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Is a Tea Party Dynamic Growing on the Left?

danps's picture

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

Most of the blame in Martha Coakley's defeat Tuesday is on her. She had a series of blunders, some of which were such a ridiculous caricature of liberal elitism it makes me wonder if she was a GOP double agent. So: That point, first and most importantly. She ran a terrible campaign and gets the lion's share of the blame.

There were also undoubtedly statewide issues that we will only know about anecdotally, if at all. For example, one of Andrew Sullivan's readers wrote of Bay State Democrats: "Twice they have fiddled with the election laws in the past five control the process." That kind of screwing around brings to mind Tom DeLay's escapades in Texas, and to everyone but partisans such scheming looks plainly corrupt. Another factor may have been gender; so far women are zero for eight in gubernatorial and Senate races there. Presumably it is not a coincidence.

Still, it would be crazy for Democrats to not see some larger warning signs. For one, Barack Obama needs to freshen up his stump speech. He now has a track record, and the populist rhetoric of the 2008 campaign trail is not wearing too well. I listen to his speeches now and contradictory hyperlinks pop into my head. For example:

You know, we always knew that change was going to be hard...there were going to be some who stood on the sidelines, who were protectors of the big banks, and protectors of the big insurance companies, protectors of the big drug companies, who would say, you know what, we can take advantage of this crisis -- because it's going to be so bad, even though we helped initiate these policies, there's going to be a sleight of hand here because we're going to let Democrats take responsibility.

Does he not realize that people will increasingly call bullshit on such obvious discrepancies? Is he not aware it will discourage his base, because that is precisely the audience paying the closest attention? Coakley ran a lousy campaign. Know what helps make for a good one? A record to run on, a way to appeal to people's aspirations and a reasonable expectation that what is being promised on the hustings will be delivered. Coakley was in no position to do any of that.

After his election Obama had energetic supporters champing at the bit to have their idealism harnessed; he continually stoked it during the campaign and they truly were fired up and ready to go. Since then he has made back room deals with the very industries that have been systematically looting the middle class. On health care why was he not constantly banging the drum for the reforms he considered most important, giving speeches in the backyards of recalcitrant lawmakers, urging supporters to contact their representatives, and generally exhorting his base to be passionately involved? It is the most baffling dissipation of enthusiasm since George Bush told the nation to go shopping in the wake of 9/11.

That is where the longer term trends are risky for the Democrats. In the aftermath of the attacks Republicans failed to direct the enormous public willingness to sacrifice, appealed constantly to their fears, and generally discouraged people from being engaged. Is it any wonder the country turned to new leadership a few years later?

Core supporters also became dissatisfied as basic principles of fiscal responsibility, level headed foreign policy and respect for individual liberty were casually disregarded. Then there is perhaps the biggest fraud of all, the promise - promoted loudly for decades - that lower taxes would unleash America's entrepreneurial spirit, lead to economic expansion and still provide adequate federal revenue. Instead it led to the worst decade since the Depression.

To the extent that the Tea Party movement is about pure antipathy towards government or unhappiness with being out of power, it is nothing more than garden variety conservative bellyaching. A good part of it is deep dissatisfaction with having core principles routinely betrayed over a period of years, though, and that should worry Democrats.

Whether it was a failure to stop the Iraq war on retaking Congress, the refusal to act as a check on the Bush administration, the capitulation on FISA, or more recently the inability to even contemplate reform that does not look like a giveaway to favored lobbies, liberals have a damning bill of particulars against their ostensible allies that has been stacking up for years. Martha Coakley has nothing to do with that. The revolt now in full bloom on the right started with pent up frustration and burst on the national scene with a thumping. It is not hard to see the Democrats of early 2010 in a similar danger to the Republicans of early 2006.

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vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

And my write-in for "none-of-the-above" had nothing to do with whether Coakley knew how to spell "Dustin Pedroia."

Her feminism was her strong suit, and she rode it to the nomination.

Her flip-flop on Stupak, bowing to the wishes of her party, did her in. It sent a signal that, at the end of the day, she was a company woman. MA Dems respectfully sent the message that they weren't in the market for that.

