What Progressives Must Learn From Senator Scott Brown
Coakley concedes race to Brown
Posted: January 19th, 2010 09:36 PM ET
Boston (CNN) – Democrat Martha Coakley called Republican Scott Brown Tuesday night to concede in the Massachusetts special Senate election, CNN Chief National Correspondent John King reports.
“She congratulated Scott Brown on the campaign and wished him well in the very consequential days he has ahead as he goes to Washington to take the seat that Edward M. Kennedy, the liberal icon, held for 46 years,” King said, reporting from Brown's Election Night gathering.
I have a friend; he’s a conservative Democrat back in Georgia. He’s quite socially conservative and he’s someone who I often sparred with over the subject of the Blue Dogs — the “fiscally conservative” Democratic coalition that tends to vote with the Republicans rather than with its party’s progressive base. He always defended the Blue Dogs and assured me they had a vital part in the party and that the Democratic Party should be wary of being too liberal and that they were trying their best. I of course was the pinko commie in relation to this guy, and though we argued incessantly, we both agreed to disagree and admit we tended to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum within our battles for the soul of the Democratic Party. I thought Democrats did too little to advance social progress and wean off its addiction to corporatism, and he thought they were in danger of doing too much and being too liberal so as to alienate voters. Well, this is his response today to Senate candidate Martha Coakley’s loss to Scott Brown — meaning a Republican now holds the seat of the grand liberal Ted Kennedy in one of the most progressive states in the nation:
And can I say this? F*ck the Democrats. They couldn’t get shit done with 60 seats, why the hell would I care if they have 59? Fuck them seriously we deserve to lose Congress this year. And don’t bitch and whine about it either how much has changed since we took over in 2006? Ain’t shit as far as I can tell. We capitulated to Bush, then capitulated to Republicans and now are just capitulating to ourselves.
Fuck it dude, I mean Republicans get whatever the fuck they want with 50 seats and we can’t do fuck all we deserve to lose.
I want Democrats to look at this. I want the people who run the DSCC and DCCC, the DLC, the DNC, members of Congress, and everyone up to and including the White House to look at this statement.
There’s always been this mantra that kind of hangs around the necks of the Beltway establishment that warns of the mythical plague of Being Too Liberal. We heard it from the likes of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) today on Fox News, where he ominously warned that we were doing “too much” on health care and were scaring away independents. Surely, the punditocracy will already be screaming from the rooftops that now the Democrats must pull back on their agenda, that they are simply Being Too Liberal and that Americans are responding to Big Government and Big Taxes and the Scary Progressive Agenda. I know this because this is what always happens when Democrats lose and Republicans win. It’s seen as a repudiation of the ideas that the Democratic base holds dear. It works like clock work and it happens every single time.
Well, this loss had nothing to do with Being Too Liberal. This loss had to do with Not Accomplishing Enough. True, those of us here in the capital of the country have been fighting like hell to do more for average working people, and running up against people like Lieberman has obstructed that agenda at every turn. But at the very end of the day, we have 10 percent unemployment, expanding and seemingly endless war, and the people that seem to be doing best are the very same people that got us here — the bankers who developed the CDO and crashed the world economy, the pharmaceutical companies that successfully threatened Barack Obama into dropping his promise for drug reimportation, the insurance corporations that assassinated the public option and are greedily awaiting the influx of 30 million new customers.
To many of those in the Beltway liberal establishment, those concerns are just those of radical leftists — those pajama-clad bloggers, sign-waving demonstrators, and Very Unserious People. Well, guess what. My conservadem friend and many others I know who usually vote for the Republicans and who decided to give progressives a shot this time aren’t upset because progressives were able to this year make tweaks to SCHIP or expand anti-discrimination protections. They don’t look at sort of meandering around the edges of policy as great successes — like so many Beltway pundits and politicos do. They want real significant change they can see, and if they don’t get it, they very well are likely to go and do that favorite sport of the American two party system — Vote The Bums Out.
And that means handing a Republican the keys to a Massachusetts senate seat, a feat few would have ever thought would ever be possible.
The standard Beltway reply to this is, and I’ve heard it time and time again from all sorts of people working in the Democratic establishment, is that Change Is Slow and We’ve Done So Much and We’re Doing Our Best. I have no doubt, given the political realities here on the ground, that all of that is (mostly) true. But there’s an alternate reality out there in the rest of the country that still feels the force of the recession that ravaged our economy, where people can’t make ends meet, continue to be thrown out of their homes, see their kids shipped off to Afghanistan for a third tour, and pick up the newspaper every day to see that Goldman Sachs executives are treasuring their taxpayer-subsidized bonuses. In that reality the best that the Beltway has been able to produce — and we’ve certainly done some good things, as any cursory review of the legislation that passed in 2009 will show — simply isn’t good enough.
Take the stimulus battle earlier in 2009. We heard time and time again that the economic stimulus bill, jammed full of tax breaks and special interest giveaways, was the Best We Could Do. “Fiscally conservative” senators complained that the stimulus bill had to be cut down, that it was too big, and that it would be irresponsible to spend more. As millions of Americans file listlessly into unemployment lines, those complaints look even more vapid and elitist now than they did then. The next meme we heard is that we can’t possibly do a second stimulus, which could’ve kept unemployment much lower, because that was “politically impossible.” The Democrats just lost a Senate seat to the Republicans in the only state whose electoral college votes went to McGovern in 1972. It sounds like the politics ended up punishing the people who didn’t do enough to fight unemployment. What’s politically impossible now?
And at the end of the day, it’s the people of the country that decide if the best the politicos provide is good enough. Right now, it just isn’t. No matter how much the chattering class complains about that, at the end of the day, people want results, and they want them much faster than Washington has been able to deliver them.
My honest opinion of Scott Brown is that he is a smart politician but that he didn’t offer much in the way of compelling policy ideas. But at the end of the day, he campaigned against the status quo, and the status quo sucks. He painted Coakley as the out-of-touch elitist who didn’t know her Boston baseball (remarkably) and who dined with lobbyists representing the pharmaceutical and insurance industries (pathetically). So he won. Americans did the best they could to affect the political system — they voted against the status quo.
So we can learn from Scott Brown. Instead of co-opting big interests because it makes our lives easier, we can mobilize the people against them. Instead of toning down our rhetoric because we’re scared of being too populist, we can turn up the volume. Instead of ranting about the merits of marginally changing the economic circumstances of people, we can demand a complete re-working of the system to make it so that no one in this country has to willfully stand in an unemployment line or take food stamps because every person who works hard deserves a living wage and if employers don’t want to stand by workers then by hell the government will. We need to give people change they can see, and we’d better do it fast, because otherwise we might just be looking at President Sarah Palin in 2012, and that’s a fate too cruel to wish on any country.
UPDATE: A new poll from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Research 2000 confirms a lot of my suspicions about the election. 59 percent of Mass. voters who stayed home said they opposed the health care bill because it didn’t go far enough, and plurality of Brown voters had the same conclusion. The poll also concluded that voters overwhelmingly believed that Washington’s policies were too supportive of Wall Street over Main Street.