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Jan. 19 2010 - 10:39 pm | 767 views | 2 recommendations | 25 comments

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.

via CNN Political Ticker: All politics, all the time Blog Archive – Coakley concedes race to Brown « – Blogs from CNN.com.


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.


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  1. collapse expand

    AMEN! I can’t believe the people who are saying this is because Dems have been too liberal. Who? In what alternate universe? Rahm had better quit giving blue dogs whatever they want while telling the “lefties” to shut up. We voted for change and so far it’s been same as the old boss with a few bones thrown our way. If the Dems fall for the better move to the right BS, we might as well throw in the towel now. Great post!

  2. collapse expand

    NoNoNo- you miss the point (get of your bubble and talk to real people who earn a living).
    The ‘progressives’ (give up on the title- it’s ‘liberals’) tried to do things that the public did not want. Health Care reform- yes. Insurance reform- no. Reform the providers, the goals, the lawsuit happy atmosphere. Leave alone the ones who are doing their job (doctors, insurers, etc.), don’t make one person pay for the stupidity of others (wealth redistribution) and don’t presume you know what is ‘best’ for everyone by forcing a government system or requirements to but insurance. Same goes for crap-and-trade, etc. People are finally seeing that regulation costs and taxes on corporations are just passed onto the consumer by the vendors and they in effect just get another tax- but the govt. can hide behind it not being a ‘tax’ and putting their fingers deeper into our lives.

    • collapse expand

      Well, I do talk to real people or outside my bubble or whatever you’re saying. I didn’t grow up inside the beltway I came here to work six months ago (I’m originally from Georgia).

      How do you come to the conclusion that insurers are doing their job? By sending the medical loss ratios spiraling downwards, jacking up their profits, and continuing to gouge people? By filling doctors’ offices with unnecessary paperwork as their staffs fight to get their patients’ necessary payments for care?

      As for wealth redistribution, considering the fact that it’s been redistributed upwards for the last 35 years, I pretty much consider it returning the favor. Of course, health care doesn’t really have anything to do with that, it has to do with not allowing skyrocketing health care costs to cripple our entire economy and global competitiveness.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        They are doing their business- making a profit and paying doctors for their work (unlike medicaid or medicare which is raping ALL of the providers and doing worse than you describe as the ills of insurance). GO LOOK AT THEIR MARGINS- very low. It’s the layer between that is the biggest problem (pharma, hospital companies, device mfg.s and the ever dreaded practice insurance for the doctors- though I will leave the tort reform discussion alone for now).
        As for crippling our economy- it is a zero sum game- invest in the health companies in your retirement plan. They make a profit and someone gets it- payroll, taxes to the govt. dividend into my 401k. There are PLENTY of free medical services out there and I send people from my ministry there every day. It’s volunteer and not forced.
        The costs come form improvements- if all you need is a dr. to give you a prescription for a $4 medication that all the drugstores are offering- anyone can afford it. If you’re talking about cancer treatment- years ago you would have died and not known any better. Only the expensive research incetivised by the free market system has provided you an alternative now- shouldn’t they be rewarded for it.
        I have had NO wealth redistributed to me- I worked to put myself through college and make under 100k per year- now you can screw up my healthcare and make me pay (through fees, taxes or national debt) for others? NO. Tell them to take it out of their own pocket- I will VOLUNTARILY support charity hospitals.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          While people continue to die from not getting health care I’m not going to call their profit margins low — the CEO of UnitedHealth lives very well — but yeah relative to a lot of other businesses you could call their profit margins low.

          However the problem isn’t their profit. It’s their overhead. They set up a monstrous bureaucracy designed to keep you from getting care, and doctors have to hire a lot of staff to sift through that paperwork for tons of different insurance companies.

          It’s incredibly inefficient. Medicare’s overhead is tiny, usually around 1%, whereas with private insurance it regularly goes to 20-30 percent. Why does there need to be overhead? ALl insurance companies do is pool money and move it around. Why all the extra costs? It doesn’t make any sense to run health insurance for profit and it’s inefficient, to boot.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Well written. Progressives must become what the corporate politicos, (of both party’s), and far right wingers yell about…..Progressive and fearless, (ala Rep Alan Greyson). Just like Truman said, if given the choice between a Democrat acting like a Republican and a Republican, Americans will vote for the Republican.

