A recently released poll by Suffolk University has shown the unthinkable. Republican State Senator Scott Brown, his party's nominee polled at 50%. Within the margin of error, was Martha Coakley, the state's Attorney General, at 46%. This shift, is shocking.
This blog, although it does espouse generally progressive ideals, if couched in realism, is not calling this development unthinkable because a Republican is within spitting distance of reclaiming a Senate seat held by Democrats since JFK defeated Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. We would lament the danger another GOP held seat would pose to President Obama's agenda, which we generally support. However, a Republican from Massachusetts would, in theory, be more in the mold of Olympia Snowe, Maine's popular Senior Senator, or even Lincoln Chaffee, Rhode Island's former liberal Republican Senator. Scott Brown, although a loyal, if often powerless member of the opposition in the Massachusetts Senate, DOES NOT fit that mold.
Scott Brown's dose of conservatism is not what the national discussion needs right now. His views within the context of the Massachusetts General Court or the state more generally are the antithesis of the ideals that often drive state policy. In fact, the state needs neither, but rather the middle-ground, which has become increasingly elusive as corruption, political stagnancy, voter apathy, and committee chair-seeking sniveling reps and senators rose. To that end, the state needs Republicans who dismiss the demagoguery the national GOP uses, but shares the ideals of the more realistic branch of the Democratic party. Sadly, that branch of the Democratic party on Beacon Hill lack the intestinal fortitude to insist on what's right or would gladly trade their ideals for a cushy chairmanship complete with swank office.
Brown's candidacy and maybe success might even be stomach-able, the damnation of the Obama agenda notwithstanding, if it meant a return to sanity for the national GOP and a willingness to support moderate candidates for local office here. No, we do not mean for US Congress, but again for the statehouse. The National Republican Party is interested in this seat for one reason, to stick it to Obama and set the stage for a comeback, most probably in 2012 (the overall electoral math is not in their favor this year). It is a win-win gambit for them. If Brown loses, his closer than anybody expected race, will give the GOP energy for this fall. If Brown wins, they have broken the filibuster proof Democratic majority, they likely think is ill-gotten since Minnesota Senator and one-time comedian Al Franken won his testy electoral court battle. Their efforts in New Jersey and Virginia this past November stand vindicated, however incorrectly, and the stage is set for gains, if not outright victory in this year's midterm elections. However, Massachusetts as a state will remain largely unchanged and of little interest to the GOP. They will not grow the party--ultra conservative or moderate--at all and we will just get more of the same from the dolts with which we have been stuck. Not that we will get anything other than more of the same from them in Washington.
Hop onto all of this the relative lack of substance that forms the foundation of the Brown campaign and the GOP's strategy since Obama's win in 2008. Brown's campaign puts too much emphasis on his telegenic qualities. His platform can be surmised as little more than a more genial version of Senator NO, better known as the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. No on Health Care, no on environment, no on Stimulus, no on 9/11 trials but yes on fiscal stewardship, an effort at which his party failed miserably during the six years that they were in power over the past decade. Yes to more war on terror demagoguery that strengthens our enemies' hand while weakening our credibility.
Brown's party, too, is equally to blame. Rather than letting the huge swell of support Obama received run its course until the next election, they stand as obstructionists and then claim that Obama is a do-nothing President presiding over a do-nothing Congress. Yes, Democrats did similar things to Bush, but that president got most of what he asked for. When Democrats did compromise with him, they were later betrayed Democrats (No Child Left Behind), and only remained reticent on the most important issues (Social Security). If nothing else, the worst of the Democratic opposition came toward the latter half of Bush II. You cannot attribute this solely to 9/11 since Bush's first major tax cut happened during the summer prior to 9/11.
Martha Coakley's problems, however, are partly of her own creation. This groundswell of Brown support is largely attributed to money flowing in from outside the state, not a genuine shift in attitude against Coakley. However, that money could have been easily counteracted had she not rested on her laurels after winning the primary in December. She made the fatal flaw of assuming her election was a fait accompli. Once her opposition was vanquished, Coakley should have come out swinging against Brown, if for no other reason than to galvanize support for her party nationally. Rather than become a candidate in a race that's hers to lose (and coming close to that), she could have channeled her early strength and lead into a show of strength for Democrats across the country.
Coakley also suffered from something with which many Democrats have recently found themselves afflicted. Their humanity gets deconstructed by strategists who in recent years believe that aloof robotic candidates win elections, especially when they should have no problem winning. When there is not opposition this idea is just sad, but in an actual election it is downright stupid. Many Globe columnists have lamented that the Martha Coakley they have come to know over her years as an Attorney General and District Attorney has been drained from Martha Coakley the Senate Candidate.
Still, Martha Coakley is the one for Massachusetts. As Attorney General she has led the charge against countless big banks, insurance companies, and financial firms that have consistently screwed Bay State residents. Although she worked against Marijuana Decriminalization in 2008 and issued guidelines to municipalities to pass their own pot fines, a slow evolution has led her to support medical marijuana and consider wider cannabis reform. Her campaign rejects the "tax relief" of the Bush era that favors the wealthy at the expense of everyone else and the nation's finances. She is committed to environmental protection and the greening of American. Her stance against troop growth in Afghanistan illustrates an independence from the White House.
Moreover, for what it's worth, Coakley has ties to Western Massachusetts. To WMassP&I's knowledge Brown does not. Whether Democrat or Republican, we in the Pioneer Valley and Berkshires do not need solely Boston-centric representation. Our needs and our problems differ from Boston's to the extent that we need to be treated individually from the East, while given our duly deserved seat at the table on statewide issues--both on Beacon Hill and in Washington.
Martha Coakley is not perfect and she is not Ted Kennedy. However, her opponent's campaign amounts to little more than the calculated cynicism of a national party cravenly seeking power, headed by a slightly less offensive male version of Sarah Palin. Coakley is passionate and compassionate; she is stern, but fair; she has the potential of a Senate leader, and yet not beholden to her party's hierarchy; she has defended Massachusetts and the least of its citizens and will serve the interests of both honorably and well. To that End, Western Massachusetts Politics and Insight endorses Martha Coakley for United States Senator from Massachusetts.
*JFK and Helms photos from wikipedia. Martha Coakley photo from her campaign website.