Republican US Senator-elect Scott Brown (MA)
with his daughters Ayla and Arianna.
Photo via MySpace.com
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:
â€¢ Our Country Deserves Better, who are heavily aligned with The Tea Party Patriots.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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.” (www.sourcewatch.org).
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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.