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Race for Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat Ignores Issues

khin's picture

A new poll on the Massachusetts Senate race has state Attorney General Martha Coakley dominating the field with 37 percent support from registered Democrats and unenrolled voters, who are eligible to vote in the primary. That is more than double her nearest challenger, with 14 percent backing Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca and 13 percent supporting Congressman Mike Capuano.

What are the stances of these candidates on issues? Amazingly, in a state where seven out of ten representatives have endorsed HR 676, the United States National Health Care Act, only one candidate out of four Democrats and one Republican supports Medicare for All, and that's Mike Capuano. Even his support is not the most avid, since he doesn't talk about it very often and has sometimes qualified it with "if I were emperor." But support is still support, and he's an HR 676 cosponsor.

In contrast, Martha Coakley supports a plan that is quite different: the so-called "strong public option," no doubt meaning the version that the CBO estimated in July would cover only about 10 million people after it was implemented. In the recent white paper released by her campaign, she says:

I agree with the basic elements in bills pending before Congress to achieve this goal: a mandate that individuals obtain coverage; an expansion of Medicaid coverage for the poorest people; new subsidies for those who are not eligible for Medicaid yet cannot afford the full cost of insurance; and employer shared responsibility to help extend coverage to all.

Quite simply, Coakley supports the current flawed legislation in Congress. Her only major caveat to this is not a caveat at all:

We cannot allow insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or by making false marketing promises.

I would agree, but that's part of the current bill.

As Attorney General, I have stood up to unfair and deceptive conduct by insurers

This is the typical line from Coakley. I'm for the status quo, but I'm for it better because I've fought before with some companies engaging in outright fraud. Woo hoo!

This election provides a lesson in how the concentrated power of a statewide political apparatus can completely trump issues even in the most Democratic state in the country. The official platform of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts is support for single payer health care, but you would never know that from this campaign. Coakley began planning her campaign very early, well before Ted Kennedy actually passed away, and because of her position in a statewide office had the connections and name recognition to quickly rack up all the key endorsements. Consequently she was also able to amass considerably more funding than Capuano was. And it certainly also didn't hurt that Obama invited her to the White House three weeks ago.

One area where Coakley has not led is union endorsements: as would seem logical, Capuano has the lead here. But this is apparently not affecting the election much. (That Ted Kennedy's nephew has endorsed Capuano and questioned Coakley's "ambition" is another seemingly forgotten fact.)

Another strange feature of this campaign is the role of gender. While Coakley denies that her gender is the reason people should vote for her, she does acknowledge that it is "a plus." Coakley seems to be perceived as better on social issues than Capuano is, but examining their positions, they're hardly distinguishable. Both are strongly pro-choice, for gay marriage, and support repealing DOMA.

In summary, I think we should try to help Mike Capuano get elected to Ted Kennedy's former seat. This is a very important election; whoever wins may stay in the office for life. Please consider donating to Capuano's campaign: I gave him $25 last month, and the time is swiftly drawing to a close when he can ever become a viable candidate. If you can, you might even want to volunteer. This is a very short race, with the primary being not much more than a month away. There is no time to lose.

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jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

Actually, the comparison between him and Coakley reminds me of the contrast between Clinton and Obama, just a little.

And I made that mistake once. Not again. From now on I only support politicians with proven liberal records, and Capuano certainly has that.

Card-carrying_Buddhist's picture
Submitted by Card-carrying_B... on

being in the same room with Martha Coakley, hearing her actually utter the word "progressive" without wincing, and hear her speak about helping people avert foreclosure, obtain serious health insurance, so on. She was really impressive. I was already going to vote for her, but hearing her in person sealed the deal.

So I very strongly disagree with you on this, respectfully.

And, as to the gender thing, I have heard Coakley receive slaps for being too hard and slaps for being too soft. Which pretty much defines anti-female gender bias.

Just like SOS Clinton in Pakistan -- one day she's dismissed as being merely on a charm offensive, the next she's dismissed for being too harsh.

Oh, and this?

(That Ted Kennedy's nephew has endorsed Capuano and questioned Coakley's "ambition" is another seemingly forgotten fact.)

Oh please. Don't start with me about a female being too "ambitious".

Cripes.

Teddy Kennedy's nephew ought to know better than to say things like that.

khin's picture
Submitted by khin on

Who cares about the gender thing? That's not an issue. Coakley doesn't support Medicare for All, and on social issues they're apparently the same. So on what issue, specifically, is she better on?

Card-carrying_Buddhist's picture
Submitted by Card-carrying_B... on

And I don't think it is a trivial issue.

And I care about the domestic violence thing, on which she has led the way for many years. And I care about her not-belonging-to-the-old-boys-network-imprimatur thing.

