Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Massachusetts Lessons

It has been a long time since the state of Massachusetts had anything to teach the country. The Boston Tea Party, where citizens rebelled against what they believed was unfair taxation by throwing this beverage into the harbor, helped define the Independence movement in America. The first battles of the Revolutionary War were fought there at Lexington and Concord, and became the "shot heard round the world".

The story of the special election to fill position long held by Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy appears to be the latest shot fired in this state. Republican Scott Brown came out of the relative obscurity of the state senate to defeat Democrat state attorney general Martha Coakley in a contest that was long conceded as an easy Democrat victory. With time for sober reflection and dispensing with the party spin by both sides, we can now at least begin to analyze the results of this contest.

There is little doubt that Coakley proved herself to be a poor candidate. She appeared to be lazy in her campaigning, clueless about her constituency, and arrogant in her assumption of victory. Even last minute intervention by such luminaries as former president Bill Clinton and current president Barack Obama could not save her from her own poor performance as a candidate.

Scott Brown on the other hand, proved the opposite. Drawing little attention to being a Republican in what is commonly considered a Democratic state, he was constantly getting his 'small government, limited spending' message out among voters. Running against many of the issues that Ted Kennedy and the President supported, he found a solid coalition of disaffected Democrats, unhappy Independents, and hopeful Republicans to rally behind him.
But looking back now, many ask how voters could support a state legislator who campaigned for national office by decrying passage of government health care after having voted for something similar on a state level. Perhaps instead they should be asking why he and those being served by such a plan would appear to now summarily reject the candidate supporting it.

They ask how such a liberal state could vote for a conservative candidate, not realizing that Independent voters in Massachusetts make up more of the electorate (52%) than Democrats and Republicans combined; and that in a tough economy, even Massachusetts voters can be concerned over high taxes and higher spending.

This shocking upset is thought to have changed the the balance of power in the Senate, and potentially the legislative agenda of the President and Congress going forward; though it has not changed the control that Democrats have currently in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. So we must ask ourselves if any lessons were to be learned from this election, and if so, by whom. It appears, regardless of the limited lip service being paid in the last week to now mending their ways, that neither party seems to have done so.

Few Republicans will acknowledge that they are still held with equal disdain by the voters. Saying no to the sweeping and intrusive legislation proposals by the Democrats may make for stirring rhetoric and great sound bites, but coming up with solid alternatives will be required to gain voter confidence and support. It might also be worthwhile for Republicans to recognize the necessity of a return to the fiscally responsible, limited government principles that were once the heart of its platform and are now only to be found in the Tea Party movement (and of course, the Libertarian Party). Being “Democrat-lite” will gain them no support from the growing Independent voter base out there.

As for the Democrats, it may be time for them to realize that this country does not want or need non-stop omnibus legislation on ... anything. It's time to do away with the current crop of 2000+ page bills that few read, no one can possibly understand, and whose size and level of complexity will make them impossible to pay for or enforce. They should also understand that the American people are not a group of children who seek to be taken care of by their 'parents' in Washington DC.

And though he has said otherwise, I have to question whether our President has learned anything. Returning political adviser David Plouffe is already getting the word out that the programs Brown ran against must be passed by Congress, saying that “we need to get back to taking care of the American people ...” .

So while it certainly appears that the instruction that voters wanted gleaned from the choices of “The Bay State” election, was that they were fed up with government trying to take care of them and grossly wasteful spending committed while attempting to do so. Right now few in power appear willing to learn these Massachusetts lessons.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I think a major lesson can be taken for both sides - you cant take an election for granted. If both Coakley and the Democrats had taken the special election seriously from Day 1, Brown never would have gained enough traction to win. i think he could have made it reasonably close, but not close enough to win.