Scott Brown’s Election a Wake Up Call for Dems

Written by Tim Arnold. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on January 20, 2010 with 13 Comments

Republican US Senator-elect Scott Brown (MA)
with his daughters Ayla and Arianna.
Photo via

By Tim Arnold, guest columnist

January 20, 2010

Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts was a stunner to be sure, a victory that caught Democrats completely by surprise in an election that they unfortunately had taken for granted, assuming it “would be a cakewalk,” according to the NY Times (Jan 19, 2010, “The Massachusetts Election”). This Democratic debacle proves once again how astute Republicans are politically, if nothing else, and how naive Democrats are. According to many, Martha Coakley ran a lame campaign, even labeling Curt Schilling, a long-time Boston Red Sox pitcher, a Yankees fan; Brown, on the other hand, branded himself “the people’s Senator” and came out of nowhere to turn it upside down in the final two weeks.

The Democrats failure in Massachusetts is especially telling since a) Brown opposes national health care reform even though Massachusetts already has near-universal health coverage thanks to a law passed when Republican Mitt Romney – was governor – legislation Brown supported! And b) Brown opposes same-sex marriage – which, yep, Massachusetts legislation has already legalized (NY Times, Jan 20, 2010, “GOP, in an Upset …).

Of course Republican pundits and the conservative media, are braying about how this is once again a repudiation of everything Democrat and White House, and who can blame them? (Of course the liberal media is bemoaning it, to be sure). And despite the latest CNN Poll of Polls (an average of current Fox News, ABC/Washington Post, CBS and Gallup polls) that show a national 51% approval rating for Obama’s first year in office. (Recall President Reagan earned a dismal 49% approval rating after his first year in office, and somehow he went on to be considered by many as one of America’s great presidents).

The Republicans, especially after their New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial victories, are labeling Brown’s victory once and for all a “game changer.” I’m not so sure. Or at least I think there are important factors working here that, if the Democrats can get brave and smart about, can be neutralized, if not even turned to their advantage.

Consider the following: Brown’s biggest supporters came primarily from ultraconservative national entities:

• Our Country Deserves Better, who are heavily aligned with The Tea Party Patriots.

• National Republican Trust PAC, who’s mission is to “stop Obama’s radical agenda,” whose choice to picture Obama in sun glasses(!) on their home page says it all, and whose cause is so blatant that contributions to it are not tax deductible.

• Move America Forward – a “pro-war lobby” not-for-profit whose chairman, Melanie Morgan, suggested in 2006 that Bill Keller, NY Times editor, be “killed in a ‘gas chamber’ for alleged ‘treason’ after reporting on the US government’s “spying on Americans.” (

• The National Rifle Association – one of Washington’s most powerful lobbyist forces, who in 2004 led the defeat of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban renewal and who continue to oppose any gun control whatsoever.

• National Organization for Marriage, whose mission is “to protect marriage and the faith communities that support it.” Allegedly founded by the Mormons, NOM has been instrumental in rallying against same-sex marriage legislation in California, Maine and … Massachusetts.

• Sarah Palin – whose support Brown claims by way of “a group that supported Sarah Palin.” (NY Times, Jan 19, 2010).

Republicans are brilliant in their ability to create doubt, fear and alienation in voters, fueled by groups like these, enabled by disinformation from various sources and driven by Rush Limbaugh’s “hope that Obama fails.” And as long as Democrats are unable or unwilling to confront any of it, aggressively, they are going to continue to lose voters, and elections, to the Republicans.

Wake up, Democrats!

Get this: half (49%) of Massachusetts’ voters are Independents! One-third (35%) are Democrats! And a mere 13% identify themselves as Republicans The Dems failed to win over the Independents. Hell, they failed to win over many of their own. A failure of colossal proportions. Especially knowing that Obama’s approval rating in Massachusetts, throughout 2009, was higher than the national average (67% vs. 57%; all according to Gallup, 2009 yr end survey).

These Republican victories in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, especially the latter two, may be no more than localized rejections of incumbents and their “failure” to solve all the economic woes they were saddled with – as unrealistic a proposition as expecting President Obama to have them all solved by now.

But for Democrats to assume this is all it is is to jeopardize each and every upcoming election. And they don’t have to. Despite these recent victories, Republicans remain a party in turmoil, confused about who their leadership is (and what the hell he’s talking about half the time) and what has happened to their more balanced core values of a few years ago.

