Friday, January 15, 2010


There's a new poll showing Republican Scott Brown actually leading the Massachusetts Senate race by 4 points, and it's conducted by locals -- Suffolk University and a Boston TV channel -- not by Rasmussen. So it's seriously bad news for Martha Coakley and for Democrats.

Steve Kornacki, a New York Observer political writer and Massachusetts native, explains why we shouldn't be surprised that this is is happening in Massachusetts:

...the election of a Democratic president and robust Democratic congressional majorities in 2008 essentially ruined a playbook that had worked brilliantly for the party in blue states for the last decade-and-a-half....

...the rise of southern/religious-based conservatism in 1994 -- when Newt Gingrich and the GOP won control of Congress -- triggered an immediate and enduring cultural backlash among swing voters in places like Massachusetts. Before '94, they still saw the GOP (generally) as a big tent party with room for moderate/social libertarian-types. But '94 disabused them of that notion and they stopped even listening to Republican candidates.

... Had John McCain been elected last year, then all of [the criticisms of Martha Coakley's skills as a candidate] could still be true -- and Coakley would be winning by 30 points. But with Republicans locked out power in Washington, swing voters in Massachusetts -- and every other blue state -- are, for the first time since 1994, ready to blame their problems on Democrats and use the GOP as a protest vehicle. And with 10 percent unemployment, voters have a lot of anger to vent.

Makes some sense, as does this -- up to a point:

Here's a pre-emptive plea, though: Let's not overreact to a Brown win -- or to a series of Brown-like wins by Republicans this fall. This will probably be a very good year for the GOP. But their "revival" will only last as long as the economy is in the tank.

Only last as long as the economy is in the tank? Oh, great -- it's going to be a lost political decade, too.

Actually, if Kornacki is right and recent history is any indication, this brief moment of Democratic leadership is probably going to lead to decades and decades of pro-GOP backlash. LBJ lamented that the Civil Rights Act would lose Democrats the South for a generation; so far it's been two generations and counting. Hippies and the New Left roamed the land in large numbers for something less than a decade; the backlash against them lasted about thirty-five years -- and I'd say, despite what the conventional wisdom told us after the '06 and '08 elections, that the anti-hippie backlash is still a critical factor in our politics.

So backlashes -- against Democrats, at least -- last much, much longer than the moments to which they're reacting.

(Backlashes against Republicans, by contrast, are actually shorter than Republican moments: the anti-GOP backlash against Nixon's six years in office ended four years later, with the Proposition 13 election cycle of 1978; the backlash against eight years of Bush dissipated this year in an eyeblink. Incidentally, a Prop 13-style initiative passed in Massachusetts -- there it was called Proposition 2 1/2 -- in 1980, a mere six years after Nixon resigned. Reagan won Massachusetts that year, too, albeit barely, in a three-way race, and he won the state in '84, too.)


I should point out that there were hints of an anti-Democrat backlash in Massachusetts even before Obama was elected. In the fall of 2007, Nikki Niki Tsongas, Paul Tsongas's widow, ran for his House seat in the state's 5th district -- and barely eked out a win against Republican Jim Ogonowski, the brother of a 9/11 pilot. That race was also the focus of right-wing attention; wingnut writing on the race reads just like what's being written about Coakley-Brown.

What was that a backlash against? Democrats weren't even running anything. Oh, yeah -- they'd controlled Congress for, oh, about ten months.

Well, that's enough for the right to gin up a backlash. That's because the right is always promulgating and nurturing its ongoing narrative of the evil nature of liberals and Democrats. That's a 24/7/365 operation. And so, as soon as there's a contest, right-wingers and swing voters have already heard plenty about the evils of, say, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Our side has a narrative in place against (in Kornacki's words) "southern/religious-based conservatism" -- but that's been rendered (somewhat) less relevant as teabaggers rail against "socialism" and bailouts. We built a narrative against Bush -- but Bush is gone.

We beat the Republicans in '06 and '08 -- but we should have kept beating them, every day, every minute. Our side (bloggers and MSNBC prime-timers excepted) have never recognized the need to sustain outrage against the GOP all the time.

And so we can't consolidate our gains. And Republicans take advantage of that, then consolidate theirs.

(And yes, I know: it wouldn't hurt if Democrats actually accomplished something once in a while. Coakley's running as Democrats fail to revive the economy and enact the Obama agenda. Tsongas ran as Democrats failed to end the war. To mobilize your own base, you have to succeed at something once in a while.)

No comments: