Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in Massachusetts. So let the finger pointing begin.
And it most assuredly has.
Democrats awoke this morning to see a political landscape altered in several ways. The most evident and constantly mentioned: Democrats will no longer have a filibuster-proof majority which in these days of supermajorities means either gridlock or a new era of compromise to get things done. Given the mega-partisanship — Republicans embracing a blanket opposition strategy on some issues and the liberal wing of the Democratic party clamoring for less compromise with Republicans and Democratic moderates — increased gridlock is not unlikely.
Democrats will now be hampered by removal of a key argument: it’ll be harder to sell voters pitch “Just give us a majority and we can enact legislation and move the economy forward” when the first has not always happened and economic recovery is not as fast as many Americans — particularly those who are unemployed and see news cycles dominated by negotiations over health care reform — seek.
But one of the biggest shifts is in President Barack Obama’s aura. He has faced sagging political polls and woke up one year after taking office to see his clout severely diminished: his last minute entry to campaign for Democrat Martha Coakley didn’t help, which will make GOPers fear him less and Democrats feel they can rely upon him less. It’s also now clear that his oratorical skills and new media savvy can only go so far. They can’t replace since good, solid Democratic candidates, well run campaigns or trump a political and economic environment increasingly toxic to Democrats — who increasingly seem to be like political deer caught in the headlights.
And now the finger-pointing has begun. Some progressives say this shows the White House blew it by trying to make nice with GOPers and seeking bipartisanship, governing too much to the center, and not being tough enough in the use of existing powers. (And, indeed, all the charges that Obama practices “Chicago style politics” must be from folks who haven’t followed how hard-ball Chicago politics actually operated). Some others inside and outside the party say it needs to move more to the center and right. And still others…increasingly.. lambaste Obama himself.
Here’s a cross section of opinion:
–David Gergen, former White House advisor to several Presidents on CNN’s Larry King (from the transcript):
Scott Brown is a very effective and, I must say, a somewhat charismatic figure. Remember, he’s run in ten elections in Massachusetts. This is his tenth straight victory. The guy’s never lost an election, as far as I can tell.
He does well at this, and that’s because he does connect well to people. He was the populist in a pickup truck, and it worked.
But I think for Democrats not to understand that, when Scott Brown won, he did win on issues, as Andy Card said, and he did make this a referendum on Washington. It was effective.
On health care, even though Massachusetts has health care, Larry, he argued effectively that the bill that was going to come due at the national level, that Martha Coakley was supporting, plus the other bills that were going to come due were going to drive spending up over $2 trillion. And a lot of people in Massachusetts didn’t want to do that.
I think they’re in a very difficult dilemma now. They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. If they go forward with a great big health-care bill in the face of this kind of public opposition, they’re going to pay a huge price.
If they don’t deliver on health-care reform, they’re going to pay a huge price.
I think what’s — I don’t know how we’re going to get there, but my sense is we’re going to wind up with a bill that’s been scaled back considerably. It probably will not bring us universal access. It will be much less expensive. But it will bring insurance reform.
And I do think, Larry, that there is going to be a tension within the Democratic Party. Tanya is arguing the progressive view and saying you have to fight for the liberal causes versus others who are moderates in the party saying, “No. We’ve got to figure out a way to get more to the center, work with the opposition, get together on jobs and get some things done on that.”
This is not the time to go out and crusade for liberal causes. And they’re going to have to — they’re going to have to resolve that in the White House. I don’t know which way the president is going to come down on that subject.
–Lanny Davis, special counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1996-98 and an avid supporter of Hillary Clinton during the campaign says the party has gone too far to the left. Here’s part of his piece in the Wall Street Journal:
Liberal Democrats might attempt to spin the shocking victory of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts by claiming that the loss was a result of a poor campaign by Martha Coakley. Would that it were so. This was a defeat not of the messenger, but of the message—and the sooner progressive Democrats face up to that fact, the better.
It’s the substance, stupid!
Davis contends the Democrats have poorly explained health care reform, then adds:
Somehow, in the last 12 months, we allowed the party of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to morph into the party of George McGovern (or more accurately, his most ardent supporters) and Howard Dean, who called for the defeat of the Democratic health-care bill if it had neither a public option or Medicare buy-in. (He couldn’t possibly have been speaking for the 31 million uninsured people in taking that all-or-nothing position.)
