It should have been an easy win. The Republicans hadn’t held that seat in the Senate since John F. Kennedy defeated Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952. But something went terribly wrong, something that will probably echo through the summer and into the mid-term election this November. That means that the Democrats have 10 months to either figure out what’s wrong or descend into a paralyzing psychoanalysis about the past, present and future of the party.
Guess which I think is going to happen?
The immediate problem was easily summed up by the person who was out on the campaign and saw it firsthand – the problem is anger. Martha Coakley said in her concession speech, “Anyone who’s been out on the campaign trail, particularly in this race, has seen the anger of folks who are frustrated, concerned.” That’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t tell us what to do about it. That’s the fight ahead.
Rep. Richard Neal tells us, “The alarm clock has gone off. We fell into the trap of post-partisanship. I’m all in favor of being post-partisan as long as the other party is post-partisan.”
Sen. Evan Bayh, who is up for re-election, sees this as less of a partisan fight and more of a call to be centrist. “It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected.”
“Whatever happens on health care, we’ve got to focus on jobs,” said Sen. Bob Casey, who saw this as a wake-up call to start creating jobs.
This does not look like broad disagreement among Democratic leaders on the surface of it. The economy is tanking hard and people are angry about it – they want the people in charge to understand what is going on out in the real world. Where this becomes a serious problem for the Democrats is exactly the extent to which the members of the party are not, after all, connected with the reality of the situation. That’s why I have little hope that this will go well.
If anyone knows what needs to be done we should reasonably turn to our leader on all things economic, Secretary Geithner. He is being hauled before the House Committee on Oversight today to answer a simple question on the AIG bailout – “Why (did) these companies received full compensation, when the best they could have hoped for in a bankruptcy proceeding was perhaps 30 or 40 cents on the dollar?” as Rep. Edolphus Towns has asked publicly.
The answer is a simple one. The people in charge of things knew that they weren’t defending AIG, they were defending the entire system. AIG was already dead by the time the bailout started. If they didn’t inject a lot of cash into the system, fast, that we would be looking at a situation that everyone would easily call a Depression.
That doesn’t sound like a lie, and it wasn’t. But no one, including Geithner, has been completely honest about why so much cash was thrown into the system in a hurry. To do so would be to admit just how bad it really is, which is to say admit what people across the USofA, including Massachusetts, know in their guts.
This is a Depression. It’s unique among the five or so Depressions we’re suffered through in our history in that the Federal Government has been on top of it and papered things over with dollar bills as neatly as they could. But it’s still a Depression.
That’s why we have what is cynically called a “Statistical Recovery”. “The numbers look good, quit yer whining!” is the best translation of that term. But while the numbers that we are using to make policy show a recovery, the reality is something very different. Somewhere along the line the lack of directness about the bailout became a series of numbers that, without question, are a kind of lie.
“There are three kinds of lies in politics,” Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli observed in the 1870s, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Many people on the Left have been rightly upset about the damned lies told about Obama and other Democrats lately. However, the lies being told by our statistics aren’t helping things much, either. Did the good people of Massachusetts go Republican for the first time in 58 years because they want the Democrats to fight more for their values or because they want a shift to the center? My guess is that it’s neither. I’m willing to bet that people want nothing more than the truth. Things really are bad out here, and don’t try to tell us that it’s already getting better.
I’m also willing to bet that the message will be lost in a partisan flurry. But the contest isn’t between left, right and center, it’s between reality and something that’s not quite a fantasy. Guess who I’ll put my money on in that contest?