Here are my thoughts on the political thunderbolt that just landed in my home state:
1. Shortly after Coakley conceded to brown, Washington Times reporter Eli Like tweeted that a correspondent in Massachusetts had told him that “The American people called. They want their country back.” That statement is simply incorrect.
This was a local failure, and specifically, the failure of a terrible politician who had terrible advisers. Martha Coakley ran a god-awful campaign, and Scott Brown ran a good one. Brown won. Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic has a pretty definitive takedown of her campaign’s argument the failure was a national one. Coakley didn’t even call Boston Mayor Tom Menino — who has the strongest political machine in the state — until this week. The newly-elected Mayor of Lawrence, another Democratic stronghold, wanted Coakely to come swear him in. She never returned his call.
This election had very little to do with national politics, and everything to do with local ones. I don’t mean this in the way Globe columnist Joan Vennochi does — I’m not blaming Beacon Hill for Coakley’s loss. I’m blaming Coakley. This was an atrocious, boring, uninspiring campaign.
Brown’s campaign, on the other hand, was exciting and bold. He’s a Republican and he compared himself to JFK, ferchrissake. (Coakley is not Lloyd Bentsen.) He campaigned energetically and had a simple platform — tax cuts for everyone! He needed to make noise to overcome the inherent advantage Democrats have in the Bay State, and he did that.
National politics did play a role in this election. Dissatisfaction with Democrats nationally gave Brown an opening with which to attack to Coakley and a way for him to raise money out-of-state, but she could have shut the door pretty quickly by just waging a normal campaign, responding to him and making a case for a Democratic policies. She didn’t. She hunkered down, said nothing, avoided debates and acted like she had something to hide.
2. A lot of people — including Tucker Carlson on Sunday — were making the case that this was about health care, and that more specifically, it was a rejection of Massachusetts’ own experiment with universal health care. Um, not really. The last Globe poll on the issue — from September 2009 — showed Massachusetts residents supporting the plan by a two-to-one margin. Massachusetts residents like their health care, even if that doesn’t fit the national narrative.
And Scott Brown didn’t campaign against the Massachusetts health care bill, even writing in a Globe op-ed that “I hope other states follow our example.” He did take a stance against national health care reform, but that was because, as he wrote, “we are way ahead of the rest of the country with our own state reforms, we will get nothing in return.” He had more substantive objections to the bill — he said it would cost too much and cut too much from Medicare — but these were secondary to his “Tax Cuts for All!” enthusiasm.
3. Hey, MSNBC. You keep putting this guy Mike Barnicle on TV. Yeah, he seems nice. But he’s an unethical plagiarist hack and possible fabricator. How can anyone trust anything he says? I realize he’s not reporting, but to those who know Barnicle’s history, it makes the entire network harder to trust.
More points after the jump…
4. It’s not totally ridiculous for Massachusetts to elect a Republican. Yes, I suppose it might be true that the Bay State is “the most liberal in the union.” But before Deval Patrick, we had sixteen straight years of Republican governors. John Kerry only beat Bill Weld 52-44 in 1996 — the last time he or Kennedy was seriously challenged. In a special election to replace retiring Rep. Marty Meehan in the 5th Congressional District in 2007, Democrat Niki Tsongas only beat Republican Jim Ogonowski 51-45. I realize a bigger upset is a bigger and better story, but keep your pants on.
5. Looking forward, I think this points to a serious problem: Massachusetts Democrats don’t seem to have much of a bench. In 2006, you could have pointed to four rising stars in the party: Coakley, Patrick, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray and Treasurer Tim Cahill. Coakley’s career is probably over. Patrick is slumping in the polls, and Cahill is running as an independent, challenging him for the governorship. Only Murray still looks good, and he’s tied to Patrick.
And the Massachusetts legislature is absurdly dysfunctional and corrupt — the past three House Speakers have resigned, and two have been sent to prison. The FBI caught a state senator on tape last year stuffing a bribe in her bra. (New York‘s — ironic, I know — Jason Zengerle has a great wrap-up of the various malfeasance), And the Massachusetts state legislature hasn’t produced studs for higher office recently. Look at the top Massachusetts officials, and what their backgrounds are:
- Gov. Deval Patrick – Justice Dept. official, private lawyer
- Lt. Gov. Tim Murray – Mayor of Worcester
- AG Martha Coakley – DA of Middlesex County
- Treasurer Tim Cahill – Norfolk County Treasurer
- Sen. John Kerry – Assistant DA, Lt. Governor
- I’m not going to list all the U.S. Reps, but only four of ten served in the state legislature – Barney Frank, John Olver, Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch. Of these, Lynch left the legislature in 2002. Before that, Olver left in 1991. Frank and Markey both left the legislature decades ago.
I’m going to attribute some of this to the influence of the James Michael Curley, who many Massachusetts politicians hold up as a role model. This leads them to dominate political machines at home and model themselves after legendary Boston Mayor and Massachusetts Governor James Michael Curley, instead of going off and serving the country on the national level.*
6. OK, National politics, Massachusetts wants you to go away now. From David Bernstein at The Boston Phoenix:
It’s been interesting to have the national political attention on a Massachusetts election. We haven’t had that probably since what, Weld-Kerry? And even that was just one of several going on.
We seldom get this kind of thing — the independent groups running nasty ads, the national blogosphere ranting, the 24/7 news channels talking about us. A bunch of other states get this periodically: Ohio, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, any Presidential ‘swing state,’ and of course Iowa/New Hampshire etc. I always enjoy travelling to other states when they happen to be in the middle of one of these, with the constant TV ads, one more outrageous than the last, and the interplay of local and national analysis.
We got the full effect the past couple of weeks, and I don’t think it both attracted and repulsed Bay Staters. You can’t help but get sucked into its eddy, but it just makes you more and more unhappy with the very politics that you are becoming more engaged in.
And from Massachusetts resident Dan Drezner, blogging at Foreign Policy:
Ohio, you can keep your swing state status all to yourself. I no longer want any part of it.
For those readers who have never had the privilege of living in a battleground state, let me explain what the experience is like. Every other television commercial is about the campaign. Day after day, the race dominates the front page of the newspaper. Your mailbox is stuffed with fliers for or against one of the candidates. Your friends and neighbors talk about the campaign — and who you support can affect your friendships. You can’t escape either the race …
Over this weekend, by my count, we have received ten phone calls asking us to vote for or against someone, and then a few phone calls on top of that polling us about our voting intentions (weirdest call, hands down, was a recorded message from Pat Boone. The Official Blog Wife got that call, and the end of it had no idea who Boone wanted her to vote for). Since these inquiries can’t be put on the Do Not Call list, the phone will not stop ringing.
It’s worth noting that my father was similarly annoyed by the constant phone calls, and was equally baffled by the Pat Boone call, which was apparently just on behalf of the AARP. As a Republican, my dad found the whole thing exciting, but I don’t think he would like to go through it every two years.
Unfortunately, Brown’s victory basically guarantees they’ll have to go though this again in 2012. Which will be fun, I guess.
*Ironically, Curley had plenty of national ambition, but besides for four terms in the House during his 50-year political career, they went largely unfulfilled.