Opinion: Who to Blame for the Democrats’ Loss In Massachusetts? Blame Me.

Last night Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for Massachusetts Senate, lost by 5 points a race that just weeks ago everyone was declaring hers by right. And even before the polls closed it seemed like everyone was playing the blame game.

Coakley’s team and the White House pointed the fingers at each other. Some are blaming the economy, the excellence of Republican candidate Scott Brown (our first centrefold Senator, history should note), or Coakleys repeated Red Sox related gaffs. There’s even a “Drunk Electorate” theory. All of these factors surely played some part.

I’d add in that to some extent you should blame me. Well, me and the thousands of other Democratic activists like me who were so late to get moving on this race, and so complacent when we finally did. Just a couple of weeks ago, Democrats were openly talking of this Senate seat, which was inhabited by the late, great, Senator Ted Kennedy for over 40 years, as if it was a territorial protectorate of the Democratic party. While Scott Brown’s campaign was diligently building an outstanding on the ground operation, including channelling the energy from a fired up local Republican party who had already identified this race as of critical national importance, Democrats had mentally moved on and were barely even campaigning.

Even when we did get moving we didn’t seem to grasp the nature of the problem – my fellow Democratic stalwarts and I finally got serious and got busy in this election just a few days ago, but our focus was on “getting out our vote”. So I made hundreds of phone calls to Democratic voters to get them to the polls. But it turns out that they weren’t “our voters” after all – registered Democrats voted in large numbers for Scott Brown, and we never gave them a compelling reason not to. Coakley’s gaffes compared with Brown’s discipline, Coakley’s machine politician aura matched against Brown’s insurgent energy, Coakley’s sheer unwillingness to campaign compared with Brown’s relentlessness: these threats should have been clear to us much earlier. Perhaps even before we nominated her in the primary. And when they did become clear, we (and she) should have made a positive case FOR her, not just an argument about the horrors of losing.

Although losing is, it turns out, really horrible.

WHAT NOW?

In the coming days, we’ll enter a phase known to political scientists as “panic.” With the Republicans having gained a 41st Senate seat, Democrats no longer have the 60 votes there that are needed to prevent a procedural filibuster of the final vote on health care reform. Already some members of Congress are talking about abandoning the nearly-complete health care process out of some misguided sense of democratic accountability. Suicide. Let’s nip that one in the bud right here:

A 59 vote Senate majority is still a massive mandate. Indeed, the horrifically unequal nature of the Senate means that the Senators representing those state represent an overwhelming percent of the US population. You Lib Dems must understand a thing or two about frustratingly unequal voting representation.

There is still a procedural path to health care reform now. Firstly, Scott Brown doesn’t take office for another 15 days – that’s how long it takes Massachusetts to issue a certificate of election. If we can get a revised bill through both houses of Congress in that time, then the modified bill that the House and Senate Leadership have been working on can pass without obstruction. If not – and frankly it’s unlikely – then our option is for the House to pass the bill that has already been passed by the Senate, without amendment. The legislation would then move immediately to the President for signature. It’s worth saying that I think the Senate bill is a worse bill than the House one in many respects, but it’s still a hell of a lot better than none.

And passing health care reform is still the right thing to do. The voters of Massachusetts already have universal health care – we’re the one state in the union that does. But the rest of the country is hurting. We pay more for health care than anyone else in the world, and are not healthier. The urgency of this reform has not abated, and will only get worse as time goes on – with costs continuing to rise, our public sector health programs (which already cost us more per capita than the NHS even though we don’t cover anyone – and don’t get me started on the insanity of THAT) will be bankrupt soon.

Obama’s been in an impossible position over the last many months, trying to negotiate a complex insider effort with Congress to get through the best bill he can. But the cost of this has been a disengagement with the general public, who are increasingly out of work, worried, and watching what looks like a shambolic Washington game play out. We need to get back to basics – to talk to the voters again, and not just to Congress. We need to pass health care reform AND we need to tell people why – that this is going to be part of helping them recover their financial security.

I believe that passing health care reform will help the Democrats politically – for the simplest of reasons: people like winners.

But there’s more than a political dimension at play here. There’s a question of right and wrong. Surrendering at the final hurdle when we have the means and opportunity to save and improve people’s lives would be craven. Even more than winning, I want us to deserve to win.

So I stand bloodied but unbowed. Democrats need to regroup quickly and start solving the country’s problems. And we must never, ever, take our voters for granted again.

Karin J. Robinson is Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad UK [] and was a Regional Field Director for Americans Abroad during the Obama campaign. Karin was born and raised in Massachusetts, and has been living in the UK for 10 years. She blogs at www.obamalondon.blogspot.com

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13 Comments

  • distressing as this result is, the key thing as you rightly point out is to get healthcare through. if it is not done at this late stage the democrats will look weak and republicans buoyant. for house democrats it is an uneviable choice, but weakness will be more toxic than healthcare. the question is can they bite the bullet on the senate bill, which is now the only game in town?

    obama needs this bill, then to move on to the economy. his populism on taking back the money from the bailout from major banks was a big step, but perhaps too late to salvage a massachusetts campaign that clearly didn’t realise the entire might of the republican right would descend on the state. perhaps a touch of arrogance that they couldn’t possibly lose the seat, but a wake up call.

    finally, for all the disaster talk, there is still a route to salvaging health care, and majorities in both houses of congress. obama is still in a strong position, but it looks to me like the democrats have to take the gloves off and really fight the republicans, who clearly know a lot more about opposition and are clearly happy to be utterly dishonest and shameless.