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

Card-carrying Buddhist is not only a card-carrying buddhist, she is a card-carrying Coakley supporter. Just without the physical card.

I don't think I look forward to Capuano inheriting the upcoming challenge to Scott Brown; he caved on Stupak at once, and Coakley shamed him into flipping on it.

And I don't look forward to 2 to 8 years of Brown.

Martha Coakley has a great record -- suing banks, suing for civils right, sueing for consumers -- and she ran a great campaign, regardless of media whore media noise machine whiney blame-y spin, and the outcome, which is other than it at first seemed.

A large chunk of Dems and independents voted to throw Martha under the bus, mostly on their way to other issues. If they were protesting, and it seems that they were, OK. If they think they didn't just lose a talented passionate liberal/progressive/anti-corporatists/marriage equality voice in the Senate, they are sadly misinformed.

Yes, they put a gun to her head. We don't hold people responsible for statements made under coercion. As soon as she had been elected to the Senate, they'd have been be gunless, and she'd have been having weapons all of her own.

And I am surprised that Coakley's rejection of Obama's policy in Afghanistan was not, in and of it itself, to enough earn your support and respect, if not your vote in protest.

Protest or not, she was/is an excellent candidate. We are lucky she has been able to enter into and endure the disgusting evil mess that is US pollitics; her loss on Tuesday is our loss for years to come.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... a politician who gets elected by kissing the ring of power proceeding to bite that hand after getting into office?

Respectfully, I think it's wishful thinking that after caving to party power brokers in front of the FSM and everybody in the campaign that she'd duck into a DC phonebooth and come out fighting The Man.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

I'm just going to repost my comments on this crap meme*:

Stop saying that Coakley ran an incompetent campaign. That is just the cover Obama's people are floating to divert attention from the fact that this one Senate seat is a referendum on Obama and the health care plan in particular. As I said over at Violet's:

Granted, she hasn’t run a billion-dollar American Idol campaign avec rock stars like some, but she campaigned hard during the primaries, took a break for the holidays, and filled her schedule (available online) with all the usual meet-and-greets. She was elected AG in 2006 with 73% of the vote, and won the primary by more than 20 points, and had an excellent ground game. Until last week’s polls’ panic, she was campaigning on her record, ie, the issues, and doing a pretty darn good job of it. Only now that this election has become a referendum on Obama has this sudden concern about her “badness” been raised. Most of the arrogance claims are emanating from Brown supporters (unsurprising) or OFB seeking to make this election about anything but Obama’s failure on health care (also unsurprising).

Coakley was polling 30 points ahead of Brown until she flipped on voting against health care because of the abortion restrictions. And she really, really began to lose when Obama and his campaign people showed up and took over all the messaging, which was, in a nutshell: a vote for Coakley is a vote for Obama and the health care plan. The flip on abortion pushed a lot of her base away (pro-choice women), and Brown grabbed the anti-health care plan initiative at the same time.

Why do I keep haunting threads here and elsewhere to pushback on this lie? Because it is just as made-up as most of Obama's marketing-cover lies. (in fact, the early lie was the same 'local issues' talking point they used in NJ and VA, but when that didn't fly they switched to this one). And, more importantly, because it weakens otherwise excellent arguments like this one. Other Democrats need not fear voter retribution at the polls if Coakley was merely incompetent. It wasn't about Democrats' rank failure to push through the agenda they campaigned on in 2008 if it's all Coakley's fault. And finally, although much less importantly, I've gotten to the point where I just can't read past that crap line about Coakley even when I suspect I support everything else the writer has to say.

And add that all the 'cariacture' comments that supposedly signaled her fault in all this came at the very last moment, after Obama and the OFA people descended on Mass., not to mention the three-ring-circus of the national media, and after Brown started passing Coakley in the polls. As for the "lion's share": fuck that. None of the jokers running around blaming Coakley, not the 527 for Obama formerly known as Kos, not Ambinder, not Rahm, were here on the ground, and they all have major motivations to spin this against her. None of them got the 87 gazillion robocalls tying Coakley to Obama and the health care bill that I and every other Mass. resident got, from the Democrats. Brown, in addition to banging the drum on being the 41st vote against hc, sang all the right-wings greatest hits: cut taxes and stop those profligate tax-and-spend Democrats in their tracks.

