Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why Coakley is in trouble

It is not surprising that Martha Coakley is not doing well in Massachusetts. Here are some of the more important reasons for her difficulties.

1. People in Massachusetts, like people around the country, are getting more and more disillusioned with Democrats, especially President Obama. Daily they see the majority party selling out to big business and special interests. This started with the big banks and insurance companies (Citi, AIG for example) and Wall Street. Although the Republicans created TARP, people who voted the Bush adminstration out had hoped for a "people's" government, only to read of one after another fat cat being drafted by Obama to be part of his "team." When Geitner and Bernanke and Summers couldn't or wouldn't stop big CEO bonuses, it became clear that the fat cats were in the saddle.

Healthcare has been even worse. The only real way to keep down insurance costs is to have a public Medicare-like plan -- even better, a single-payer plan. Everyone knows this, and it initially had tremendous public acceptance. But not for long. Instead of building on these good feelings, Obama began to capitulate immediately, making single-payer a non-starter, and giving clear signals that any public plan would be scuttled as soon as the insurance industry put its foot down -- which it did, of course, immediately. Thus, from this defensive beginning, the President was fighting from weakness. His only remaining argument is that all he needs is a crappy bill, which can be fixed later. (I personally support that idea because, given what he and the Democrats have already ceded, and the utter disdain that Republicans have for all but the rich, there will be no healthcare reform in my lifetime unless something succeeds now.)

So, with massive unemployment and crushing local deficits, the Democrats offer no real hope or excitement. They have become Republican lite.

2. Massachusetts isn't as blue as people think. Yes, we have an all-Democratic congressional delegation, and a Democratic governor. Yet, that hasn't always been the case. A Democratic governor is relatively new -- the past few have been Republicans; same for reps. Massachusetts is Democratic because it has been Democratic for such a long time. The Democratic party has been the party of the principle 19th-20th century immigrants we have here: Irish and Italian. Curiously, the party was inherited from the very nativists who hated immigrants. But the immigrants, slowly and surely, took over the party from the bottom up. When they became the majority (at least in eastern Massachusetts), the state became Democratic. The unions helped. Some of the intellectual segments of the population gave the Bay State Democratic party a kind of liberal veneer. Also, the Bay State Republicans have been only slightly to the right of the Democrats, so it has been relatively safe to elect them periodically when Democratic corruption became too obvious.

3. Martha Coakley has been a competent but non-adventurous Attorney General. Her senate candidacy has seen far less competency and no adventure. It is not clear to me that she has penetrating and deeply felt opinions on national economic, military or social policy. During the primaries she claimed that she couldn't support a healthcare bill with abortion restrictions; after the primary she made it clear that she would. She recently stated in a debate. that the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan, though she meant al-Qaeda. Her position on why we are the victim of terrorism is far less convincing than that of the third-party Libertarian candidate Joe Kennedy, who correctly sees our many bases abroad as highly provocative. Aside from issues of family and women's rights, she seems to be as uncommitted and un-populist as Obama -- more of the "it's all about competancy" Dukakis persuasion. Her style could not be confused with Kennedy's any more than Obamas could be confused with FDR's.

4. People have a short political memory -- maybe just a few weeks. The Republicans had control of the presidency, both houses of Congress, and a 5 - 4 majority of the Supreme Court. They also had an "opposition" party that had been beaten into total submission by decades of red-baiting and other right-wing name-calling. In two terms the GOP managed to ruin the economy of this country (with some help from a right-center Clinton administration). Of this there is no doubt. Everyone knew the unmitigated disaster of lack of regulation of the financial markets, an unnecessary war based on lies, and massive transfers of wealth from the middle class to the rich via tax policy. Right-wing Republican ideology, unchallenged in all branches of the government, laid waste to this country and pauperized millions. In no way could this be blamed on anyone but the Republicans, who had sole power over all three branches of government. There were no liberal tax hikes, no commies, no one who could challenge even idiocies like evangelizing in the Air Force and "abstinance only" sex ed. It was totally a G.O.P. show and they ruined things -- possibly for generations.

Now, however, counting on short memories, the Republicans have trotted out the Big Lie. "Don't bring up the past -- all the Democrats want is to raise taxes and kill jobs." Well, I guess that's fair. If the Democrats won't be populists, the Republicans might as well try to sound like populists. Scott Brown, Coakley's opponent, wants us to like him because he drives a truck. (Have any reporters seen any dents from 2x4's or scratches from gravel? What does a lawyer use a truck for anyway?) Bet he says he likes country and western music -- just like both Bushes. BTW, he pointedly calls her "Martha."

So, although the Democrats really have not made much substantial progress because they also have big debts to big business interests, does it make sense to let the Republican wolves loose again in the peoples' hen houses? As uninspiring as Martha Coakley may be, she didn't in any way create the mess we are now in, while her opponent, Scott Brown, is a 100% supporter of the policies that did. If voters in Massachusetts can't learn from history, and consequently vote
to force us to repeat it, is there much hope?

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