Some thoughts about last night … Obama won, we took care of business in MA, and nationally it could have been a lot worse. (It could always be worse. We could be on fire.)
- In a way … the Coakley debacle of 2010 was a blessing in disguise. I don’t say that lightly, because losing elections sucks, and it has consequences.
But Elizabeth Warren’s victory is a really really big deal, nationally. She is someone who doesn’t just show up to Congress with a vote for Dem priorities, but as someone who is able to define those priorities. She has accurately diagnosed the central illness of American democracy, which is rule by the rich/for the rich. It’s her life’s work; she was recruited to run for Senate because of it; and to shine a light on our the rot of our plutocracy is her raison d’etre. I can’t think of any other victorious candidate in my lifetime who has so clearly framed the issues as such — even as it’s been so obvious for years.
More than anyone we’ve had in years — maybe even Ted Kennedy — Warren is able to set the table for the Dems, and for the administration. And she can flip that table over if she wants, too. This will be fun to watch.
- Let’s face it: Nationally, the Republicans don’t want to win. They want to fight. That’s what gives them meaning and purpose. And they would prefer to go down fighting than win the winnable races. They could have a GOP Senate today that included Mike Castle, Dick Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and a handful of other moderates or bipartisan types. (You don’t have to be particularly moderate to be bipartisan: see Kennedy, Ted.)
And as time goes by, the GOP cuts itself smaller and smaller slices of the demographic/ideological pie. It’s good for ratings of Fox, Rush, and their imitators. But it’s not governance: It’s a tantrum. At some point they may decide that they’d like to win those elections, but as long as their media infrastructure makes money feeding the hysteria, we’ll take what they give us.
The downside of this, of course, is that as Dems scoop up moderates, their governing majority becomes less disciplined. And as the GOP sheds moderates, it becomes more disciplined. So we should not be surprised by the “herding cats/Dems in disarray” narrative that will doubtless continue over the next 2-4 years. That’s the gift of the Tea Party.
- The defeats of Scott Brown and Richard Tisei (apparently) demonstrate two things: One, that the state GOP is a basketcase, who suffer terrible disadvantages in organization and advisory talent. (You knew that.) Two: If you’re going to say “Vote the man, not the party” … then you better work awfully damn hard to be that man.
Genuine moderation and bipartisanship is tough. If you’re going to be a moderate, you have to stand up for moderation. That means you can’t get away with mealy-mouthed pronouncements, like that the Ryan budget is “a good start to the conversation”; or profess that you’re “pro-choice” when you vote against a pro-choice Supreme Court justice. You have to take on your own party loudly, publicly, and often; be specific; and broker compromise. It’s hard! And honestly, the Senate could have used that kind of leadership from Scott Brown, particularly during the budget battles. But we didn’t get it from Brown often enough, and Tisei didn’t give sufficient indication that he’d be enough of a nuisance to a thoroughly unpopular Congressional GOP.
- Regarding the quality of the opposition: Brown is an energetic and basically genial fellow. But his campaign really sucked, for the most part. The goofy laundry-folding ads; the persistence in going down the dead-end road of Warren’s Cherokee background … it all felt so trivial, as if he wanted the campaign to be fought on such picayune things.
Frankly, going back to the two Deval elections, we’ve been fortunate to have had such a low quality of political consulting on the GOP side. They are losing winnable elections, and we should not get too smug about it, because they might figure it out someday.
As David Bernstein says, Brown was a few sizes too small for the role of US Senator, and his campaign didn’t protray him as anything else. That’s an insult to the voters, who have seen great leadership in action. Ted Kennedy’s shadow still looms over that seat, as a towering example of public service, of commitment, and of effectiveness. Brown may have dispelled a Democratic sense of entitlement to the seat in 2010; but he certainly did not fill the shoes of Ted Kennedy in a way that we’ve come to expect.