Ever since Scott Brown drove his GMC pick-up truck to a victory over Martha Coakley and the Democrats this past January, snatching Ted Kennedy’s coveted Senate seat away from them in the process, the political landscape has been turned upside down, both in Massachusetts and all over the nation. The Republican Party, whom the American people kicked to the curb just over one year ago in exchange for an agenda of “Hope” and “Change,” have been revived by the election of the former Cosmo centerfold from Wrentham. The people of Massachusetts have spoken and they have sent a message to the Washington establishment. But, what exactly is that message? Does the election of Scott Brown signify a new direction for the Republican Party or was it merely the result of a sloppy and lazy Coakley campaign? Are the people once again voting for change or are they simply sending President Obama a wake-up call?
Since the 1960’s, the G.O.P. has been defined by the values of their predominantly white, Christian base of supporters. Much of the Republicans’ success during that time can be staked to their socially conservative agenda of promoting family values and banning gay marriage and abortions, and in recent years, trying to end stem-cell research. By using these kinds of hot-button issues as a distraction, Republicans essentially played a sleight-of-hand magic trick with Middle America and used their power to pass legislation that financially benefitted major corporations, while doing virtually nothing to improve the lives of the people who voted them into power. The supply-side economics of the Reagan administration, whose deregulation policies caused numerous scandals and stories of greed gone wild in Washington, ran up the federal deficit to unprecedented levels. George W. Bush was able to ride a wave of post-9/11 patriotism to a second term that ultimately brought the country to its current economic crisis, which was al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal. In a tape released back in 2004, Osama bin Laden said that his intention was to keep “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”
The dire consequences of the last Bush administration proved to be a harsh wake-up call for the party. In 2008, they scrambled to find a way to convince voters to give them another chance, but suddenly people weren’t as interested in the social issues that the Republicans had previously used as a crutch. Capitalizing on the disillusionment and discontent felt throughout the country, Barack Obama was able to use charisma, eloquence, and the promise of a new America to rise from junior Senator from Illinois to President of the United States. Shortly after taking office, he conceded that the problems that he inherited were massive and urged patience as recovery would be “measured in years, not months.” As jobs continued to be lost and banks continued to be bailed out, patience grew thin and the Tea Party Movement was born.
The Tea (taxed enough already, get it?) Party Movement is a group of fiscal conservatives who are fed up with the establishment on both sides of the aisle. They believe in small government, they hate Obama, they hate taxes, and they just might be the future of the Republican Party.The Senate race between Brown and Coakley was the first major election to be directly impacted by the Movement and analysts and pundits everywhere were watching to see what kind of effect they would have. Many predicted that, due to their over-the-top propaganda and name-calling, they would hurt Republican candidates. The election of Scott Brown showed just the opposite. Throughout his campaign, he focused on issues that were important to the Tea Party. By avoiding the controversial rhetoric that they have come to be known for, Brown was able to escape from being labeled as a member of the Movement, but still reaped the benefits, as he received money and endorsements from various Tea Party groups.
Perhaps the defining issue of the campaign was health-care reform. Repeatedly stressing that his election would break the Democratic super-majority in the Senate, Brown represented the potential to derail the proposed bill, which promised to extend affordable health care to the masses, thereby increasing the size of government in the process. Despite supporting the 2006 Massachusetts health care reform, which requires all residents to be insured, Brown has denounced Obama’s plan as fiscally unsound, “especially in the midst of a severe recession.” A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive/HealthDay finds that 40% of Americans are opposed to the legislation, with another 25% unsure whether or not it would be good or bad for the country. Scott Brown’s Senate vote now has the opportunity to kill off a promise that helped get Obama elected not so long ago. It makes you wonder if there is a feeling of regret among those who so enthusiastically voted Obama into power.
Well, there might be. According to a Politico/InsiderAdvantage poll conducted shortly before the January 19th election, Scott Brown had 60% of the 18-29 demographic, compared to Coakley’s 30%. This is the same group of people who, in 2008, supported Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of 78% to 20%. Are the youth in revolt over the stimulus spending that they might be saddled with paying back for years to come or were they simply unimpressed by Martha Coakley?
The voter turn-out for the election suggests that Coakley may have not done enough to inspire people to make it out to the booths. In the 2008 presidential election, Obama earned nearly one million more votes than Coakley did just a few weeks ago, while Brown and McCain scored similar vote totals. That means that those one million voters stayed home, which is more or less exactly what Coakley did during her campaign. Instead of making an effort to get out and meet the people of Massachusetts, she stayed decidedly off the radar, making very few public appearances and refusing televised debates that weren’t on her terms. By taking the voting public for granted and failing to motivate people, she left the door open for Scott Brown and his passionate grassroots campaign to essentially steal what should have been an easy win for her.
It was a truly multi-faceted perfect storm of politics that lead to the election of Scott Brown, but the impact of it will be felt and analyzed for years to come. Already, the momentum has swung entirely away from the Democrats, who have lost two popular congressmen, Patrick Kennedy and Evan Bayh, in the past week. As the balance of power continues to shift in the opposite direction, it will be interesting to see how voters react. One thing’s for sure, all eyes will be on Massachusetts once again in 2012, when Brown goes up for reelection. Will he be able to pull off another “Massachusetts Miracle” or will the voters tell him where he can park his pick-up truck?