Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Scott Heard Round the World

Cambridge, Mass.

I'm writing this while on a long weekend trip to Boston. Forlorn Martha Coakley signs poke sadly through the snow on the frozen white lawns of Cambridge. From what I gather here, they seem to have been the extent of her U.S. Senate campaign. Stunned Democrats still wander about in a glum daze, wondering how in the world their five-decade liberal lion Senator, the champion of national health, is being replaced by a conservative Cosmo centerfold. And not just any conservative, but one whose raison d'etre in the Senate will be to kill the very bill for which Ted Kennedy fought so long, the one he died thinking would finally become reality.

That irony is not lost on the majority of Bostonians who voted for Coakley, only to see her swamped by the Tea Party-fueled insurgency of one Scott Brown, a Republican State Senator from Wrentham whose previous claim to fame was fathering Ayla Brown, an American Idol finalist a few years back (I thought she was a cute, pleasant lightweight, but as I recall, her undoing was her poor choice of the Natasha Bedingfield song "Unwritten," not the thinness of her voice. But this isn't an Idol blog, is it? So sorry).

There is much teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing among Bay State Democrats. But just as at Concord, 235 years ago and maybe 25 miles from here, this revolutionary moment reverberates far beyond the borders of the Commonwealth.

The Democratic majority, not to mention the president's agenda, is in deep peril. Losing the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey was one thing, but fumbling away the special election to replace Senator Kennedy, and with it, the party's 60-vote supermajority, is quite another.

By most accounts, Coakley ran a lazy, arrogant campaign. The White House saw the warning signs way too late. Scott Brown went door-to-door and diner-to-diner, capitalizing on voter anger over lost jobs, bank bailouts, mounting national debt and a still-sputtering economy. He may only serve two years in the Senate (he must run again when Kennedy's term expires in 2012), but that could be long enough to scuttle health care reform and block Obama's judicial appointees.

President Obama seems to have gotten the wake-up call. Early word is he will come out swinging in his State of the Union speech, and he's already retooling for the midterm elections, trying to reclaim the populist mantle himself. Perhaps this Massachusetts loss will be the kick in the pants he, and the Democratic leadership, need. Many progressives here think Obama's been too timid in his first year - too quick to placate Republicans in the name of bipartisanship, and too slow to pursue the real change so many Americans thought they were voting for in November 2008.

The historic nature of his majority seems to have been lost on Obama. He's a Democratic president, with an astounding 79-seat edge in the House of Representatives and the largest Senate majority in a generation. Not since the post-Watergate campaign of 1976, when Jimmy Carter took the presidency with a 61-38 margin in the Senate (there was one independent), have the Democrats enjoyed this kind of power. Carter squandered it. Obama is in serious jeopardy of doing the same.

Just one year into the Obama presidency, the Carter comparisons are already apt. George W. Bush barely won the office, twice (and really only once), and had the barest of Congressional majorities, but still rammed the Republican agenda through with a Damn the Democrats, Full Speed Ahead attitude. Perhaps it's time for Obama to abandon the genteel, don't-rock-the-boat demeanor of recent vintage Democrats and do some serious, bare knuckle brawling. I'm all for postpartisanship and changing the tone, but it's clear the GOP has no interest at all in playing that game. The Republican Party went all in on stopping Obama, no matter what, even if he discovers the cure for cancer and wants to give it out for free, and their nothing-to-lose obstructionism is paying off beyond Michael Steele's wildest dreams. Can you imagine if the Republican Party had the kind of power the Democrats have (or had, until last week's election here)? There would be no political pussyfooting, trust me.

We all know the kind of change Obama promised takes time. Fixing an economy that's this broken, winning two wars and passing an ambitious domestic agenda doesn't come quickly, and it doesn't come cheap. But Obama no longer has the luxury of time. It's started raining here in Boston, hard, and the warmer storm is melting the frozen Charles River. The ice is cracking, the current is moving again, and it isn't moving in the Democrats' direction.


Anonymous said...

"Many progressives here think Obama's been too timid in his first year - too quick to placate Republicans in the name of bipartisanship..."
Too quick to placate Republicans, or too quick to placate the Democrats in Congress? Obama let them lead the charge, and make a mess of health care reform, with the backroom deals and total disregard of the public's concern about the economy, budget deficits and the national debt. Remember Obama's campaign for transparency and against earmarks? That business continued as usual on Capitol Hill, with hardly a word of complaint from the White House.
Yes, he gets it now, and the economy and the budget will be the focus of the President's State of the Union speech. But can he make Congressional democrats pay attention? Or will it take the results of the November election?

Diane Mintz said...

Did you like his speech? I think he covered a lot of necesary ground, and the tone seemed to augur a more "bare-knuckled" approach.


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