In 1996, Mr. Clinton was the first Democrat to win re-election since FDR—expanding the electoral map once again into western, southern, and sunbelt states. He did so by creating a new ideological hybrid for a still-progressive Democratic Party: balanced-budget fiscal conservatism, cultural moderation, and liberal social programs administered by a “lean and mean government.” This New Democrat combination appealed to Ross Perot independents concerned about deficits, and also to traditional Republican suburbanites who were culturally moderate on issues like abortion and gay rights but opposed to high taxes and wasteful, big-government bureaucracy.
Then, in 2008, Barack Obama added something extra: a commitment to a “new politics” that transcended the “red” versus “blue” partisan divide. He explained this concept clearly in his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote speech and during his 2008 presidential campaign. It meant compromise, consensus and bipartisanship, even if that meant only incremental change. The purists on the left of the Democratic Party who demanded the “public option” or no bill at all apparently forgot that candidate Obama’s health-care proposal did not include a public option; nor did it include a government mandate for everyone to either purchase insurance or pay a significant tax approximating the cost of that insurance—the “pay or play provision” in both the Senate and House bills.
Davis says liberal Democrats need to reclaim their party by melding the New Democratic approach with the Obama approach, and ends with this:
The question is, will we stop listening to the strident, purist base of our party who seem to prefer defeat to winning elections and no change at all if they don’t get all the change they want.
Go to the link and read it in its entirety.
—Senator Evan Bayh warned his party that it needs to reclaim the independent voters and centrists or the Massachusetts vote will be cloned elsewhere before the votes were counted:
“There’s going to be a tendency on the part of our people to be in denial about all this,” Bayh told ABC News, but “if you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope of waking up.”
What is the lesson of Massachusetts – where Democrats face the prospects of losing a Senate seat they’ve held since 1952? For Senator Bayh the lesson is that the party pushed an agenda that is too far to the left, alienating moderate and independent voters.
“It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected….
…..“ The only we are able to govern successfully in this country is by liberals and progressives making common cause with independents and moderates,” Bayh said. “Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country — that’s not going to work too well.”
–The most remarkable, in fact, absolutely strident, response comes from Mortimer B. Zuckerman is chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report and publisher of the New York Daily News. In a post on the Daily Beast titled “He’s Done Everything Wrong,” Zuckerman, who endorsed Obama in 2008 and now says he is “disappointed”, literally lambastes him in a post that sounds like it’s a combination of fury and panic. Here are some excerpts, but it needs to be read in full:
He’s misjudged the character of the country in his whole approach. There’s the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He didn’t get it. He was determined somehow or other to adopt a whole new agenda. He didn’t address the main issue.
This health-care plan is going to be a fiscal disaster for the country. Most of the country wanted to deal with costs, not expansion of coverage. This is going to raise costs dramatically.
In the campaign, he said he would change politics as usual. He did change them. It’s now worse than it was. I’ve now seen the kind of buying off of politicians that I’ve never seen before. It’s politically corrupt and it’s starting at the top. It’s revolting.
Obama’s ability to connect with voters is what launched him. But what has surprised me is how he has failed to connect with the voters since he’s been in office. He’s had so much overexposure. You have to be selective. He was doing five Sunday shows. How many press conferences? And now people stop listening to him. The fact is he had 49.5 million listeners to first speech on the economy. On Medicare, he had 24 million. He’s lost his audience. He has not rallied public opinion. He has plunged in the polls more than any other political figure since we’ve been using polls. He’s done everything wrong. Well, not everything, but the major things.
I don’t consider it a triumph. I consider it a disaster.
One business leader said to me, “In the Clinton administration, the policy people were at the center, and the political people were on the sideline. In the Obama administration, the political people are at the center, and the policy people are on the sidelines.”
Zuckerman calls Obama’s fiscal program “a disaster” because much of the stimulus money remains unspent. He goes on:
It’s very sad. It’s really sad.
He’s improved America’s image in the world. He absolutely did. But you have to translate that into something. Let me tell you what a major leader said to me recently. “We are convinced,” he said, “that he is not strong enough to confront his enemy. We are concerned,” he said “that he is not strong to support his friends.”
The political leadership of the world is very, very dismayed. He better turn it around. The Democrats are going to get killed in this election. Jesus, looks what’s happening in Massachusetts.
