So, a Republican won a Senate seat in Massachusetts. That is a special election indeed. Upsets like this give the New Jersey Nets, currently 3-37, hope of making the playoffs. In honor of the roughly five points that Senator-elect Scott Brown won by, here are five points on the race, in decreasing order of obviousness:
5. Sports can only hurt a politician. (Exception: Bill Bradley.) Just days before the vote, in the capital of Red Sox Nation, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley made a thunderous blunder on a radio show. Curt Schilling, a Yankee Fan? This guy is the pitcher that brought the Curse of the Bambino to an end for the Red Sox. He’s most famous for playing through a game in the ALCS against the Yankees that year with a bloody sock. He literally had a red sock! Come on, Coakley!
4. The Republican brand remains in trouble, but so does the Democratic one. Statewide losses in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts? These are all states that went for Obama in 2008 and are moderate or progressive. I am a strong believer that perception is reality, or that it quickly becomes it. The writing is on the wall. If I had to put money down today, I’d bet the Democrats will lose seats in both houses in November.
It’s not that Obama’s been a bad president, but he has not been able to be the change he has hoped yet. This is partly due to his predilection for compromise and common ground, but more greatly because even a transformative figure like him can’t shape up Congress and limit lobbyists in a year. Besides, new presidents generally lose seats in their first midterm election, regardless of whether they win reelection two years later.
On the Republican side, Brown steered clear of his party whenever possible. He called himself an independent-minded Republican; perhaps this term polled well, like a mental asterisk to distinguish him from Bush-style neocons. Brown’s signs also didn’t say his party ID, so as not to call attention to it. Plus, they bore a passing resemblance to Obama’s.
The Obama campaign methodology is now the gold standard of campaigning on both sides of the aisle, the way the Clinton campaign was for a generation. The idea that Brown won with an Obama campaign model and in environment with parallels to the one that led Obama to victory was not lost, even to the president himself.
And the Dems’ own medicine worked against them: Martha Coakley won the primary by a landslide in the most liberal state in the union, but didn’t take Brown seriously until it was too late. Complacency breeds catastrophe. And it doesn’t take much. Normally, I might not give someone too much lip for spelling Massachusetts wrong, but come on! It’s your state! And you have spell check!
3. Scott Brown is weird. From what I have seen of him, he’s a goofy but good-looking dad with a narcissistic streak. (I know, shocking, that a politician might have this.) Yes, he posed for Cosmo years ago, but he also seems to just flat-out love the idea of having people listen to him, of feeling popular and relevant and important.
The way he started joking about his family was a bit odd, bordering on chauvinistic. He got a little too carried away in his acceptance speech, putting out the clarion call for gentleman callers to court his daughters. It was sublime when he was forced to correct himself: one of them is apparently spoken for. Guess he didn’t know… or doesn’t like the guy.
Nonetheless, both extremes have gone a little too overboard expressing their feelings on Brown. Keith Olbermann has now made days of unapologetic unapologies, while Glenn Beck struck the decidedly wrong tone in saying, “I don’t trust this guy. … This one could end with a dead intern. I’m just saying, it could end with a dead intern.”
And now Matt Drudge wants him to follow Obama and run for president. I’m sure that won’t feed his ego. Man, this guy is a dream of a presidential candidate. Not so much of an actual president though.
2. Mitt Romney is the smartest Mormon in the world. As the state’s former governor and its most prominent Republican, there was some question as to where Romney was during this campaign. Why wasn’t he holding rallies? Well, he didn’t want to be associated with a drubbing defeat, as seemed likely a month ago. Instead, he kept a low public profile until he saw victory come into focus. Lo and behold, who was it that took the stage on election night right before Scott Brown came to the podium? The Stormin’ Mormon of course! Ever so carefully, ever so quietly, he continues to make the most prudent moves to set himself up as the most credible alternative to Obama in 2012. He founded Bain Capital, but he might become the bane of Democratic strategists’ existence in a few short years.
1. Ted Kennedy should have retired. Retirement is underrated. There’s no shame in it. The rest of us are doing our best to plan and save to get there all the time. Can you imagine any other profession in the world where a man over 65 would not be expected to retire once he discovered he had a brain tumor? Moreover, how many people leave their jobs and are presented the opportunity to anoint their successor? Had he made the decision in late 2008 or early 2009 with the welling of optimism amid Obama’s entry to the Oval Office and the emotion over his ailing health, everyone would have gone with his pick. (My father called this months ago.)
Kennedy could have saved his party and the president from this whole mess. When I covered his passing last summer, it was bizarre to see Republicans using it as cover for a health care legislation work stoppage. They argued that if only he were there, they could join in and get this done. Now, in a sad bit of irony, it’s evident that actually if only he were not in the Senate upon his death, it would have been assured passage. For the man who considered it the “cause of my life,” this is a bittersweet end. The reality is that a deal will be struck: a helpful but already diluted bill will get watered down some more.