And worse, many Republicans themselves are actually concerned about the influence of some of these ultra-right organizations, and their influence over what it is they think they stand for. They certainly don’t miss Ralph Reed and his kind. And witness New York State District 23rd’s congressional election last November, when Democrat Bill Owens defeated Doug Hoffman, a member of the Conservative Party, despite – or perhaps because of – the heavy-handed support of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, columnist NY Post Michelle Malkin and others of similar ilk. Even the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, dropped out and supported her Democratic rival.

Claiming Glenn Beck was his mentor surely didn’t help Hoffman. NY’s 23rd District has historically been one of the most Republican districts in the nation; most of the area, including the largest town, Watertown, has not had a Democratic representative since the 19th century (Wikipedia, NY’s 23rd district special election, November, 2009). And yet a Democrat won.

The significance? It’s no coincidence that many of these same ultra-conservative outsiders descended on NY 23rd in November as they did in Massachusetts, including the National Organization for Marriage, the Citizens of the Republic, the Club for Growth, along with Sarah Palin and company, et al – only this time they supported the third-party candidate because they deemed their Republican candidate “too liberal” for their own extremely conservative selves. Hoffman held many of the same views as Brown, like opposing health care reform, cap and trade emission control and same-sex marriage. But there was no third-party candidate for more independent Republicans to run to in Massachusetts, and importantly, no Democratic uprising – no, it was worse than that: they were asleep at the wheel – so Brown won.

Right or wrong, health care reform, and Obama’s determination to pass it in some form, has completely over shadowed other, perhaps even more important issues, especially to voters. It has become Republicans’ clarion call, and it is touching a hot button despite the fact that more Americans favor it than oppose it (49% vs. 46%, Gallup, Jan 12).

Republicans know how to push the right buttons. I think the special election in Massachusetts is analogous to Bush’s re-election, inflaming many of the same emotions, fueling the same opposition to approaching problems differently, and it attracted the same types of voters who put him in office – especially the second time – because they want back what was the status quo, because he was “someone (they) wanted to have a beer with.” It’s no coincidence that Brown also opposes … cap and trade applications to emission control, citizenship for illegal aliens unless they leave the country first, taxes on big banks and restrictions on big bonuses.

But Republicans should be careful about what they ask for these days. Democrats have the opportunity to drive a wedge between centrist and conservative Republicans, like what happened in NY 23rd (it just happened, Democratic leadership had nothing to do with it) but failed to take hold in Massachusetts. Failed, because the Democrats and their candidate got outsmarted by the more cunning Republicans, and because they failed to draw attention to the kind of outside influence that crippled Republicans in NY 23rd.

Of course to regain the momentum, Democrats have to be willing to confront the overbearing and negative influences these ultra-conservative intruders are having on centrist Republicans and Independents. Since Obama’s inauguration, Democrats on the national and local levels have frittered away an opportunity to carry out their vision, to deliver on campaign promises, to course-correct America after eight years of Republican devastation. And they only have themselves to blame.

It’s not too late. But you’re going to have to get up off your collective butts, get your courage and determination up and carpe diem! Or you’ll only have yourselves to blame, and your increasingly disillusioned followers to explain your failures to.

Tim Arnold is a 30-year advertising industry veteran. For three years he’s told his stories in a regular column for Adweek magazine. He also plays a mean blues guitar and has played numerous clubs in New York City where he has lived for 25 years. He currently runs his own consulting business (The Arnold Group), where current assignments include promoting two syndicated television and web based specials and leading a new product launch.

Tim Arnold

Tim Arnold is a 35-year advertising industry veteran and a frequently published writer who's run his own consultancy agency, Possible20, for many years. His first job was at D’Arcy, St. Louis, where he ran the Budweiser business for 10 years, launching the ground-breaking “This Bud’s for You” campaign. He moved to New York twenty-eight years ago, and has run businesses for J. Walter Thompson (Burger King, Miller), Scali McCabe Sloves (Hertz) and DMB&B (worldwide Board of Directors; Dir, Global Business Development). He was president of McCann Amsteryard and a partner at The Ad Store, where he produced the notorious first Super Bowl commercial for GoDaddy. For three years he told his stories in a regular column for Adweek magazine and now contributes to AdvertisingAge. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has published Tim's work, and he's a frequent contributor to The FogCity Journal. He also plays a mean blues guitar and has played numerous clubs in New York City as part of the Night Train Blues Band.

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Comments for Scott Brown’s Election a Wake Up Call for Dems are now closed.

  1. Regarding comment from Ruth Snave on Krissy Keefer–

    Krissy Keefer ran against Pelosi on a shoestring 1000 times thinner than the one Cindy Sheehan ran on.

