Tonight can be seen as an example of what happens when a candidate runs a poor campaign which takes the voters for granted, along with evidence of how poor a memory many people have. News is still coming in and the final margin of victory is not yet certain, but there is no longer any doubt that Brown will defeat Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat.
If this was a purely local election it would be hard to be concerned about Coakley losing after the type of campaign she ran. Despite this, the national ramifications cannot be ignored. This is a failure for Democrats–but more for their ability to get out their message than of their policies. Republicans have been successful in distorting the Democratic policies and in blaming Democrats for the conditions which directly arose from their mismanagement of government.
Democrats should hardly be surprised that this would happen. We’ve seen the right wing noise machine in operation for many years and Democrats will continue to have bad nights like tonight until they learn to counter this and control their own message.
In some case the policies define the message. It was a tremendous mistake for Obama to give in and support a health care reform plan which contained an individual mandate. This reinforced every stereotype which the Republicans wanted to hit the Democrats with. Instead of remembering that it was the Republicans who are the big bad government which restricted civil liberties, wrecked the economy, and engaged in torture, the Democrats can be portrayed, (even if this is a distortion) as the big bad government who will put you in jail if you don’t buy their health care plan.
One irony of this race is that Brown had supported a health care plan similar to the national plan he opposes when in the Massachusetts legislature. This is far less surprising when we keep in mind that Republican strategy is purely based upon blocking all Democratic proposals to deny them victory, regardless of how much this harms the country. Brown’s flip-flop here is entirely consistent with the overall Republicans strategy.
Brown ran as a moderate Republican but his success is being seen by some as a sign of the success of the tea party movement. The tea baggers are the ultimate example of mindless rage being turned in the wrong direction. Tea baggers show their support for fiscal responsibility by backing the party which ran up the deficit and fought two wars of the book, along with trying to block health care reform bill which is our best shot at getting health care costs under control. Andrew Sullivan has explained why this is no libertarian rebellion:
The rage is adolescent. It did not exist when the Republicans were in power and exploded government during years of economic growth. Fox News backed Bush to the hilt through it all, as he added mounds of unfunded entitlements to the next generation’s debt, and then brought Beck in as soon as Obama inherited the mess. Scott Brown, moreover, has no plans to cut the debt or control government: none. He is running in defense of every cent in Medicare. He wants to increase the deficit by more tax cuts. He favors an all-powerful executive branch that can suspend habeas corpus and torture people. He has no intention of cutting defense. His position on the uninsured is: get your own states to help. His position on soaring healthcare costs is: stop the first attempt to control them.
We hear Karl Rove lamenting big government! We hear Dick Cheney worrying about deficits! The cynicism here is gob-smacking. And the libertarian right is just happy to go along.
There is, moreover, the incredible lie that somehow all the debt that lies ahead was created by Obama in twelve months, in a recession, when austerity would be fatal. This was a lie propagated mercilessly by the FNC/RNC and by partisan bloggers like Glenn Reynolds. And it has stuck, as Obama has pressed for centrist reform between the screamers on the left and the haters on the right.
I’m sorry but this is not an anti-government vote. It’s a hissy fit because reality has finally hit and the conservative bromides of the 1980s work as poorly as the liberal bromides of the 1970s. If Brown were urging big, structural cuts in entitlements, if he were proposing junking health insurance reform because he has a plan to balance the budget in five years, if he were pledging to vote against the wars for the deficit’s sake, if he were proposing ways to restrain private healthcare costs and Medicare’s GOP-passed Medicare D – whose fiscal impact makes the current reform look like a tightwad’s – it would be one thing. But he isn’t and they aren’t.
They merely want to kill a reform presidency. They have no alternative. They have no policy that could restrain health insurance costs and the desperate plight of the uninsured. They have no plans for tackling climate change, when they can bring themselves to admit it exists. They have no plans to win or end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Obama himself isn’t trying. They have no idea how to balance the budget – except more tax cuts!