Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Power of Backlash

While the Republicans are justifiably celebrating Scott Brown's amazing win of the Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, what will the Democrats be doing?  Doing what Democrats do best, of course.  Fighting among themselves.  Some will blame Coakley's inadequate campaign.  Some will blame the Congressional leadership.  Some will blame the president, either for trying to do too much, or for compromising too much.  Is any of this blaming and hand-wringing constructive?  I doubt it.

The Democrats are suffering right now from a situation they created, but for the most part could not have prevented.   The new administration had to do some very unpopular things to get the country out of recession, such as increase the national debt by a couple of trillion dollars, such as rescue the banking system, such as bailing out General Motors and Chrysler and AIG.  (It doesn't matter that some of these actions were begun under the prior administration, or were attempts to clean up the mess left by the prior administration.  The party in power still has to take the heat for anything bad that takes place during its watch.)  The administration also chose to try, in its first year, to push through a health insurance reform package that is complicated and unsettling to most people. On top of all that, the housing crisis is not over.  The economic recovery seems shaky.  Unemployment is still high, and people are understandably unhappy about that.  Regardless of how the new administration chose to tackle all of these problems, they were bound to provoke a strong counter-reaction.  The same thing happens in nearly every other presidential administration.  And it happens regardless of whether the new administration tries to govern from a left or right wing doctrinaire position, or whether they try to govern from the center.  Reagan escalated the arms race, and was countered by the nuclear freeze movement in reaction.  Clinton raised taxes and allowed gays in the military, and gave rise to Newt Gingrich's Contract with America.  And Barack Obama, regardless of how he had chosen to govern, probably could not have avoided creating the tea party movement.

The campaign experts can spend their time analyzing Martha Coakley's mistakes, and whether different strategies or messages by the Democrats might have had more success.  I think it would be more in keeping with Ted Kennedy's legacy, if the Democrats would instead pick themselves up, keep working for what they believe in, and move on.

I should also recognize that Scott Brown was surely right when he said the seat he ran for was the people's seat, not Ted Kennedy's seat.  We should still celebrate democracy even when it doesn't always produce the results that some of us might like. 

(photo by Nicola Burnell of Coakley signs stolen and burned by Brown supporters in Hyannis, from Cape Codders for Martha Coakley blog)

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