    Krissy is one of America’s most creative and talented choreographers and performers– who is true to her vision of radical justice for the oppressed. I know many people never heard what she had to say– but I did. And I was utterly impressed by her breadth of knowledge, her reasoning, her ideas, and her fearlessness in fighting the good fight.

    Isn’t it easy to ridicule or dismiss people like Krissy or Cindy, isn’t it easy to be blind to their considerable talents and passion to do right!

    This joke in Massachusetts doesn’t alleviate my mind that elections are still not stolen– but who will admit that they ever were when we have Binacrabama who supposedly won his fair and square (bullshit!).

  2. Howard, the last time we listened to you, we got Schwarzenegger, Bush II, Cheney and Bernacke and their concomitant economic crash and expensive war on terror.

    Are you suggesting that we listen to you again and spend trillions more on the military so that we don’t have to confront our role in Israei war crimes, the dehumanization of Palestinian families, and the enmity against us it engenders and the attacks that follow?

    The Republicans are just jealous that they did not think of a similar corporate give away as is the Senate Health Insurer and Pharma Corporate Welfare Act of 2010 first.


  3. Tim,

    Its more than simply lack of leadership. Its the sheer arrogance of Obama/Pelosi/Reid, et al thinking they can ram their agenda through behind closed doors and by any means necessary, some if not illegal should be and at least extremely unethical. Its far more than a lack of leadership.

  4. Re: “Scott Brown’s election …,” which I posted. There’s an extensive article in today’s NY Times, headlined on the front page (“How the GOP Captured a Seat Lost for Decades,” p1, NY Times, Jan 21, 2010), which underscores the point I’m making here, only in much greater detail. My point? The Democrats suck at politics. I’m not sure where it comes from; somebody can probably find some kind of deep- seated idealogical insight into why they’re clueless, and even reluctant, when it comes to engaging in a political battle only to lose time and time again. I think it boils down to a fundamental lack in basic leadership skills. The kind that says here’s our objectives, here’s our plan, here’s the way we’re going to win; and with the cajones to say, now, follow me and let’s get it done! I’m no politico. I’m just a guy who voted for Obama, with great hope, encouraged by the Democrat’s majorities in the House and Senate, and now amazed and disappointed that they are screwing up at virtually every turn, while, the more politically astute Republicans continue to prevail.
    Tim Arnold.

  5. I also can’t help recalling 1972, when Massachusetts was the only state in the union to vote for George McGovern, the anti-Vietnam War candidate, over Richard Nixon, who was, within the next term, out for Watergate, so it’s hard to believe the Dems aren’t in for a well deserved butt kickng this year.

    Bumper stickers reading “Don’t blame me; I’m from Massachusetts” are now collectible political memorabilia.

    Are we the people going to suffer? Economically, I don’t think it’ll be any worse. But issues like choice and gay rights may be in trouble.

  6. Maybe now San Francisco can elect a Republican mayor, which would quite likely be an immeasurable change from what we have now, depending on the Reep.

    And/or, maybe the Reeps can finally knock Nancy Pelosi off her throne. Republicans at least oppose funding the IMF and the World Bank, though not because they oppose the debt strangulation of the Global South. They seem to think it’s foreign aid, for philanthropic purpose, as Pelosi claims.

    Latest reports are that Declined to State is the fastest growing political registration, with San Francisco having the most, almost 30%, but still quite a ways from Massachusetts’ near 50%.

  7. Yes, Tim, it is a great day and taking the seat occupied by Ted Kennedy is a hoot to boot. However Coakley felt confident enough to take a week long vacation in December for a reason: any democrat with a pulse was expected to win. Yes, Coakley was a bad campaigner, ignoring Tip O’Neil’s maxim to ask voters for their vote. But Brown caught fire with us when he stuffed David Gergen’s pompous premise that the seat was the “Kennedy” seat. And Brown’s numbers started shooting up when the Christmas deal for Nebraska was struck. The final nail was the when the unions whining about “health care reform” were exempted from paying the tax; the unions were exposed as talking the talk but not walking it and making the rest of us pay for it. They were caught and exposed being rewarded for supporting Obama and that is when Scott Brown cinched it. And like rabid liberals do when the lose, Obama won’t change and this pattern will thankfully repeat.

  8. Yes, Martha Coakley managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I wonder how much campaigning the Kennedy clan did for her. I am not so sure Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts foreshadows a Democrat disaster in the midterm elections. All 435 House and 36 Senate seats are up for grabs and traditionally, the party in power loses seats in the midterm elections. The Democrats will probably lose more than the average, but still maintain a majority in the Senate and the House. However, the Democrats will not have a filibuster-proof Senate and the Blue Dog Democrats in both houses may mean a lame duck presidency for the remainder of Obama’s first term.

