Why Martha Coakley lost..and what we can gain

20 01 2010

If you live in Massachusetts and have a pulse, you have an opinion about yesterday’s special election to fill the remaining two years of Ted Kennedy’s term.   Here’s mine.

First, to my Democratic friends across the country, don’t jump off the ledge yet.  Martha Coakley will go down in history as running one of the absolute worse political campaigns…ever.  She (and all her consultants who now need to be unemployed by Dems running in November) is trying to spin her way out of things by saying she worked “hard”.  Well, yes she did.  But she also worked “stupid”.  And that is at least 50% of why she lost.  You do not win campaigns by being so entitled that you select your Senate staff BEFORE Ted Kennedy even died.  You do not win campaigns by adamantly insisting on Monday that in no way would you ever back a health care bill that penalized those seeking abortion and then, one week later say, well of course you would.  And you do not win campaigns by saying that it makes much more sense to meet w/ union bosses, lobbyists and fund raisers than “stand outside Fenway Park…in the cold..and actually shake hands with people.”

So, yes, when Martha Coakley looked in the mirror this morning, she had to know that she was looking at the person who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory..not only of an election, but–perhaps–of broader health care access.

So, yes, it’s not time for Dems to jump off that ledge (besides, it’s only January..that’s a lifetime away from November..esp coming off an election when Coakley was up 10+ points 2 weeks ago).  But they should at least come out of the back-rooms they’re increasingly comfortable in and crawl out on that ledge for a dose of reality.

Here’s what they’d see:

1.  A party that is playing with an old playbook…that doesn’t fit the times.  Massachusetts has been a majority independent/unenrolled state for at least a decade (it’s, btw, why Ted Kennedy was in danger of losing in 1994).  Unions make up only 13% of the American public today..and only 7% of the private sector.  Barack Obama won by NOT making his race an issue in the campaign.  And the web has made facts and figures available to everyone-not just a select few.  THAT’s the world today.  Yet, in this race, MA Democrats acted as if their party was in the majority and that union support would carry an election.  Martha Coakley ripped not just a page but the entire book from Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign by initially arguing that her primary qualification was that she was a woman and that it was time to have a woman senator.  Finally, the Dem spin-meisters forgot that the average voter now is much more aware of what’s actually going on in DC.  So, when you try to say that gay rights will stall with a Brown win, many folks asked “but how do you stall that which already is stalled?”  When the D’s tried to say that Brown would reward Wall St, voters asked “But isn’t that what Chuck Schumer, Larry Summers, et al already are doing?”  Democrats, meet reality.

2.  A party that has lost its soul.  Forget rhetorical flourishes and fund raising events, Democrats now OPERATE pretty much the same way as Republicans.  The Obama Admin has added $1 trillion to the deficit–in one year.  It has escalated a war it promised to end.  When it comes to health care reform, it and Congress have welcomed the health care foxes into the public’s henhouse.  And they have tried to convince everyone that America’s economic recovery is largely dependent on Wall Street’s success..which works unless you happen to be un/underemployed—which 25 million Americans are. 25..MILLION.   I know many, many good Dems–in and out of Washington–who wonder if their party’s courage died with Ted Kennedy.  Especially when you see folks as politically divergent as Barney Frank and Jim Webb start today by saying yesterday’s defeat means we should hold off on health care.  Hmmm..what about the 47 million uninsured Americans?  The 22,000 who die every year because they don’t have health care?  Are we waiting for the day when it’s safe to enact health care reform?  America’s blacks should be very grateful JFK and LBJ didn’t take that strategy in the 60s.

3. A country that has lost its civility.  While all of the above contributed to Coakley’s defeat yesterday, I believe the fundamental reason is that we, the people, have lost our civility.  People are scared in this country right now.  We all heard it in the hysteria of the health care town hall meetings this summer.  And how did the Democrats react?  By calling people un-American.   Here in Massachusetts, good friends dismissed all Brown supporters as anti-gay, anti-choice bigots/imbeciles/assholes and worse. Name-calling and dismissal rather than trying to see the common humanity we all share. Trying to empathize with the terror you must feel if, like my almost 70 yr old mother, you have seen 30+% of your retirement vanish.  Trying to motivate people to vote based on that which unites us vs what divides us.  As election day neared, it is this that made me most distressed about a party I used to fiercely believe in.  This knee-jerk divisive reaction that is every bit as ignorant, prejudicial and harmful as the Republican’s. Coming from Democrats.

And it made me wonder if those who kept talking about the need to beat the imbeciles/haters, etc in memory of Ted really knew Ted Kennedy.  If they did, they’d remember what I do:  that one of his guiding beliefs–so strong that it was what Teddy Jr highlighted at his father’s funeral–was that your opponents love your country just as much as you do.  That Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, Newt Gingrich et al love America.  That, while you may disagree w/ them on most things, you should never forget that fact–even if they do.

So, to all those on both sides–whether you’re a lefty who thinks the bigots have taken over our country or a Tea Bagger who suggested Martha Coakley get creative with a curling iron (a taunt that is as familiar as an old shirt to those of us who campaigned in the old days for gay electeds), look across the political spectrum and see the “opposition” as your brother or sister.  Remember that–just like the health care bill languishing in DC–we most likely agree on far more fundamentals than disagree.  And, see what happens.  It may take a few deep breaths.  Hell, it may even take some martinis and illict substances (the Democrats, of course…never the Republicans!)  But, over time, you might actually see–and believe in–those similarities.  And, then, we can get to work in–together–rebuilding this country.