In his novel “Straight Man,” Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo offers his key to a happy marriage: “Two people that love each other need not necessarily have the same dreams and aspirations, but they damn well ought to share the same nightmares.”
Americans still have wildly diverse dreams and aspirations. (Although, admittedly, most men have been dreaming about this since Sunday.) But former naked person Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts on Tuesday signals one thing – that we all seem to be having the same nightmares about increased government intrusion in our lives. And when we all start having the same nightmares, it’s incumbent politicians that start waking up in cold sweats.
Of course, rank and file liberals argue that it was Martha Coakley’s fault that she lost a seat held for 47 years by Edward Kennedy in a state Barack Obama won by 26 points in 2008. They willingly deceive themselves into believing that the people of Massachusetts voted against her because she mistakenly identified Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as a Yankee fan. Yet Coakley is the state’s elected Attorney General – she’s not a proverbial tomato can candidate – she emerged victorious with 73% of the statewide vote for AG in 2006.
Clearly, something is going on greater than Coakley’s personal failings as a candidate. Generally, when political people look at seats their party can win, they scrap any seats where their candidate’s party is below, say, 44%. Yet Brown’s party lost the Presidential race by TWENTY SIX percentage points! In any other year, Martha Coakley could have campaigned wearing a Buffalo Bills football helmet and doing shots of Wild Turkey during her speeches and she would have won by 10 percentage points. And yet she lost.
And why? Because of the borderline criminal manner in which congressional Democrats have handled the health care issue. People are catching on to what would happen if the gang in DC were to get their hands on their health care. And they are recoiling at not only what would happen if the bill were to be enacted, but how it is being assembled.
In 2007, I wrote a column predicting health care could be the Wisconsin Democrats’ undoing, just as failure to pass a Taxpayer Bill of Rights unraveled the Republicans:
Secondly, if a universal-type health plan were to pass, suddenly citizens would start to recognize the downside of such an expansive new framework. The cracks in the plans would actually start to show. Long waiting lists and substandard quality of care would become major issues, as would sick people from other states flooding Wisconsin’s system. Suddenly, voters may not be giving Democrats much credit when grandma has to wait a year for hip replacement surgery.
Legislative Republicans went through a similar high-profile meltdown in recent years with the highly publicized Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) debacle. After taking control of both houses of the Legislature in 2002, a movement began to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to cap local and state taxes and spending. The bill badly fractured legislative Republicans, and led to some well-publicized and embarrassing episodes on the floor of the Senate. It even cost the sitting Senate Majority Leader her job.
(The main difference, of course, is that voters blamed the GOP for not passing something, while Democrats will most surely feel the brunt of voter discontent if they do pass a bill.)
For Republicans, however, the real guessing game starts now. A lot of “what-if” scenarios present themselves with regard to federal races.
For instance, what if a prominent ex-governor of Wisconsin decides to run for Senate against 18-year incumbent Russ Feingold, seeing as how no national Democratic senate seat seems to be safe? What if a well-liked up and coming state senator (a la Scott Brown) who has previously defeated Democratic incumbents decided he wanted to take a shot at Feingold? What if Democratic congressional stalwarts like Ron Kind and Dave Obey get serious challenges for the first time in years? (When Obey first took office, Congressmen weren’t picked by who got the most votes, they earned their seat by winning a soup eating contest.)
Point is: in 2010, Wisconsin could be looking at an entirely different landscape – it leans towards Democrats, but it is FAR less of a blue state than Massachusetts. And it would be a mistake to survey the candidates out there right now and assume that will be the final slate in November. Scott Brown just threw Wisconsin Republicans a life preserver – it’s up to them to paddle over and grab it.
Other notes from Tuesday:
I paid close attention to the on-stage handshake between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Brown during the new Senator’s speech. If America’s love affair with outsiders running for President holds up, who’s to say that handshake won’t take place in a GOP presidential debate in two years? Romney grinned as much as he could, but it was obvious he was treating Brown like he had swine flu. I mean, here Brown won statewide in Massachusetts by running a conservative campaign, while Romney had win with the governorship by essentially selling out many of the positions he had held earlier in his career. If Massachusetts sends anyone to the national stage in two years, it could very well be Brown.
I don’t particularly feel bad for Coakley supporters or liberals in general – conservatives suffered through much worse nights in November of 2006 and 2008. But Fox News going to Sarah Palin and Karl Rove for comment right after Brown was declared the victor was really twisting the knife. It was a Brett Favre-esque running up of the score after the opponent had been beaten down. But it made me laugh, so well done, Fox News. (And it’s not like any lefties were watching anyway.)
I actually remember Scott Brown from his daughter being on American Idol. (Something I shouldn’t admit, I know.) So let’s see – how many times has this guy been famous for different things? He’s been a Cosmopolitan model, his daughter was on the most watched show in America, and now he’s pulled off one of the biggest upsets in American political history. What’s next for Scott Brown? Is he going to run against horses in the next Kentucky Derby? Is he going to cure swine flu with his tears?
Finally, a message for future politicians: I don’t care what kind of car you drive.