Democrats seem surprised that they lost Massachusetts. They shouldn’t be.
On Tuesday, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in a special election to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Conventional wisdom said Coakley couldn’t lose. Kennedy, revered in the state, had held the seat for 46 years, and Massachusetts hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate since 1972. But voters from America’s bluest state voted decisively for Brown.
The national party wants to write this off as a fluke, more the fault of a lackluster candidate than a referendum on the direction in which the country is headed. That’s part of it. Coakley was an awful candidate; she combined Sarah Palin-esque verbal gaffes with all the animation of Al Gore. But it’s not the whole story.
Americans are not happy with the way Democrats are running Washington. President Obama has some of the worst first year poll numbers ever. He’s staked all his political capital on the health care bill, of which Americans overwhelmingly disapprove. There’s real frustration around the country, not just in traditionally conservative states, but in liberal strongholds like Massachusetts. If Obama and his congressional allies continue on the course they charted on Inauguration Day and have followed unswervingly ever since, they can kiss their comfortable majorities goodbye.
If, on the other hand, they learn from their mistakes in Massachusetts, they should remain in power. After all, Republicans aren’t proving the most effective opposition; between Michael Steele’s weekly idiotic quote, Sarah Palin’s staggering ignorance, and destructive infighting between moderates and hyper-orthodox Tea Partiers, it’s amazing the Republican Party has hung together at all.
The Obama of the campaign trail was an inspiring leader. He made people believe there was an alternative to partisan warfare. He promised moderate policies and pragmatic decision-making. Democrats, Republicans, and independents felt heartened by his message of change.
The Obama of the White House has been a calculating politician. He’s engaged in the sleazy smear politics and disingenuous spin he once disavowed. He’s pushed a far-left agenda and showed little interest in working with Republicans. He’s lost the support of many who once believed in him, including many liberals.
Democrats should recognize that the federal government can’t do everything, nor do most Americans want it to. They should extend their hands to moderate Republicans, like Olympia Snowe of Maine, who have a long history of bipartisanship. They should target their policies to the needs and the wishes of their constituents rather than push through huge pieces of unwanted legislation laden with pork and favors to special interests.
If Democrats do that, Republicans will get the chance to reciprocate. If they don’t, Republicans will get the chance to run the government.