It’s really interesting because he had brilliant, brilliant political instincts during the campaign. I don’t know what has happened to them. His appointments present somebody who has a lot to learn about how government works. He better get some very talented businesspeople who know how to implement things. It’s unbelievable. Everybody says so. You can’t believe how dismayed people are. That’s why he’s plunging in the polls.
(NOTE: When your read this you have to wonder if it was written or dictated due to its blunt tone). Read it in its entirety.
The central problem the president is laboring under is the fact that the economy remains in a shambles. And unemployment remains at a toxic 10%. Beyond that though the Democrats are suffering because they have shown voters an image of fecklessness and inability to deliver results at a moment of great public anxiety and suffering. Big changes provoke great anxiety, especially in such a divided society. But Democrats are not just having dealing with the ideological divisions in the country — which is what the Tea Party movement is about. They’re also losing a big swathe of the population that is losing faith that the Democrats can govern, that they can even deliver on the reforms and policies they say are necessary for the national good. As I wrote earlier, this is about meta-politics. If the Democrats, either from the left or the right, walk away from reform, they will get slaughtered in November. They’ll get it from the people who want reform, from the people who never wanted reform and from sensible people all over who just think they can’t get anything done.
What the Democrats — and a lot of this is on the White House — have done is get so deep into the inside game of legislative maneuvering, this and that ‘gang’ of senators and a lot of other nonsense that they’ve let themselves out of sync with the public mood and the people’s needs.
The president needs to find way to say, we’ve heard you. We’ve gotten so focused on working the Washington channels to get this thing done and we need to be more focused on the public’s mood and urgency. Well, we’ve heard you. We’re going to stop playing around and get this thing done. And then we’re going to work on getting Americans back to work. We know the urgency of the moment and we know you expect results.
—Tim Mak, writing in the National Journal sees not just a warning for Democrats but for the GOP’s right wing:
Republicans celebrated at the upset victory by Massachusetts state senator Scott Brown, who was elected Tuesday to replace the late Ted Kennedy. The win is a sharp warning to President Obama over the level of public unease at his economic and healthcare plans, but is also a lesson for the right wing of the Republican party, where the Tea Party movement has been pushing for a more hardline agenda.
Brown’s fundraising came largely through the wildly successful ‘moneybomb’ campaigns that he organized in the last week of the race, when Tea Partiers showed up in force to support Brown, the Republican able to provide the 41st vote against President Obama’s health care plan.
One oft-repeated criticism of the Tea Partiers is that they demand unblemished GOP “purity”. But on Tuesday the Tea Party witnessed the spoils of allowing ideological flexibility; they learned the benefits of backing moderate candidates when they run in moderate jurisdictions.
After all, this is Massachusetts, and Senator-elect Scott Brown is no Tea Partier.
At the end of his post he adds this:
How long will it be before Tea Partiers turn against Sen. Scott Brown? This is a politician who, if not compelled by his own views, will be compelled by the nature of his state to express moderation if he wishes to be re-elected in just two and a half years.
The lesson for republicans is clear: to win in moderate states, Tea Partiers must allow for some flexibility. They must step back from an insistence on purity where to be pure is to lose.
—Jeffrey Feldman says the Demmies lost the “lunch bucket Democrats” that Obama had worked hard to win over in 2008:
Political observers surprised by the Democratic Party loss in the Massachusetts Senate election last night should take a second look at the trouble Barack Obama had attracting so-called “lunch-bucket” voters in the 2008 presidential primaries. The problem that once plagued the campaign of candidate Obama has now metastasized to the whole party of President Obama. It took one year for that to happen and the consequences could be dire for the Democrats.
2008? Most American voters can barely remember what they tweeted 12 minutes ago, let alone what the dominant election narrative was over a year ago. But remember it they should, because the story of Obama’s failures in presidential primary states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts was remarkably similar to the story coming out of last night’s loss in the Senate race.
Meanwhile, some are even now raising the idea of Scott Brown running for President…
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan responds to Zuckerman’s piece:
He didn’t address the main issue.
He means the economy. How anyone who has been sentient this past year can say such a thing merely reveals how effective the propaganda has been….
…..But this will be the reality because this is the easy reality and our politics now lives off of created reality, not the data. For Zuckerman, the idea of extending health insurance to the working poor in a period of immense economic insecurity is not addressing the main issue. He is, of course, a billionaire diner at Michael’s whose own access to the best healthcare in the world is automatic. And he wants a Democratic president to share those priorities.