making some unfortunate gaffes (like the crazed notion that Red Sox pitching great Curt Schilling was a Yankees fan), and even taking a week’s vacation during an extremely brief one-month campaign. Remember the tortoise and the hare? Coakley had the long ears in this race.

2. Republican candidate Brown ran an expert campaign. He’s bright, dynamic, upbeat, telegenic — all the elements that add up to instant voter appeal. As the “red” contender in a blue state, he had to try harder than his rival — and did. Even more important, he appealed to the voters’ sense of alienation from the Washington establishment. (More about this later.)

3. Voters used the election as a referendum on the president. And Obama has had the misfortune to preside over a very bad year. Of course, the president shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of blame for the recession, the snarled healthcare mess and other snafus not of his own making. But the perception is that he’s not taking charge. Nearly everyone agrees that he’s smart, decent and conscientious, but so was Jimmy Carter.  

Now let’s look at some less obvious reasons for the Republican victory:

1. The people of Massachusetts aren’t especially concerned about healthcare reform. Governor Mitt Romney (a Republican, mind you) left them with nearly universal health coverage, so why would they care if their senatorial candidate planned to quash the national bill now struggling for life in Congress? The voters of Massachusetts were more concerned about carefree government spending and high unemployment.

2. Half the voters in Massachusetts characterize themselves as independents. Yes, the state generally skews to the left, but it’s more a matter of personal philosophy than party loyalty. The Democrats forgot that independents can swing either way.

3. Brown appealed to populist rage and alienation. I can’t stress this point enough. It’s not just the crazed right-wing tea party fanatics who are angry and resentful these days. Most of us (including moderates like me) are fed up with government of the moneyed elite, by the moneyed elite, for the moneyed elite. Even Obama, feared by the right as a closet socialist, has apparently bowed before the power of Wall Street honchos and insurance industry lobbyists. We’re looking at an electorate that has reached the limit of its patience with the status quo.

4. The Democrats now represent the status quo, believe it or not. They’ve been ruling the roost for a year and we’re still unhappy. Voters saw Brown as a rebel and a small-D democrat who would work on their behalf. (Yes, Virginia, even Republicans can be democrats.) The result: Mr. Brown Goes to Washington.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    January 21, 2010 5:13 pm

    Good post, Rick…if you haven’t read Daniel Henninger’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal today, I think you would like the way it looks at the historical background that has led us to this political crossroads:

    • January 21, 2010 11:48 pm

      That article was enlightening, Priscilla. (Or should I call you “Anonymous”?) I really hadn’t thought much about the public unions and their draining effect on public treasuries. In Philly they get away with murder; certain city employees can quit their job for a day, qualify for a full pension, then go back to work and earn a regular salary while still collecting the pension. (And guess who pays the pensions?)

      • Priscilla permalink
        January 22, 2010 10:35 am

        Yep, and every teacher I know (and I know plenty) complains bitterly if they don’t get double digit salary increases each year – yet, at the Fortune 50 cmpany where I worked for the past 20 years, those big increases, without promotion, are simply unheard of, in light of the economic realities of global competition and the responsibility of the corporation to its stockholders (many of whom are employees, so they keep tabs). Public emplyee unions simply do not accept the cyclical business cycle as having any effect on their “ever upward” compensation and benefits, yet, their members, as tax-paying/voting citizens, who bear the burden of this enormous greed and power are beginning to turn on the very beast that supports them. In California, it has already reached a breaking point….

        We live in interesting times.

  2. Priscilla permalink
    January 21, 2010 5:14 pm

    Haha – I’m not sure why that comment came up as anonymous, but it was me – surprise!

  3. January 21, 2010 7:50 pm

    Ah, Democrats, when they win, they don’t know what to do, and when they lose, they don’t know what hit them. The Republicans may be wrong most of the time, but they still get stuff done, maybe it has to do with the party being run by Darth Cheney??? The Democrats are relegated to the roll of Jar-Jar, the unfunny, vaguely racist, incompetent comic-relief character. Is it better to make things worse by doing nothing, or doing the wrong thing? Who’s wosre, the gutless Democrats, often no different than Republicans, or stupid, greedy, insane Republicans? In my admitedly biased opinion, I prefer lazy to stupid, because you can work around it. (sometimes) Lazy theives steal little, but an idiot vigilante is a large inconvienence. (an understatment of the patriot-act, and why I can’t get through an airport with shoes on.)

    • January 21, 2010 11:56 pm

      I’m with you there, TK. Given the two lamentable choices, I suppose I’d prefer do-nothing navel-gazers (like Obama) to “idiot vigilantes” (like GW Bush). It’s ironic that “minimal government” Republicans tend to make more decisions that directly impact our lives (like the Iraq war, empire-building, the Patriot Act and over-the-top defense spending).

    • January 28, 2010 5:32 pm

      You know there are other choices beside the Dems or Reps. You don’t have to settle for junk…

      • January 29, 2010 12:04 am

        Nader for president?

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