Regardless of your outlook in the wake of Massachusetts’ special election — whether you’re celebrating Senator-elect Scott Brown’s victory, mourning State AG Martha Coakley’s loss, or wishing we’d all just pay attention to more important things — this much is clear: Democracy did what it’s supposed to do. It gave the people of Massachusetts an opportunity to make their voice heard and select who would represent them.
Of course, for at least several more days, if not weeks, those of us (including yours truly) who resist paying attention to more important things — because we have a very serious problem; a sad, tragic disorder, really — will be asking each other what exactly the majority of voters in Massachusetts had to say.
Were they primarily upset about the health care bill, the Democrats’ overall agenda, the economy, or all of the above?
Or did those voters simply provide more proof for the summation of politics offered by legendary, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill — who, in case you forgot, was from Massachusetts and knew something about vying for a seat vacated by a Kennedy. Net: Was this more about local/state matters than national matters?
One Mass. voter, interviewed by John Roberts on CNN this morning, claimed that Ms. Coakley simply wasn’t doing her job as State AG, so why should anyone elect her to the U.S. Senate? We’ve also heard multiple times how uninspiring Ms. Coakley’s campaign was, including those jaw-dropping gaffes. (Curt Schilling a Yankees fan? You don’t even joke about that.) In contrast, Mr. Brown ran what is widely reported as a highly energetic, take-nothing-for-granted campaign. And just how much did Mr. Brown tap a Mass. “all politics is local” nerve when he essentially argued that the national health care equation didn’t matter, because Mass. voters already had their reform?
Bottom line: Some of us may not be able to let this moment go quite yet, but no matter how much we try to keep it front-and-center, it will be a historical footnote soon enough. Hence, the more important question is not “What happened?” but “What’s next?” Some will argue that the political class (elected and otherwise) cannot — and perhaps should not — move to what’s next without first studying the lessons of what just happened. Fair enough. But there’s also a risk, I fear, of dwelling too long on the recent past, of paralysis by analysis.
So consider this a gentle nudge, an echo of a sentiment already expressed — an unsolicited and maybe unwelcome encouragement to study what happened in Massachusetts for a day or two, but no more, and then, please, let’s move on.
In the final seconds of the TV series The West Wing, Stockard Channing’s First Lady Bartlet asked Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet what he was thinking about. His one word reply: “Tomorrow.” Though fictional, it’s the right attitude, I think, for the current circumstance.