  • From a message point of view what did the Republicans have to say that allowed them to win over so many people who had voted for Ted Kennedy and Obhama who championned health care reform to decide to vote against it?

  • @ranterparadise I don’t get it, why would progressive Democrats vote Republican if they are unhappy with the party playing nice with Republicans? That would just be totally illogical, more likely they sat on their hands and didn’t vote and many indpendants swapped to vote Republican. Also they already tried getting rid of Lieberman, that is why he is independant as he defeated the Democrat in his Senate election after being defeated in the primary.

  • Jacob Thorne 20th Jan '10 - 10:33pm

    @ Peter 1919 I don’t think the Democrats as a Party tried to get rid of Lieberman. He lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont who financed his own campaign and wasn’t really an establishment candidate. In the susequent election where Lieberman stood as an independent, the Prty offered Lamont virtually no support, presumably figuring that whoever won would caucus with them. I hope they’re bitterly regretting that decision. Lieberman is a vile creture – hard to imagine that he might have been Vice President.

    Obama has played his hand pretty badly, he was naive in the extreme if he imagined he could carry Republicans with him on healthcare reform and he’s done much to alienate his activist base. On the other hand he was the victim of expectations he could never hope to meet. Of course one could argue that he was the architect of this to some extent.

  • Massachusetts has elected Republicans before, but they have usually been “moderate” Republicans like Bill Weld and Mitt Romney (in his earlier incarnation). A year ago the elite screwed up. Romney was their man (Romney Mark II, that is), but the Republican base wouldn’t buy him, because he is a Mormon. So they were stuck with McCain, not exactly their ideal choice (a stubborn man who doesn’t always do what those guys in the country club tell him). And the unthinkable happened – Obama won (a black man in the White House). Clearly, the elite has spent the last 12 months getting its act together. Huge amounts of dosh must have been thrown at the Brown campaign. The elite might be down, but it is far from out. Its ability to lie and manipulate, to mobilise the bible-bashers and rednecks, and to set the middle-class against the poor, is undiminished. But while Obama remains in the White House it (probably) won’t be able to start any new wars. (Cheney must be slabbering at the prospect of a bloodbath in Iran, if his heart lasts that long.)

    Are the same billionaires, used-car dealers, pyramid scamsters and oil company bosses who backed Scott Brown pumping money into the Tory campaign through the conduit of Lord Ashcroft? Any answers?

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Jan '10 - 11:30pm

    A friend of ours has a sister in the USA. Our friend had a serious medical problem recently requiring surgery and extensive aftercare. Her sister had a similar problem a little later.

    Our friend visited her sister. She returned shocked and horrified at the difference between there and here. Here, though she had plenty to worry about concerning her health, she knew that care would be there. Her sister faces a frightening future. Our friend just kept saying “what will she do, what will she do?”. The care our friend took for granted is not available to her sister, she cannot afford it. Our friend’s sister is sick, she cannot work, she cannot afford care, her future looks horrible. Our friend has had her surgery, is getting the care she needs, and is back at work. This is a true story and neither our friend nor her sister knew this is how the difference would be between the two countries they lived in until it happened to them.

    So why are the healthcare reforms in the USA not getting support, why are candidates who support them losing, candidates who oppose them winning? Why is the huge and obvious difference between life there and life here, which our friend who has seen both knows about, not clear to USA voters?

    Because USA voters have been lied to by the power of money. There even more than here, politics is about money. Those with money get to dominate opinion because they have the power to get their opinions across, those without it do not. Those with money can tell lies about our NHS, can spread utter rubbish and fear, ultimately in defence if their own wealth and pleasure and against the interests of the poor and the middling. They can lie so successfully that they can con the middling onto their side, and against the poor their tactic is to convince them politics is nothing for them and to convince them not to vote. Of course you can lie and lie if you have the money to pump out your lies, and those who know otherwise do not have the money and influence to put the other side.

    But look how the same is happening here. Look at how the poor here have been pushed out of politics, turned away from thinking and activity to become couch potatoes worshipping at the altar of celebrity. Look at how the ridiculous assumptions of the rich are pushed so much in our media, taken for granted as if fact rather than opinion. Look at how the little minions of the rich, those silly extreme “free market” people even here push out the ideology in support of them. Look at how their sloppy assumptions and lack of knowledge of how real life works, their simplistic anti-human economic theories are so taken for granted.

    So now we know – the bankers tell us they must earn pots, ten or a hundred times what an ordinary person earns. They must be paid that because they are “creating wealth”. And how are they creating wealth? By selling our country, control of vital services and assets, to foreigners. They earn so that others can buy up our country’s business and close it down – which they call “creating wealth”. And we are supposed to be grateful for that, because if we are lucky they will create jobs, little service jobs catering for the whims of these our masters. And these our masters, if we should dare question their mastery or the way they have so tied things up that we must pay them their pots show what they truly think of us and the loyalty they have to us. They will run abroad – and leave us with the debts we have incurred saving their arses.

    It all stinks, so why is there not mass revolt about it? Why is the party of the rich leading in the polls? Because of the power of money.

  • “Indeed, the horrifically unequal nature of the Senate means that the Senators representing those state represent an overwhelming percent of the US population. You Lib Dems must understand a thing or two about frustratingly unequal voting representation.”

    Indeed. However, a federal system where a geographic block could control everything also has its problems. How much attention would the Federal gov give to the flyover states if both houses of Congress and the Presidency were decided purely on a One person, one vote basis?

  • Terry Gilbert 21st Jan '10 - 12:02am

    Take a look at the chump they put in Teddy Kennedy’s place!
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2010/01/brown-calls-his-daughters-avai.html?hpid=topnews
    Ugh!

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