Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you. - Stealers Wheel
The Republicans grabbed Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts last week. Three reasons why it happened:
1. The Democratic candidate, Attorney General Martha Coakley, couldn't be bothered to campaign. Following her December 8, 2009 primary victory, she went on vacation. By the time it became clear she was in trouble (say, a week and a half before the election), it was almost too late.
2. In those last two weeks before the vote, Coakley campaigned like someone who had bet money on her opponent. Asked a simple question about health care and rules protecting freedom of conscience for Catholic health care workers who do not want to take part in abortions or in dispensing post-coital contraceptives, Coakley said they, "probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room." Thanks a lot, Martha. Half of Massachusetts is Catholic. When it was suggested to her that her campaign was too passive, and that she might spend more time meeting voters, she openly mocked the idea: "standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" Speaking of Fenway Park, Coakley also committed what may be the ultimate crime in Boston: apparently not knowing anything about the Red Sox.
3. Scott Brown's win was due in some part to what the Washington Post called, "Voter discontent with the direction of the government, economy and the health care."
Voter discontent. Let's explore that idea a little further.
Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic had some very negative things to say about the political scene on the eve of the Republican victory in Massachusetts.
"Democrats can stop hoping at this point...(The Republicans) crafted a strategy of total oppositionism to anything Obama proposed a year ago. Remember they gave him zero votes on even the stimulus in his first weeks. They saw health insurance reform as Obama's Waterloo, and, thanks in part to the dithering Democrats, they beat him on that hill. They have successfully channeled all the rage at the massive debt and recession the president inherited on Obama after just one year. If they can do that already, against the massive evidence against them, they have the power to wield populism to destroy any attempt by government to address any actual problems."
"Ditto any attempt to grapple with climate change. In fact, any legislative moves with this Democratic party and this Republican party are close to hopeless. The Democrats are a clapped out, gut-free lobbyist machine. The Republicans are insane. The system is therefore paralyzed beyond repair."
Hey, wow...are things really as hopeless as that? Well, let's head over the fivethirtyeight.com, where the brilliant Nate Silver will give us the low down.
Nate suggests that the Massachusetts race is indicative of the fact that, "Clearly the national environment has gotten worse for the Democrats since Barack Obama's inauguration one year ago," and "perhaps it is somewhat more bad than we had previously realized."
Great, anything else? Well, Nate's analysis also suggests that the Democrats will lose at least another five Senate seats this November.
Finally, Nate offers a post entitled, Will the Base Abandon Hope? that reads a lot like the Andrew Sullivan article discussed above. Nate summarizes the year since Obama's inaguration:
"Barack Obama gets elected, whose very trademark is Hope, and whose very election signifies progress. He promises a lot of things, and you look over the political horizon and see large Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, a logjam of popular, progressive initiatives, and a neutered and discredited opposition party."
"Over the summer, the unemployment rate continues to go up, and the President's approval rating continues to go down... But the Democrats bounce back as resolved as ever to pass a health care bill, and the President makes a strong speech."
"After the New Year, there are a few more signs of trouble. A bunch of Democrats retire. Polls -- not just Rasmussen -- show Obama's approval below 50 percent. Then one shows that things are closer than expected in Massachusetts, where they're having an election to replace Ted Kennedy. A Republican can't possibly win the Kennedy seat, can he? Yes. He. Can."
Wow, that hurts. Hey, Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist and author of The Conscience of a Liberal, how do you feel about the situation?
"I have to say, I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in."
Good grief, is there any hope at all? Back to Nate Silver for a minute:
"Now, look, political cycles are moving faster and faster, and the probability of a turnaround in the momentum back toward the Democrats, even in the near term, is probably greater than generally acknowledged -- even if we can neither identify nor predict the precise mechanism by which this occurs. But I worry that the upside is limited if the base is burned out -- at best toward a Clintonian second term (treading water, competent) and not Reaganesque one (realigning). And these things tend to have a self-fulfilling quality to them -- if the base doesn't believe that you can actually push the country in their direction, they become less likely to donate to you, work for you, and vote for you, and that in turn makes such successes harder to achieve. I don't know if the Democrats have any good moves right now, but watching the base give up hope isn't one of them."
So to summarize, the political pendulum is swinging to the right, but maybe we can hope that it swings back to the left sooner rather than later? Ah, the audacity of hope. The country, and the Democratic Party, are in trouble.