    During the sturm and drang over health care legislation, the President and the Congressional Democrats caved in to the health insurance and drug companies, resulting in a proposed health care legislation that no one is happy with. In the meantime, the Democrats forgot that It’s jobs, jobs, jobs that concern too many Americans. And it does not look like the unemployment figures will improve dramatically before the midterm elections. Americans fear losing their jobs, have lost their jobs, and many are facing foreclosure. Meanwhile the federal, state, and local safety nets have been reduced or eliminated altogether. These hard-pressed Americans see a $1 trillion plus industry bailout, extravagant executive pay and bonuses, and a $12 trillion national debt. It may not be the Democrats fault, but they will pay at the polls.

    I am not optimistic that the Democrats can get their act together. As Will Rogers quipped, “I belong to no organized party, I’m a Democrat.” Worst case scenario, we will have a Sarah Palin presidency in 2012. Be afraid America, be afraid.

  9. In a post above, Hope Johnson says:

    “Reid and Pelosi have been in Congress for 22 years. TWENTY-TWO YEARS!!! Stop electing them.”

    For the record, I supported Harry Britt when Nancy Pelosi first ran for Congress.

    In more recent elections, it would have helped if there were credible alternatives.

    For example, when Krissy Keefer ran against Nancy Pelosi, Keefer showed up in the Castro, dressed in rags, screaming incoherently at the top of her lungs, accompanied by loud drum banging.

    Passers-by thought she was a homeless person having a psychotic episode.

    Sorry, but it takes intelligence to make a revolution.

  10. Politics sure can make for strange bedfellows, even if it’s just for a quickie. Can’t find much to disagree with in Howard and ‘Ruth’s’ comments above.
    Unfortunately more Republican victories are only going to mean even more bitter and dark defeats for the people.
    While I think Howard meant ‘repudiation’, the reputations of those he mentioned definately took more well deserved hits.
    If Scott ran out here I would probably support him in the hopes that his daughters might get more exposure.

  11. WTF do you mean “wake-up” and “became self-absorbed?” Reid and Pelosi have been in Congress for 22 years. TWENTY-TWO YEARS!!! Stop electing them. Just stop. Take some responsibility for your own actions as Democratic voters (no, Arthur/Victoria, I do not vote for Pelosi and, yes, I live in her district). Elect people unafraid to provide better representation for the voters they are intended to serve.

  12. The Dems lost the MA senate seat because they became self-absorbed, lost touch with the people, and developed an entitlement attitude toward public office.

    The Dems’ self-absorption was manifest in both their effort for medical-care legislation in Congress and in their strategy for replacing Sen. Edward Kennedy.

    The medical legislation in Congress became an insiders’ affair, a matter of appeasing various elements of the status quo. Proponents of medical reform failed to listen to what the voters wanted and to explain to the voters what they were doing.

    The Dems’ strategy for replacing Sen. Kennedy oozed with smugness. They regarded the seat as an entitlement, not as something to be won by appealing to the voters.

    People of all political persuasions loathe politicians who view public offices as personal entitlements.

    The Republicans were poised to take advantage of these weaknesses. The candidate that the brought forward, Scott Brown, is reminiscent of the character played by Robert Redford in the flick “The Candidate.”

    Like that character, Scott is energetic, putting a lot of work into the retail politics of going around the state and convincing voters one by one.

    But again like the Redford character, Brown is economically privileged and intellectually vacuous. He will be manipulated by the Far Right, as Tim Arnold notes in the article above.

    President Barack Obama needs to do a big course correction. Retool health-care legislation to practical needs, stop bailing out the privileged echelons of corporations, focus on job creation, get a handle on ballooning government spending, and – above all – heed the sentiments of grass-roots voters.

    Otherwise, the Congressional elections later this year will neuter any remaining efforts by Obama to bring new directions to American politics.

  13. You can try make the case that this isn’t a reputation of Obama, along with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, but the fact the this election and the New Jersey and Virginia elections are in fact reputations of the President, Reid and Pelosi. With today’s 24 hour cable news networks its virtually impossible to keep anything a secret. The voters saw the bribery and kick-backs for health-care votes in the Senate. The voters can’t understand why Obama is focusing on health-care when they are concerned with jobs and the economy. They also see that Obama is ineffective. He didn’t bring the Olympics home, he got nothing at Copenhagen, and the three elections mentioned about. The voters watched as the health-care legislation, bribes and all, were negotiated behind closed doors after the President promised to negotiate in front of the C-Span cameras.

    There will be a lot more Republican victories in November.