A Lighter Shade of Blue
The result of the January 19, 2010 special election was supposed to be a forgone conclusion. In Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, a Republican hadn’t been elected to a Senate seat in nearly 40 years, we were told, over and over. Once Martha Coakley won the Special Democratic Primary to fill the US Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy, the seat was hers by right.
In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1, Martha Coakley wasn’t even going to need to campaign, at least not very hard, to defeat Scott Brown, a mere state senator and a Republican to boot. There would be no need to spend millions on advertising. And President Obama certainly wouldn’t need to clear his schedule to come up here and campaign for Martha Coakley. She’s a Democrat, after all, and this is Massachusetts.
Apparently, the voters of Massachusetts didn’t get the memo. With a few weeks to go in the campaign, the presumed ho-hum Special Election became a national referendum on the current Democratic health care legislation and single-party rule in Washington.
Could it be that even in Massachusetts, where electing a Democrat to follow Ted Kennedy would all but assure the passage of the senator’s career-fulfilling dream of health care reform, most people opposed a wholesale revamping of the nation’s health care system?
Yes, it was true.
Even in Ted Kennedy’s home state, his pet health care legislation was revealed to be less popular than people assumed. Once the Lion of the Senate was no longer around, it turned out that even in the birthplace of Camelot, most people didn’t want anyone messing with their health care plans.
With polls showing the race tightening, suddenly, political ads pushed the furniture store ads off the TV and radio airwaves. Bernie, Phyl, Bob and Elliot would have to step aside until January 20. In a state where for Democrats campaigning is optional, the airwaves were filled with Martha Coakley ads, attempting to swamp Scott Brown’s own considerable advertising campaign.
The main thrust of the Coakley ads was to remind Massachusetts voters that Scott Brown was a Republican. In one radio ad in particular, the voiceover repeatedly referred to him as “Republican Scott Brown,” as if “Republican” were his first name. The announcer’s voice literally dripped with disdain as it uttered the word “Republican.” Martha Coakley’s supporters thought that simply labeling the state senator as a “Republican” was enough to convince Massachusetts voters not to vote for Brown. Perhaps Coakley’s people never heard of Richard Tisei.
“Republican” may be a dirty word in the most extreme Democratic precincts, but most Massachusetts voters, including many Democrats, are more open-minded than that. They are tolerant of diverse views, and given a real choice, don’t always vote along party lines.
Many have suggested that Republicans have gone too far to the right. But I seem to recall the GOP running a moderate, John McCain, in the 2008 Presidential election. And didn’t Martha Coakley recently emerge as the winner of a Democratic Primary that became a contest to see who the most left-leaning candidate was? Between nationalizing health care and giving civilian trials to war criminals – tell me again which party is flirting with extremes.
January 19 wasn’t just a win for Republicans, who are less than 15 percent of registered voters in Massachusetts. Tuesday was a victory for independent-minded voters of all stripes, including traditional Democrats, who have in recent years watched in dismay as the party of JFK and Tip O’Neill was taken over by left-wing ideologues.
Scott Brown spoke to those independent voters and traditional Democrats who were open minded and tolerant enough to listen to his common sense message of moderation, even if he did have an “R” next to his name.
Tuesday, January 19 was a victory of populism over elitism, of humility over the arrogance of power.
In the days since the election, I’ve seen a lot of bitterness and disdain expressed – comments dismissive of the voters and their choice of Scott Brown. It’s on the blogs, on Facebook and in letters to newspapers. One party’s bullet-proof supermajority has been reduced by one vote, and now there is great dismay and gnashing of teeth over the fact that that somebody with a different viewpoint will also have a say.
But the people know that rule by one party – any party – does not lead to good things. On Tuesday, the people of Massachusetts, the bluest state, said that they did not like the direction in which one party was leading them.
The message has been transmitted. Only time will tell if it has been received.
[This column originally appeared in the January 21, 2009 Wakefield Daily Item.]
Filed under: Columns & Essays, News, Opinion, Politics | 4 Comments
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