Commentary Magazine


Topic: news networks

A Perfect Political Storm

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

Read Less

To Be Shot at Without Result

At the end of 2009 many conservatives will have renewed appreciation for Winston Churchill’s admonition: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Conservatives and their fellow citizens were not generally (unless engaged on the battlefield) shot at, but they were bombarded with an avalanche of leftist policy proposals. And yet, as Bill Kristol observes: “The Obama administration (so far) hasn’t succeeded in doing too much damage to the American economy. Major parts of American society and the American polity are resisting the allure of a slide into European decadence. The climate change fear-mongers are increasingly discredited, and Copenhagen was a farce.”

In short, the Obama team didn’t succeed to the degree many of us anticipated and feared it would in refashioning domestic policy and achieving its free-market-killing initiatives. Card check is off the table. Cap-and-trade has been postponed. The stimulus bill did not endear the country to the wonders of big government. The health-care bill is not yet law, but is grossly unpopular. It is worth asking: why? Why did the most heralded politician to assume the White House in a generation, in the midst of a collapse of the private sector, and with huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate not do any better (or do more damage, depending on your perspective)?

The answers are three-fold, I think. First, this president showed no inclination or talent to engage in the nitty-gritty business of lawmaking. He did not set forth his own specific proposals on key agenda items, set a deadline, or whip Congress into line. He preferred endless speeches, innumerable TV talk-show appearances, and campaign-style events, none of which solved the hard questions as to what it is that key legislation should contain. And then Congress did what it does best — squabble, debate, reach gridlock, churn out pork-a-thon legislation in lieu of serious policy prescriptions, and show themselves to be obsessed with shielding their own constituents from measures they would willingly foist on others. The result was low output and an absence of thoughtful or innovative policy. And most glaringly, on his most important agenda item, Obama did not make substantive arguments nor focus on a coherent legislative health-care scheme that was designed to fulfill his objectives.

Second, the Obami ran Left, even beyond the tolerance of their own party. Democratic senators have held up cap-and-trade, not the Republicans. The Democrats can’t find 60 votes in the Senate to take away the right to secret ballot in union elections. Again, the liberal aspirations of special interest groups don’t match the political composition of those in office, even after an election that delivered across-the-board Democratic victories.

And finally, Obama himself did not inspire or persuade the public in the way his followers imagined he would. His campaign rhetoric wore thin, never rising above the level of platitudes. And when that rhetoric didn’t persuade, the president diminished himself and the power of the bully pulpit by inveighing against opponents, picking fights with talk-show hosts and news networks, and condescending the public (e.g., red pill/blue bill health-care hooey, Gatesgate’s “teachable moment,” etc.). In short, he didn’t lead.

This year ends with a sigh of relief from conservatives on the domestic front. Their work in opposing liberal Democratic policies is not, however, over. The health-care bill looms on the horizon and the Democrats will take a second pass at a number of their policy proposals. But there is a certain exhilaration in surviving the initial (and certainly the strongest barrage) of one’s political enemies. And for conservatives, finding that the American people are increasingly rallying to their side in the political debate is particularly gratifying.

At the end of 2009 many conservatives will have renewed appreciation for Winston Churchill’s admonition: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Conservatives and their fellow citizens were not generally (unless engaged on the battlefield) shot at, but they were bombarded with an avalanche of leftist policy proposals. And yet, as Bill Kristol observes: “The Obama administration (so far) hasn’t succeeded in doing too much damage to the American economy. Major parts of American society and the American polity are resisting the allure of a slide into European decadence. The climate change fear-mongers are increasingly discredited, and Copenhagen was a farce.”

In short, the Obama team didn’t succeed to the degree many of us anticipated and feared it would in refashioning domestic policy and achieving its free-market-killing initiatives. Card check is off the table. Cap-and-trade has been postponed. The stimulus bill did not endear the country to the wonders of big government. The health-care bill is not yet law, but is grossly unpopular. It is worth asking: why? Why did the most heralded politician to assume the White House in a generation, in the midst of a collapse of the private sector, and with huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate not do any better (or do more damage, depending on your perspective)?

The answers are three-fold, I think. First, this president showed no inclination or talent to engage in the nitty-gritty business of lawmaking. He did not set forth his own specific proposals on key agenda items, set a deadline, or whip Congress into line. He preferred endless speeches, innumerable TV talk-show appearances, and campaign-style events, none of which solved the hard questions as to what it is that key legislation should contain. And then Congress did what it does best — squabble, debate, reach gridlock, churn out pork-a-thon legislation in lieu of serious policy prescriptions, and show themselves to be obsessed with shielding their own constituents from measures they would willingly foist on others. The result was low output and an absence of thoughtful or innovative policy. And most glaringly, on his most important agenda item, Obama did not make substantive arguments nor focus on a coherent legislative health-care scheme that was designed to fulfill his objectives.

Second, the Obami ran Left, even beyond the tolerance of their own party. Democratic senators have held up cap-and-trade, not the Republicans. The Democrats can’t find 60 votes in the Senate to take away the right to secret ballot in union elections. Again, the liberal aspirations of special interest groups don’t match the political composition of those in office, even after an election that delivered across-the-board Democratic victories.

And finally, Obama himself did not inspire or persuade the public in the way his followers imagined he would. His campaign rhetoric wore thin, never rising above the level of platitudes. And when that rhetoric didn’t persuade, the president diminished himself and the power of the bully pulpit by inveighing against opponents, picking fights with talk-show hosts and news networks, and condescending the public (e.g., red pill/blue bill health-care hooey, Gatesgate’s “teachable moment,” etc.). In short, he didn’t lead.

This year ends with a sigh of relief from conservatives on the domestic front. Their work in opposing liberal Democratic policies is not, however, over. The health-care bill looms on the horizon and the Democrats will take a second pass at a number of their policy proposals. But there is a certain exhilaration in surviving the initial (and certainly the strongest barrage) of one’s political enemies. And for conservatives, finding that the American people are increasingly rallying to their side in the political debate is particularly gratifying.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.