Thursday, January 28, 2010

A week or so late...

I bet you didn't know, when you woke up on Monday, that you would get a week-long flurry of public policy and politics related posts from the girl who basically stopped blogging the week before;-). But hey, life is full of surprises, isn't it?

The State of the Union address was on Wednesday, which was much ado about nothing and sort of hit or miss. Scolding Congress: good. Scolding the Supreme Court: tacky. The energy section: good and realistically broad. The brief passage on education: good. A direct call for the repeal of Don't ask Don't tell: good and surprisingly direct. Leaving Health Care until half an hour in: bad. A call to basically pass a bill that is bad and has already been given up on by Democrats in Congress: bad.

And then there was the "fiscal discipline" passage which was, in a word, embarrassing. I wonder how he even delivered it with a straight face. His idea of making hard sacrifices is to freeze spending. Next year, after he increases it again this year. Oh, and not for national security. Or Social Security. Or Medicare and Medicaid. In other words, not for 81% OF THE BUDGET!!!

To put that in perspective: Imagine you earn $50,000 a year. But, you spend $70,000, racking up $20,000 in debt every year. Assume that you spend $20,000 on housing, $10,000 each on food, health care and clothing, and $6,700 in taxes. The other $13,300 is spent on other stuff. One day, you decide that this sort of spending is not sustainable, and you decide to impose some fiscal discipline on yourself in order to fix it. Your grand plan is that you will do absolutely nothing to address housing, food, health care, clothing or taxes, and will just let those continue to rise. In addition, you will raise your "other stuff" spending to about $15,000, but promise to freeze that portion of your spending at $15,000 for the next three years after that.

Solid plan, huh? Well, that is the grand deficit reduction plan. Whoopie!!!

Anyway...moving on...a week ago, we had a monumental election here in Massachusetts, performing the absolutely unheard of act of electing a Republican to a legislative seat. To understand just how odd that is, the state has not had a Republican Senator since 1978, and has had a Republican Representative (the state now has 9) for only a brief period in the mid-1990's. The State legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic (like 80-85%, I think). We have had some Republican governors, but little else of note.

However, Scott Brown, a state Senator, defeated Martha Coakley, the state's Attorney General, by a couple of percentage points last Tuesday, erasing what had been a 31-point deficit in the early election polls. Nationally, this seems to have been portrayed as a rebuke of the health care plan, a smack at Obama and a repudiation of the current Democratic agenda. It seems to have scared the crap out of Democrats nationally and sent them running away from the health bill as fast as they can (that is what Obama was talking about with his little reminded to the Dems that they still have big majorities in both houses).

The national analysis, however, is kind of missing the point, and overstating the lessons of the election. Surely, health care was a factor, and it gave Brown some traction and a clear message that he could consistently hit on, but it was far from the key issue. And, the idea that this was a general rebuke of Obama is way off...fully 12% of the electorate voted from Brown but still approves of Obama which would put his support somewhere near 60% around here.

The national news has also talked about this being "Ted Kennedy's Seat" which is a completely fabricated idea. I don't know a single person who cared, and didn't hear a single person mention anything about the seat's previous occupant. It is an interesting historical note, but it had not an ounce of bearing on the actual election.

There were a couple of more important factors that have gotten less play. First of all, there have been a handful of very high-profile cases of corruption and graft at the State level (this clip has some images from the the great footage of Dianne Wilkerson shoving a cash payoff into her bra) that have the electorate really irritated with the "establishment". In Massachusetts, that means Democrats, regardless of who is actually running.

Second, it is almost impossible to be a worse candidate and to run a worse campaign than she did. To begin with, she just didn't work that hard. The primaries were on December 8 and the election was on January 19. That is, by my count, 42 days...a very, very short time period. Yet she somehow felt the need to take a SIX DAY VACATION in the middle of it. Even the Boston Globe, which is essentially the PR wing of the State's Democratic Party, criticized what they called her "light campaign schedule".

She also managed to come off as incredibly arrogant, which fed into the laziness criticism. The worst offense was, in response to the Globe's criticism of her schedule (and in reference to Scott Brown's spending an entire day outside of Fenway Park working the crowd before the hockey game on New Year's) "As opposed to what, standing outside of Fenway Park in the cold and shaking hands?" Which led to her supporters and critics alike saying a big collective "Um...yes." Throw in some dumb comments about a few local institutions and a shot at Catholics, and you have a candidate who alienated a LOT of people that wanted to support her.

Her ad campaign was awful as well. She ran at least two ads that literally took straight from his talking points. (One had Ted Kennedy's wife saying "This isn't the Kennedy seat, it is the people's seat" which was a line that he used during the last debate. Another warned ominously of Brown being the 41st vote against Health care reform, which was pretty clearly a positive to many voters. Still another sneered the word "Republican" like a dozen times in 30 seconds...and came off as really funny, which is not the tone you want in an attack ad.)

In the final days of the election, her campaign went incredibly negative, including some ads whose veracity was dubious, at best. By that point, the ship was sinking and she began to look desperate. She continually tried to hit him on an anti-abortion measure that would have turned a lot of people off...if it had been a little more true. But it just stretched what we will accept as reasonable truth-bending (I am running long, but I will give you the specifics if you want).

So, in the end, Scott Brown won and it wasn't even a razor thin margin. But, while the national media will tell you that this was about Health Care and about Obama, and while the National GOP will tell you that it was all about the brilliance of Scott Brown, they are both missing the point. The national issues were certainly a small factor, and while Brown is flawed, he is hard working, really likable, very good looking and has a famous wife and a famous daughter.

But, when it really got down to it, the issue that really drove this election was Martha Coakley.

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