And, as for caricatures of elite Democrats, funny that I haven't seen this gem mentioned anywhere by Obama apologists in their blame-Coakley propaganda.

Obama on Brown's truck:

Obama also took jabs at Brown's signature vehicle, and his "slick ads."

"So look, forget the ads, everybody can't can slick ads. Forget the truck. Everyone can buy a truck."

I suppose, technically, Obama was mocking all those of us who actually can't afford a truck, but same diff.

Sorry to quote myself again, esp. apologies to all who followed the election here and have already read my repeated deconstructions of same, but:

A few years ago out of curiosity I was checking vehicle popularity (I have no idea how I ended up on site that essentially had a vehicle ownership of Mass towns, but whatever). The number 1 vehicle owned by people where I live now (just next to Cambridge) was the Honda Civic (Toyota something was a close second). The number 1 vehicle in rural Central Mass. the town where I grew up? Ford trucks.

* I'm not sure why I persist, since it seems a losing game; attempts to rebutt public disinformation campaigns seem to only reinforce the lies anyway. But I live in hope.

In terms of the actual data from this election, others have pounded the data on this election better than I:

Paul Lukasiak: Coakley/Brown: Voters abandoned Dems, did not switch to GOP and in comments here and here.
Card Carrying Buddhist here.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

I don't buy that forces beyond her control were the primary reason she lost. There were other factors, significant ones, but if we don't say campaigns ultimately win or lose on the strength of the candidate we're making that part of politics an accountability-free zone.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The problem -- and I've been a guilty "party" to it -- is that if we allow our habitual parties to own our votes, the electoral system is an accountability-free zone since (as we're always reminded) "we have nowhere to go."

This time a lot of us decided to, in one fashion or other, do a vote of no confidence against the Democratic Party.

Andre's picture
Submitted by Andre on

When Hillary picked up the liberal/progressive mantle after New Hampshire, we in Massachusetts started to listen. Moving beyond the interim arguments of how we got here, when Obama presented himself to us, he made that presentation to us as a liberal/progressive. We voted for him. He's been nothing of the sort since assuming the office, and we sent him the message that we didn't vote for him to be a freakin republican corporatist shill. And Coakley ran a decent campaign for this state with it's large liberal base. She will be a senator eventually, because she is a decent person who wants to do good for the people of Massachusetts, and is capable of doing that for us.

Submitted by lambert on

If Coakley starts going on listening tours now, and keeps it up for two years, she'll take Brown in two years.

I understand that Coakley's the candidate, not the national Dems. My picture is that this is the first time Coakley encountered the sheer virulence of Obama's ruling faction, and it threw her off her game. So, learn from that and go on...

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

that the people she meets need a reason to believe she'll be able to deliver on what she's promising. If voters suspect she'll just abandon her principles once she gets into office it will just be another loss.

Monday morning quarterbacking and all, but how would it have turned out if Coakley had said "I'm not on board with Nelson, Lieberman et. al., and when I get to DC I'll support real reform"? I mean, for all people are saying she was forced to abandon her position on abortion or the public option, in the end it was her decision to go along with it.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Your original proposition:

The lame Coakley campaign, and not the Obama administration, owns this loss.


Hey, she fucked up. She trusted* the lame Obama adminstration. (See: National Lampoon's Animal House.)

* By "trusted," I mean they read her the Arthur Jensen speech and promised a dead fish in the mail if she didn't play ball.

Speaking of, she would have won in a landslide if -- as, in the primaries, she'd run as the donkey that doesn't taste fishy. "Obama's 60th vote" wasn't exactly a winner for her.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

Coakley's flip-flop on Stupak was what cost her the election.

She owns that, and it was her fault.

The campaign had nothing to do with it - the Mass voters protested her position on that issue. Yes, gasp, the package mattered more than the marketing.

Is that really so hard to understand? Or are we so incapable of looking at issues now that we have to generate hundreds of pages of word fogs to explain what is obvious?