Coakley certainly gets the health-insurance-companies-are-screwing-everyone-over thing. And she get the banks-are-screwing-everyone-over thing. And she gets the civil-rights-for-all thing http://tinyurl.com/nqkz73 because she actively sued the feds to overturn DOMA. She didn't need to do that, did she?

Coakley has the advantage also of the not-having-been-anointed-by-the-remaining-Kennedys thing. (Kennedy, as I recall, did not do so well with the Anita Hill thing. Beyond that, for all his virtues, there were some other things I would take issue with.)

Really, when I heard her speak, in person, I thought she was not just Senatorial material, but presidential. She was that good. Have you heard her?

khin's picture
Submitted by khin on

I don't think a person's gender should be a factor in political races.

Capuano has a very good rating from the National Organization for Women.

http://now.capwiz.com/bio/id/307

I see no discernible differences with Coakley on social issues. Coakley just emphasizes her positions more. If you can find a real difference, not in emphasis but in actual position, by all means point it out to me.

But on health care, Capuano supports Medicare for All. Coakley supports the House bill. They're extraordinarily and completely different positions. Are you aware of how different they are?

One is a whole other ball game!

Submitted by hipparchia on

I don't think a person's gender should be a factor in political races.

dudes are slightly less than half the population, but hold almost all the seats of power everywhere: govt, business, you name it.

if two candidates are otherwise equal on the issues, the woman gets my vote. same for race, if two candidates of the same sex are equal on the issues, the minority gets my vote.

have to transfer power from the hands of those who have too much of it to those who have too little of it as often as possible.

khin's picture
Submitted by khin on

You raise a good point: I should modify my statement a bit. I think a person's gender, or race, should have a value, but a "very small" value. (In calculus, we would call this an epsilon--a number approaching, but not quite, zero.)

So if two candidates have the same positions, I say break the tie with gender or race.

But in this case, the candidates do have very different positions on Medicare for All.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

just close on the issues I care about (which includes not only single payer, but women's rights, gay rights, economic equality, etc.). I'm frakking tired of living in Dude nation and the only way that's been proven to change that in other countries is by getting a significant number of women in elected power. After the misogynist crap I had to sit through last year from fauxgressives, so long as the woman is close, I'm going to support her. Would I support Blanche Lincoln over Alan Grayson? Hell no. But that doesn't sound like this race. From what Card Carrying Buddhist said, Coakley sounds pretty liberal and she doesn't seem to be a member of the Kennedy inner circle, another plus (and what a non-surprise it is that a Kennedy male would use sexist language against a woman).

Oh, and given that Capuano has had to be pressured to even hold the line on the public option, I wouldn't put too much stock in his support of HR 676.

I don't have a pick in this election because I haven't followed it enough, but I don't think there's enough in this post to decide between the two candidates. And, frankly, it sounds like either would be a decent Senator and so I'm jealous on that score since I'm expected to go to the polls on Tuesday and choose between Creigh Deeds (ugh!) and Bob McDonnell (double ugh!). If it weren't a governorship, I'd probably pass, but in an executive office McDonnell would have too much control over poor women's lives (not that I particularly trust Deeds with them or that Deeds has any shot in hell of winning).

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

supports optical scan with radom audits. IF, by some mircale, he wins, Virginia will get rid of the vapor voting machines.

Submitted by hipparchia on

they don't have to be exactly equal, they only have to be similar on issues i care about.

capuano sounds like he could be too easily swayed away from supporting single payer, while coakley sounds like she could be easily enough swayed toward supporting single payer. in fact, capuano sounds like he could be another kendrick meek in the making.

Jenithesis's picture
Submitted by Jenithesis on

"This is a very short race, with the primary being not much more than a month away. There is no time to lose."

In an election, time is of the essence.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

say hello to my google news alerts. I will be sending him links from my personal blog.

Did Coakley support Clinton? I remember that all the Mass establishment endorsed Obama but Clinton walked away with the vote. Coakley may or may not be benefitting from the lingering resentment over that.

Massachusetts will have to judge for itself, but this blogger will be endorsing Capuano. Unfortunately for him, nobody read my blog.

dblhelix's picture
Submitted by dblhelix on

she endorsed Clinton.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

I care as well. After 2008, the Year of Misogyny, thanks, it's a factor a lot larger than "approaching zero". Where two candidates are pretty much equal and one is female, for me it's a no-brainer. The gender ratio in the Senate is a joke; we need to take advantage of every reasonable opportunity to have women represented in our representative seats of power we can. Coakley has been very active against domestic violence, as Card-Carrying B mentioned, and on ensuring reproductive rights as well. She even publicly endorses federal funding for abortion as part of the constitutional right to abortion (when was the last time you heard that sentiment spoken out loud?); she's pushed for a clinic buffer-zone law here in Mass; and has sued the feds over HHS' "conscience rule".

