What’s Left: Wake-Up Call

When President Obama took office a year ago, he told the nation, “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.” His words indicated the need for patience and conveyed the reality that there is no fast-acting panacea for the ills facing our country. While this message may be wise, it is not politically convenient, as evidenced by the recent victory of Republican Scott Brown

in Massachusetts.

As a lifelong resident of the Bay State, I am tempted to blame Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s loss on how very uninspiring she was as a campaigner. However, when a Democrat loses a thirty point advantage in a race for the senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy, uninspired campaigning fails to suffice as an explanation. Most political observers would characterize Massachusetts as liberal and progressive in not only its voting record, but also its policies implemented on a state level. This is why a Democrat’s loss in a crucial election cannot simply be chalked up to candidate’s reputation as boring.

Whatever flaws there may have been in Coakley’s campaign style, it is surprising that Massachusetts endorsed Brown, if only because his beliefs conflict with many of the progressive positions and policies that a majority of the state supports. For example, Brown is frank in his belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, supports the death penalty and is in favor of restrictions on abortion.

Despite these differences of opinion, Massachusetts voters not only preferred Brown to his democratic opponent but also, within a national context, expressed a distaste for the current state of the Democratic Party’s leadership and policies. The President won Massachusetts with 62% of the vote, but in this special election, voters were well-aware of the fact that if Brown were to win, national health care reform, a key issue on the President’s agenda, would not pass. The voters’ endorsement of Brown signals that even in a traditionally liberal state, voters are displeased with how the President and the Democratic Party are performing, and it also demonstrates the extent to which Brown capitalized on this discontent especially with his emphasis on the fact that the nation’s economic problems persist.

While Brown’s win may be in part a result of impatience, the recent election should also serve as a wake-up call to Democrats that their agenda is not well-communicated and that it is unappealing to moderates.

When Obama took office a year ago, he also declared his hope for bipartisanship, telling the nation, “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” Politicians on both sides of the aisle have made this goal unattainable, but perhaps Brown’s victory in Massachusetts will facilitate a greater degree of cooperation from members of each party.