  4. collapse expand

    It is very unfortunate, I feel, that everything has to be defined in terms of liberal/progressive vs. conservative. That’s useful for the oligarchy, sure, but it’s not especially helpful to average citizens.

    I didn’t vote for Obama because he is a liberal or progressive. I voted for him based on what he said he’d do. And I certainly don’t see the health care reform as a progressive cause.

    Is it not possible that a person might conclude the best way to pool health care risk is with a non-profit, 300-million-person pool? And that that conclusion has nothing to do with his views on abortion, gay marriage, or income tax rates?

    The wringing and hands and gnashing of teeth this morning over the state of progressives and conservatives is, to me, completely misguided. Round holes, square pegs.

    • collapse expand

      And that that conclusion has nothing to do with his views on abortion, gay marriage, or income tax rates?
      You are so right — insurance could and should be completely separate from these issues (as it is in countries who have universal health care).
      Back in another lifetime I became pregnant within months of burying my first child (no, not a miscarriage or abortion) and when the doctor called to tell me I was pregnant again he said that if I was not ready to have another child he would do a ‘d & c’ and I could wait until I was ready. This happened back in 1973 in a town that didn’t have an abortion clinic, but my doctor knew me well enough to be willing to do whatever I thought was best for me. That said, I truly believe even now that if a woman got pregnant and honestly didn’t think she could handle having that child there are good, law-abiding doctors out there who would do what my doctor said he would do for me all those years ago. Bottom line? Whether abortion is legal or not, whether a woman chooses to go to an abortion clinic or not, whether our elected officials obstruct laws that would help women or not, if a woman wants to get rid of an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy SHE WILL FIND A WAY TO DO IT, and it’s rather retarded for anyone (especially our elected officials) to try to tell any woman what she can and cannot do with her body; and it certainly has no place in the current healthcare arguments!

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      What you’re describing is somewhat of a single payer system, which is definitely considered a progressive plan (although lots of polling shows it’s pretty popular, and has majority support). It’s also the biggest possible boogie man to the Republicans and would face even fiercer opposition from the medical industries than these pieces of legislation did.

      I agree it goes beyond the left-right paradigm. Now it’s about helping people make ends meet and building a just economy.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Zaid, that’s what I mean. On many issues, I’d be considered a far right wing extremist. But I support single-payer health care, ala the UK or France.

        When people say we need for progressives to do this, that, or the other in order to get single-payer, I think to myself: This has nothing to do with progressive/conservative ideology. Insisting on defining it that way creates built-in opposition. That’s how the talking heads define it, I know. The Rush Limbaughs sling out “It’s socialism!” and his listeners parrot it.

        My view, though, is that if you explain to the people how it is advantageous to them (all except those making a fortune in the private industry industry), they will go for it. (As you pointed out, single-payer is surprsingly popular among citizens.) But we get these two political parties who don’t want to just pass legislation, they want to get the credit for it. They would rather a bill not pass than for the other side to get credit.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    If they want to win…MORE Elizabeth Warren…LESS Larry Summers. It really is that easy.

  6. collapse expand

    Absolutely! Most of us realized that the change we were hoping for was DOA when a single payer health care alternative was not even allowed on the table for discussion. That set the tone for one compromise after another, one disappointment after another. Obama’s garbled, half-baked reasoning for this did not make sense to the point that it appeared he wasn’t even trying.

  7. collapse expand

    You are exactly right; change isn’t happening fast enough, nor do we have the luxury of business as usual in Washington. We don’t have time for compromise and navel gazing when it comes to energy and environmental policy–the planet is deteriorating before our eyes. We don’t have time to nation-build in Afghanistan when our own nation is imploding under the financial weight of bad economic policy. We don’t have time to dick around with healthcare reform when so many people are uninsured. And we don’t have time to not put together a meaningful job recovery program when so many are out of work, never to regain the losses they’ve already sustained. Every other major industry in the world has been dragged kicking and screaming into the Internet age where decisions are made quickly and implemented faster in order to stay competitive. And yet our government is still mired in old school procedures, hampered by the inability (or unwillingness) to hear more directly from the people, and corrupted by corporate cash. And I, too, am so tired of the bullshit “art of the possible” rhetoric, when our reps can’t even get THAT done. Screw that.