Capuano talks about his votes, while Coakley talks about what she's done. He's been in the House for 12 years. We learned last year that the fact that someone has a good score card just isn't enough. Just showing up to vote isn't good enough.

On single-payer, I have no doubt that Capuano would vote for HR 676 if it came to a vote and there was some reasonable level of support for it among his fellow Congresspeople. However, on his own site he says:

I am a co-sponsor of this legislation [HR 676] which would establish a national single-payer healthcare system. I am aware, however, that consensus may not exist for this approach. As a Member of Congress, I have never let the perfect be the enemy of the good [where have I heard that before?]. Nor will I support proposals that I regard as flawed simply because their proponents label them as "reform." I am confident, though, that momentum for real reform exists and much will be accomplished this session.

In "progressives" code language, the enemy of good language translates as "I'm going to fold to get along and go along." Capuano also seems open to triggers, the Democrats latest duck-the-issue ploy on health care. (although note that I think Hamsher overstates her argument there). If I truly believed that Capuano would substantively fight for single-payer, it would make this Senate race a tougher choice. But his stated support (clear sometimes) and his likely support (compromising) are different enough that that single-payer really isn't enough for a call-to-arms on his behalf.

A few other things:

I'm not union-savvy enough to know which are the truly 'hip' ones, but Coakley seems to have gotten a fair number relative to Capuano.

Playing the Kennedy-grief card: Coakley has said, and there is no reason not to believe someone as "ambitious" as she is, that she started exploring a Senate run back last year when everyone thought Kerry might get State. The insinuation that Coakley should be opposed because she began planning her campaign "well before Ted Kennedy actually passed away" is a rather cheap shot.

Coakley started the foreshortened race with virtually no money, whereas Capuano started with roughly a million dollars. Capuano has outspent Coakley through Oct. 15, at least.

Coakley does have a significant advantage over Capuano in terms of statewide name recognition. That may seem a bit unfair, until you pause to consider that the reason for it is because Coakley as AG has actually represented the entire state. Something folks who live or grow up around Boston (Capuano represents Somerville, second perhaps only to Cambridge in the latte-liberal demographic these days) often forget is that 2/3 of the state exists outside of 495. Their concerns and needs are somewhat different than Boston et suburbs, a point often forgotten by Bostonians.

Submitted by hipparchia on

In "progressives" code language, the enemy of good language translates as "I'm going to fold to get along and go along."

yours is a more polite translation that was i would have said, but yes, that phrase is a weasel alert for me.

i don't live there, so i'm not moved to interfere in the race, but coakley's work on abortion and domestic violence make her a liberal's dream candidate, and i'm awfully glad to hear about it. thanks.

basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

from the oncoming storm that last year's primary seeded. Democratic women are pissed. I got accused of being a "vagina voter" several times last year - as if the only reason to support Clinton was her gender. As if it's inconceivable that someone liberal could legitimately prefer Clinton to Obama.

I just don't know if I'm voting for anymore men. Maybe Bernie Sanders but I don't live in Vermont. I'm really ticked off at what Obama legitimized.

cwaltz's picture
Submitted by cwaltz on

The conscience clause-still there. Low income women and their birth control needs under the bus for no reason whatsoever(not a single Republican voted for the stupid stimulus anyway). Frankly, I am sick to death of the Democratic men and their milquetoast "support" for women.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

Why can't someone from Massachusetts find a way to contact Coakley and ask her about her positions on single-payer?

And, for that matter, her positions on the wars, because I don't really like some of the language on her website about where she stands on Iraq and Afghanistan. Capuano voted against the Iraq War in 2002, so I know where he stands.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

Here is her campaign white paper. A lot of it aligns fairly closely with all the usual Democrats/"progressives" rhetoric. Except she has gone after big pharma to recover money for Mass., so at least she has some experience opposing Versailles.

The issue is whether Capuano's claimed support for single-payer will translate into action. He has not (as far as I can tell) fought for it particularly, and has made compromise noises. Is Capuano just another Obama/Progressive Dude Nation guy who says the right thing and then folds? Who knows. For me, it's not nearly certain enough to not vote for the person who is virtually identical on every other issue, would be the first female Senator from Mass., and has brought energy and fight to major women's equality issues. We know Coakley has done those things; we don't know whether Capuano will support single-payer (esp. given his noises about how it's just not practical -- another 'tell' from "progressives")

Capuano's vote on the war in 2002 is quite similar to Obama's "anti-war" speech; both were playing to the same crowd. While I can applaud Capuano's vote, it entailed NO policital risk for him from his constituents (his district is even more liberal than the Hyde Park crowd Obama played to), so I can't really count it as any brave show of conscience on his part.