For those of us who are proud progressives, the last few days have been hard. Very hard. There is no silver lining. (I joked to a friend that there is only a Brown lining.) But we also shouldn't wildly project into the future a disaster for progressives that isn't based in reality. A few things:
1. Nothing is permanent in politics. After the last presidential election, I remember listening to pundit after pundit talking about the demise of the Republican party. One of my favorite progressives, Rachel Maddow, had a recurring piece on her show called "Republicans in Exile." I didn't buy it. A month is a lifetime in politics. The Massachusetts race went from sure thing to upset in a matter of two weeks. It is just as silly to predict that the Obama presidency and the Democratic rule in Congress is over. The one thing we can bank on in politics is change.
2. The Democrats ran a lousy campaign in Massachusetts. We took voters for granted. We assumed that the Democratic nominee was the de facto winner of the election. The media did as well, and not just liberal sources. Lesson here: never, ever do that again. Voters want to be courted. They want to be asked for their vote. And they want to know why they should vote for you. Quite simply, we did none of the above.
3. Scott Brown's victory is not at odds with Massachusetts history. Every once in a while -- about once a decade -- a conservative candidate taps into voter anger. Ed King, a conservative Democrat, defeated Michael Dukakis in his bid for reelection for governor in the primary in the late 1970's, then won the election. The state went for Reagan in the 1980's, in part because of anger. In the 1990's, John Silber -- certainly one of the angriest candidates I've ever seen -- beat the popular Democratic Atty General, Frank Belotti, for the nomination for Governor. What do these conservatives who tapped into voter anger have in common? Their victories were short-lived. Dukakis came back and beat King four years later. After Reagan, Massachusetts never voted for a Republican president again. The races weren't even close. John Silber lost the election for governor to an arguably more liberal Bill Weld, the Republican.
4. Independent voters won the election for Brown. These are the same voters who not long ago supported Obama and Deval Patrick, two very fine campaigners, like Scott Brown, although these two campaigners have next to nothing in common with Brown. The lesson? Many independents are swayed by the personal narrative and the clarity of message of the candidate. Scott Brown, like President Obama and Governor Patrick, provided both superbly. Massachusetts independents have always been open to a progressive message. We just have to provide one that is clear.
5. On the same day Scott Brown was celebrating his victory, Cindy McCain, John McCain's wife, announced her support of same-sex marriage. Scott Brown may be anti-marriage equality (and anti- gay pretty much everything else) but the strident anti-gay voices in the Republican party are becoming fewer, or, at the very least, they are being balanced by important folks in the party. Rudy Giuliani recently told The New York Times that as far as same-sex marriage goes, it did not make much sense "to be harping on the issue if the party had any serious interest in returning to power." Even Dick Cheney has recently come out in support of states that allow same-sex marriage. The momentum is in our direction.
6. Scott Brown still represents a progressive state. If Texas elected one progressive senator in a special election with an angry electorate, would we actually believe the state had permanently become left-wing? One special election does not change the psyche of a state. If Scott Brown wants to be reelected, he can only tow the conservative line so far. I simply refuse to believe that voters will reelect a senator who significantly restricts a woman's right to choose, treats LGBT people as second-class citizens, and does nothing about health care but maintain the status quo.
7. The Democrats are neglecting their base. I listened to interview after interview of reluctant progressives coming out to vote for Martha Coakley. Who knows how many stayed home? The Obama administration will have to do something to shore us up before the midterms if it wants to avoid disaster.
All for now. I know there are more issues than same-sex marriage, but this is the focus of this blog. I'll get to those soon. Sure, I've been extremely blue about the red state behavior of Massachusetts. But I'm coming out of my funk. And it's not silver lining thinking. There's some reality here to keep us on a steady course.