Martha Coakley, who was by many accounts an uninspiring and uninspired candidate in the first place, has conceded the Massachusetts Senate special election to Republican former Cosmopolitan centerfold Scott Brown. I can predict, with greater than 95% confidence, that there will be much bleating by the Republicans that this is bad news for Obama and the Democrats. I can also predict, with roughly the same confidence level, that the Democratic leadership will muff the lesson it should have learned and try to run even further to the right, and compromise even more of their principles, than they have already done in the first year of President Obama's term.
There will also be considerable weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth about having lost "Teddy Kennedy's seat" in the Senate. That's just bunk. You could just as accurately call it Henry Cabot Lodge's seat, or Edward Everett's. Where, exactly, is it written in our Constitution or our laws that any one person (or any particular party, ethnic or racil group, religious denomination, or any other associational entity you care to name) is entitled to claim a seat in either house of Congress? The voters decide whom the seat belongs to--and if you can't get more of yours out than the other guy (or gal) does, then you lose it. That's how the political system works in this country. And that's how it should be.
I chose the title of this post deliberately. It was my reaction to Martha Coakley's candidacy. It was also my reaction to all the appeals from this group or that party organization to help out with the race. It is also my reaction to the election result. I could wish that it would also be the Democratic Party's reaction to the result, but I doubt I'll get that lucky. (Indeed, I suspect I have a better chance at winning tonight's Mega Millions drawing...)
We lost an election. And a seat in the Senate. Big fat hairy fuckin' deal. It's not like we ever really had a filibuster-proof majority to begin with. Now, maybe, the Senate leadership (and that of the party more generally) will finally stop acting like having 60 votes was somehow important, and get back to doing what they were elected to do in the first place.
Because "Meh" was also, I believe, the reaction of large swathes of the electorate to the first year of the Obama administration. Rightly or wrongly, considerable numbers of young voters, independent voters, and others, flocked to Barack Obama's banner--in the belief that he was offering something different. Some may have done so out of the belief (mistaken, in my estimation) that Obama would truly be a liberal or a progressive president, but I doubt there were many.
It's those young voters, those independent voters, and those voters who found something uplifting and inspiring about Obama's candidacy, I believe, who are most likely to stay away from elections this year. You can bet they're not going to be volunteering their time, their talents, or their treasure quite as readily as they did a couple of years ago. Some of that, of course, has to do with the rotten state of the economy at present. But more of it, I suspect, has to do with a decided lack of enthusiasm for the record of this administration at the end of its first year in office.
President Obama campaigned on an agenda of change. He has largely governed, however, on the status quo. And that is fatal to his chances of keeping the voting base from 2008 engaged and energized. If he wants not to wake up to news of an electoral bloodbath on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in November of this year, he has a very small window of opportunity to turn things around and start living up to some of his campaign promises. (I would also argue that he should abrogate at least one of those promises, viz., the one about reaching out to the Republicans: it should be obvious to anybody with eyes to see that the only thing the Republicans are interested in when it comes to Obama is to confound his politics. Accept that they've got nothing to offer but their No votes and move on.)
By the same token, the Democratic leadership needs a good shaking up. Harry Reid, whose spine at the best of times has the consistency of overcooked pasta, should step aside as majority leader regardless of what happens in his re-election bid (which isn't looking all that great right now to begin with: his job approval is running at or below 40%, his favorability rating has been running steadily at around 50% disapproval for more than a year (and has been ticking gradually upward since last summer), and the head-to-heads are hideous: most show the Republican candidate winning, and all of them show Reid with numbers under the 50% that any incumbent should be able to count on). Tim Kaine should see if Howard Dean wants his old job back at the DNC, because Kaine has yet to demonstrate that he understands voters--or Democrats--as well as Dean did during his four years at the helm.
But mostly what needs to happen is that Democrats need to learn not to be afraid of standing up for what they believe in. American voters can't stand people whose opinions veer with the winds. If you say you're in favor of universal health care, then be in favor of universal health care. If you say you're going to shut down Gitmo within a year, then do it. Don't waste our time with namby-pamby excuses: get it done. Stop sucking up to the Republicans--they don't have your best interests at heart, and there is no amount of compromising you can do to win their votes. (Indeed, their idea of a winning compromise is one in which they get everything they want, and we get nothing. This is good for us how, exactly?) And while you're at it, go back to the old Senate rules. If Joe Lieberman and the other conservadems want to join hands with the Party of Naysaying Teabaggers to filibuster a Democratic bill, then (a) kick Lieberman out of the Democratic caucus and (b) make them actually have a filibuster à la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. None of this threatening BS: have 'em be prepared to stand for as long as they have the floor, and make them read something--and put the cameras on the whole blinking time. Let the voters see just who it is that's holding up the government. I think I can confidently predict you'll see a considerable decline in the number of filibuster threats, and a concomitant increase in the success rate for your legislative agenda.
Because ultimately, that's why we elected you. Because we wanted you to do something about the mess this country is in--and that something was most decidedly not to enable the status quo. We don't want the banks to be able to keep screwing us out of nickels and dimes sixteen different ways to Sunday, just so they can keep drawing their obscene paychecks and even more obscene bonuses every year for wrecking our economy. We don't want health insurance reform: we want actual health care reform, which means taking for-profit companies out of the decision-making process and leaving it where it has always belonged--between a patient and his/her doctor. We don't want to treat an entire class of Americans as second-class citizens. We also don't want to keep sending more of our tax dollars, and more of our young men and women in uniform, to die needlessly in pointless wars on nouns. You told us you were going to make changes, and we believed you. Now get to it.