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City of Brass

City of Brass

Is the Massachusetts Senate race a referendum on Obama’s first year?

Today, Massachusetts votes for a Senator to replace Ted Kennedy in a special election scheduled on the eve of President Obama’s first anniversary in office. The expectation is, to put it bluntly, that Republican challenger Scott Brown will probably defeat incumbent Martha Coakley (who is running for Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat after his passing last winter). The immediate impact of a Coakley loss would be to reduce the Democratic coalition by one, from a filibuster-proof 60 to merely 59. The thinking goes that this imperils President Obama’s entire governing agenda, kills health care reform, and is a preview of further losses this November (where the Dems are already expected to lose seats in both the House and the Senate).

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The spin from the right is that a Coakley defeat is a victory for the oppressed masses who reject Obama’s socialist agenda and vindication of the Tea Party movement. But a Brown victory is more likely to come from depressed Democratic turnout, and a split independent vote, than any conservative surge. Brown himself is only a transient darling of the conservatives for the black eye he will give Obama; the moment he casts his first pro-choice vote, he’ll be labeled a RINO. That’s the reality of blue-state politics.

The question is, why is the Democratic base depressed? The spin from the left is that Obama hasn’t been liberal enough. In this argument, Obama’s failures to close Guantanamo immediately, put the single-payer reform on the table, etc – basically, Obama’s failure in their eyes to govern as a far-left ideological progressive instead of the center-left liberal pragmatist he has been his whole life and actually campaigned as – is the cause.

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And yet, as I have argued before, it is precisely the far left who have failed to learn the central lesson of the Bush era – that ideology is the antithesis of policy. The change that Obama talked about bringing to Washington was not a promise of knee-jerk reactionism to Bush, and govern purely in ABB mode. Rather, it was to stop ideological governance entirely and bring an intellectual, pragmatic, and principled Administration to power in the hope and belief that genuine progress on our various policy ills can be found. But what progressives demand instead is a repeat of the Bush era, only skewed the other way. Yes, that too would technically be Change, but not Hope. Certainly that sort of change is nothing to believe in.

The true culprit of a Coakley loss is that the independent vote – who represent a majority of registered voters in Massachusetts and the silent majority of citizens in the United States as a whole – was lost. Not by Obama per se but by the very far left who sought to turn every victory into a defeat. The battle for the public option is a perfect example of this, which is a case study for the aphorism, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

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So, is MA-SEN a referendum on Obama? The far left has already concluded it is, and will seek to push Obama further left. But in many ways, the loss of the 60 vote majority is freedom for Obama. No longer does Joe Lieberman have veto rights over the agenda; a Republican like Brown is someone who might actually be willing to work across the aisle. With 59 seats the validation of Obama’s strategy to seek common ground is a reality – and a neccessity. And Obama would have had to seek this common ground in November anyway; as the Dems woudl surely have lost seats then too. But now, he has a year to really show how much he can do.

This race isn’t a referendum on Obama’s past, it’s a liberation instead. Moderate Republicans like Snowe and Brown will now be empowered the way Lieberman was to defy their party. And it is they who have incentive to help Obama deliver now, because with a 41 seat minority, the GOP can no longer claim that the Democrats own everything. Their political strategy of threatening a filibuster on every vote now has teeth – which means that failure to find common ground really is theirs as much as Obama’s – and possibly even more.

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(and for what it’s worth – a Coakley loss could even strengthen the progressive left on healthcare, if the Democratic leadership is willing to use reconciliation. But if they aren’t you could see the House vote on the Senate bill verbatim ,which would be a huge blow to the progressives.)

Related, Bernard Avishai makes a passionate case in defense of Obama’s governance, and I think the all-too-appropriate title of his post is probably emblematic of a fundamental paradox at the heart of our politics. Avishai offered brief commentary on the Coakley race in the same vein this morning. Also, Chris Bowers rejects the spin and says it’s the economy, stupid. And John Cole bemoans the misuse of the Overton Window.

  • http://na.com alex west


    But a Brown victory is more likely to come from depressed Democratic turnout, and a split independent vote, than any conservative surge.

    thats why dems will lose… cant event get simple facts straight..
    # acorrding any pole independents vote for brown 60-30.. at least..
    # why did Democrats feel depress? might be because of only in fantasy land of Oz economy is growing,, jobs are plenty.. all is okeeyyyyy.. but in real world democrats still need to feed family, pay bills etc..
    and on on on..
    alex

  • Thomas Nephew

    How is left disenchantment (however richly deserved) transmuted into lost votes? Unless South Bostonites are reading and quoting “firedoglake” to each other every day, I don’t see how this actually happens.
    What I can believe is that at the margins, fewer lefties/progressives showing up to knock on doors etc translates into a less potent GOTV campaign — maybe a couple of points. But what’s happening in MA is more than that.
    Meanwhile, why on earth *should* I work hard for a Democratic Party that always ignores me in favor of Lieberman and Nelson? If/when Obama et al do something that deserves my full throated support, believe me they’ll get it. Meanwhile, they don’t seem to want it, so they’re not getting it. So what’s to complain about?

  • Thomas Nephew

    How is left disenchantment (however richly deserved) transmuted into lost votes? Unless South Bostonites are reading and quoting “firedoglake” to each other every day, I don’t see how this actually happens.
    What I can believe is that at the margins, fewer lefties/progressives showing up to knock on doors etc translates into a less potent GOTV campaign — maybe a couple of points. But what’s happening in MA is more than that.
    Meanwhile, why on earth *should* I work hard for a Democratic Party that always ignores me in favor of Lieberman and Nelson? If/when Obama et al do something that deserves my full throated support, believe me they’ll get it. Meanwhile, they don’t seem to want it, so they’re not getting it. So what’s to complain about?
    And what’s to gain from it? I’ve generally found that if I want someone’s help and support, I should focus on good relations with the person and understand what he/she wants, instead of berating her for all the mistakes I think he/she’s made.

  • Alicia

    This is a very optimistic spin on the loss of Democratic control of the Senate. Ordinarily, I would agree that having a filibuster-proof majority is not necessarily a good thing, since it discourages finding common ground. However, since the Republican Party has opted to be the Party of No (no accountability for past errors, no non-partisanship, no real alternatives, no ideas) it is hard to see how Coakley’s loss (however deserved) can be good news.
    President Obama is an adult during a time when very few people on either the Left or the Right seem capable of behaving like adults. That, as much as the anti-incumbent anger, explains much of the opposition to him.

  • tg

    ” instead of the center-left liberal pragmatist he has been his whole life”
    Center left? I didn’t know joining and donating tens of thousands of dollars to a “church” headed by a man who believes the US government injects black people with HIV is the new center left position.

  • Hilary 60

    I TOTALLY agree with Alicia, I could not have put it better myself. I will however try my BEST to be Optimistic!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And Alex you are really rude saying you can’t even get simple fact’s straight and you spell. Event???????????? Isn’t the word spelled even???? Can you even spell? That’s pretty bad when your insulting that YOU THINK THEY can’t get the fact’s straight and you can’t even spell correctly. Yes of course ALL American’s are worried about job’s and money. But I don’t think that is ALL on Obama, HELLO??? Where have you been?????????????? Were you in Oz by any chance when Bush was in office?????????????

  • http://002evolves.blogspot.com 6yagb9
  • http://faxblaster.net faxserver

    yes, support Massachusetts..

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