  8. collapse expand

    This loss had to do with Not Accomplishing Enough.

    You certainly hit the nail on the head for THIS registered Independent. From where I am standing right now Obama coulda/shoulda — the last one doesn’t apply because I honestly don’t think he ever intended to — pushed through a good healthcare bill without EVER involving PHrMA, current insurance companies, OR Republicans if that had ever been his plan. Sadly, with this election it appears Obama has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Will this be the wake-up call that brings Superprez out of the phone booth to fight for what he knows is right? Or will he do a Sarah Palin thing and decide that only 1 year into his administration he is nothing more than a lame duck president?

  9. collapse expand

    Be careful, voting the bum out will lead to another moron for president, vote for Nader/elect Bush, vote against Obama/elect Palin. If you think there is no difference between the two camps, think again. Push elected Democrats and Republicans, write physical letters not just emails, put a pen to paper, write all your elected representatives, stay involved but don’t hand the keys of the country to another spineless simpleton. That’s a prescription for disaster. Remember what the current Republican party stands for, denial of science, denial of human rights, bomb first ask questions later, mindless jingoism.

  10. collapse expand

    I totally agree, Obama needed to get out in front and lead his party. I just read a great biography of Theodore Roosevelt by Doug Brinkley showing he was fighting the same selfish interests in business and Congress when he was President. He went over their heads to the “people” and forced Congress and business leaders to do the right things and accomplished a lot in the process. He was hated by many in his own party for this but the people loved him and backed him. Obama would do well to learn this lesson. He has started to gain support with his vow to clawback some of the outrageous bonus payments being tossed around, 20 BILLION for Goldman alone, and the people are getting behind him.

    • collapse expand

      Back at a tea party demonstration in the spring of ‘09, my friend and I talked to congressman Jack Kingston about how we needed policies to break up banks and he proudly cited Teddy and how Republicans were these great trust busters back in the day. I haven’t heard a peep from him about aggressively confronting banks in any way, shape, or form. But if the Republicans did decide to throw off their ideological fixations about regulation, they could easily sweep into power by advocating tough policies on Democratic-friendly banks like JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  11. collapse expand

    80% of the healthcare reforms in the bill would be supported by everyone (cross state selling, pre-existing, portability, parents covering kids longer). but back door ‘deals’ and FORCING people to participate is what killed it. Strip out the crap of forcing people to have insurance (and being subsidized) and the rest will go through. They overstepped what americans wanted- fix the system, don’t insert the government or try to make me do things ‘for my own good’ (you don’t even know what that is).And don’t just do lip service to involving people. If your goal is only to find 60 votes- what kind of crap is that? Find something you can get 80 votes on if you actually invite people to participate FOR REAL. Maybe now they will figure that out and get something done.

    • collapse expand

      Well the argument for the mandate isn’t really about forcing people to do stuff for their own good, it’s to contain costs. IF people get insurance when they’re yonuger and healthier, that’ll lower the costs for the rest of us. I’m not saying the mandate is a particularly good idea, especially if we don’t get any public choice, but that’s why it’s there (should be noted the insurance lobby really wants it to, and if they get that plus no public choice they basically can declare a win).

      I don’t think there’s a huge problem with the rest of the stuff you listed, although I don’t think selling across state lines will do much of anything. I also think the biggest problem is we stayed within a network of for-profit private insurance basically this entire debate, which is the root of the problem. Not sure what the limits of what we could’ve gotten was though.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I'm a recent graduate of the University of Georgia who has found himself smack dab in the middle of Washington, D.C. working as a reporter-blogger for ThinkProgress. I'm here to do what so many young people set off to their nations' capitals to do: change the place for the better.

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