February 2010

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Why Martha Lost

by Daniel Patrick Welch

I'm sick of waiting for the post-election analysis where bobbling heads pick over the bones of what they already knew to make themselves seem like sages. Or maybe I'm just lazy. In any event, call this a pre-mortem, or The Audacity of Losing A Sure Bet....something like that.

Yes, the polls are still open. But the potential or as some might dare say (me!) impending loss of Ted Kennedy's seat to a faux populist republican nude model is so egregious, so telling, and so...well, inevitable--that it justifies jumping the gun just a bit.

What went wrong? What didn't go wrong? The Democratic Pary is so convinced of its rightful place at what it likes to peg as the center-left of the US electorate that it is completely tone deaf, out of touch, and self-congratulatory in its assumptions that its once core constituencies will follow it into the dustbin of history.

The most obvious and forgiveable mistake was to assume--with complete historical justification--that the race was a foregone conclusion and that the real media show was in the Dem primary. However reasonable, this assumption played neatly into the hands of a clever and well-tuned opposition, who were able to portray Democratic candidate Martha Coakley as thinking she deserved the seat, like it was some unwritten codicle in Teddy's will.

Friends of Martha will protest, but no matter. The real problems started to mount when this effect began to snowball. Undeserved leadership is something of a sore spot for jilted voters who have realized with a vengeance that their love for the dems is unrequited. A party that seems unable either to oppose in opposition nor lead when in power is one that shouldn't be allowed to play with matches, as long as there are any adults around to stop them.

This leads to the second huge mistake. The local party machine, knowing they were in serious trouble, appealed to the national machine to bring in the cavalry. Big mistake. Obama's coattails are flapping somewhere around his shoulderblades, and the reputation of congressional dems is even worse. It's possible that dem strategists simply can't believe that there could have been such a massive shift in so little time, and that Barry the Rock Star with the melifluous voice can still be counted on to turn em out.

People. Are. Pissed. There really isn't much more to it than that. And the more you try to schmooze them into believing things are better when they're not, the more they will turn on you. Judas said it best (or at least Anthony Lloyd Weber): "You have set them all on fire/ They think they've found the new messiah/ And they'll hurt you when they think you've lied."

Don't get me wrong: Scott Brown is a republican, and maybe the continuous reiteration of that fact will hit home with Massachusetts voters at the last minute, helping democrats to tap the almost overwhelming advantage they enjoy in the state. But the national party has quickly allowed itself to be something other than what voters wanted in 2008; if you can't live up to expectations, you can't take loyalty for granted.

Obama's handlers in particular seem unaware of the anger seething at the grassroots. People are hurting, they are scared, they are angry, and Obama's cool customer routine has worn thin fast. It doesn't take a year to figure out that the same neoliberal crap won't work, and it doesn't help that he has kept on some of the same flunkies, signed on to the same domestic as well as foreign policies, and just plain been too cautious even in a symbolic way. It wouldn't surprise me if the last straw for some voters was Obama's recent appointment of George W. Bush to help head up the Haiti relief effort.

But back to Massachusetts and Martha Coakley. As a lifelong resident, I am well aware that the Massachusetts "solution" to health care is not the wildly popular program the elites like to make it seem. Obama, in fact, nailed it dead on when campaigning here in the primary in 2008: "Somehow I find it hard to believe that poor peole don't have health insurance simply because no one has yet forced them to buy it." And yet it is exactly this wildly unpopular concept that has been woven into the industry-approved health insurance bailout now bubbling on congress' front burner. My wife and I pay $10,000 a year for insurance just for the two of us--and that is not at all uncommon. They may not run in power circles, but many people I know pay the fines instead of buying the insurance--they have no choice.

Working people, poor people, are very, very angry--and they simply don't see saving this lousy legislation as a reason to go to the polls on a snowy day in January. As far as the grassroots progressives, whose vaunted people power supposedly catapulted Obama into office? Though they lapped up his best seller, Audacity of Hope, they are not lining up for pre-orders on the sequel, The Audacity of Bombing the Crap Out of Everyone for their Own Damn Good. Democrats have stupidly squandered an incredible opportunity. The populist anger is still very real, but they have ceded it to the right in one of the worst performances in modern politically history. If they want to save their party, they had better take a much more radical turn--and fast. History doesn't wait.

2010 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to http://danielpwelch.com. Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School (http://www.greenhouseschool.org). Translations of articles are available in over two dozen languages. Links to the website are appreciated at http://danielpwelch.com

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