So here we are, four days out from the most historic off-year election of my lifetime. Well, one of them, for sure. I blogged earlier that if Scott Brown won on January 19, this would be the most significant political upset since Speaker of the House Tom Foley lost his seat to upstart George Nethercutt, clearing the way for Speaker Newt Gingrich. I stand by that, though from some surprising quarters, I heard opinions that this was even bigger. Chris Matthews, yes, he of the tingling leg, weighed in on Tuesday night around midnight, declaring that this was the biggest political upset of his lifetime. Matthews is 64 and has seen a lot in his time; he may have sounded bitter and unhinged over the last year and a half, but nobody knows the political history of the last 40 years better than he does.
I don’t remember a psychological swing in the space of 48-72 hours that has ever been more drastic than what I began to observe Tuesday morning. I first noticed it on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” (the only MSNBC show I deign to watch, solely because of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, who is also likeable most of the time and Pat Buchanan’s occasional presence). Donny Deutsch, an inveterate Obama backer, made no bones about urging President Obama to scrap his health care plan immediately, tell the American people he had tried, but couldn’t pull it off and begin to focus on jobs. Fine and dandy, I thought, but he’s only one liberal commentator.
Then, before the day was over, my Senator, Evan Bayh, went public with his statement that “if you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope of waking up.”
I watched the returns from the minute the polls closed. There is one pertinent piece of trivia that I haven’t heard anyone observe yet: Martha Coakley was never ahead once in the vote-counting. The closest she ever got was 3 points.
Once the AP called the election for Scott Brown and the networks all began to report it, the cards began to fall quickly as prominent legislators distanced themselves from the Obama/Pelosi/Reid tactics of the last several months. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia didn’t content himself with stating that there should be no moving forward on health care negotiations till Scott Brown was seated. He went on the record:
“In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process. It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.”
And so it went.
I, along with millions of other conservatives, have reveled in the mere symbolism of a Republican holding the Ted Kennedy seat, which was held, prior to Ted Kennedy’s 47-year tenure, by his brother John. Yeah, that one, the Camelot President. JFK won the seat in 1952, beating Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., whom he would face again in the election of 1960, when Richard Nixon tapped Lodge as his running mate. (I like me some political trivia myself!)
Try this: Between 1926 and 2010, Lodge was the only Republican to hold that seat. One Republican in a 74-year time span. (My hat is off to Jamie Dupree for this nugget. You can catch Dupree every weekday at noon in the first segment of the Neal Boortz Show.)
But what does this election REALLY tell us?
1. How can we dispute that Obama fatigue has set in? Interestingly enough, the White House is at least putting the game face on that indicates that THEY don’t understand this. We can’t know what they are saying behind closed doors, but Obama went on “Good Morning, America” on Wednesday morning and told George Stephanopolous that “the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office.” Prediction: This breathtakingly naive piece of analysis will rank in political history right up beside Bill Clinton’s post-1994 iteration to the press that he was still relevant. As Brit Hume put it Wednesday night on Fox’s “Special Report”, “So the voters of Massachusetts were still angry at George Bush and to demonstrate that, they voted for a Republican to take Ted Kennedy’s place?”
2. Breaking down the Obama fatigue concept: He is overexposed, for sure, with an average since his inauguration of well over 400 special remarks, speeches, press conferences and other public events. But it is his methods that have merited the drastic swing of voter alliance we witnessed in Massachusetts this last Tuesday. Exhibit A: The Bayh/Webb departure from the Democrat reservation and not only the ensuing lack of recrimination, but the obvious agreement, though more understated, from even Pelosi and Reid on the meaning of it all. By Thursday, San Fran Nancy was beating a retreat on putting health care through NOW. Michigan’s Democrat Congressman Bart Stupak was more blunt: “If they tried putting the Senate bill through the House as is, I doubt it would get 100 votes.”
3. The most joyful aspect of all of this to me is the difference a year makes. Republicans and, more importantly, conservatives are more energized than they have been in quite some time. No one understands political demographics better than Michael Barone and he echoes what many others are stating when he writes, “If Republicans can win in Massachusetts, they can win anywhere.” Rush Limbaugh has been abundantly vindicated because Barack Obama’s tactics have failed. Senator Jim DeMint’s sentiment that health care would be Obama’s Waterloo proved prescient, though I don’t think it unfolded as DeMint pictured! But no matter, he was right; beyond that, as if DeMint’s victory wasn’t already sweet enough, Obama’s TSA nominee, Errol Southers, pulled himself out of his nomination fight on Wednesday. Scott Brown is pro-choice, but economically, he is a down-the-line limited government conservative. A good friend of mine shared with me on Thursday that he had feared that a majority of Americans had crossed a Rubicon of comfort and even expectancy of an entitlement culture. This fear was proved unfounded on Tuesday. The Massachusetts vote spoke loud and clear that in America’s bluest state, we still yearn for self-reliance and individual determination. Brown won Barney Frank’s district; he also won independents by a 73/27 margin. Tens of thousands of these same voters did, indeed, pull the lever for Obama in 2008; they just changed their minds for far different reasons than the President chooses to confront.
The rest of 2010 seems a horizon of unlimited possibilities for the GOP. And it is time for conservatives to join the fight against the socialist aspirations of the Democrats and press our advantage, while still holding our own to account.
Will the President pivot and play down his puristic legislative tendencies? I doubt it. He doesn’t know any other game to play.