The Rockaway Irregular
Watching the recent election returns in the special senatorial race in Massachusetts to fill the seat of the late Ted Kennedy, I was struck by the remarkable difference in narratives between Fox News and MSNBC (a cable news station that defines itself, in contradistinction to Fox, as the go-to network for progressives and other assorted leftleaning observers). While Fox carried newly elected Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown's full acceptance speech before a cheering crowd, MSNBC carried only part and cut away frequently for wry, and generally disparaging, assessments of the candidate, his supporters and Republicans in general. Most remarkable, when Brown, clearly exuberant at his come-from-behind win, told the crowd his two attractive daughters were "available" (to their embarrassed laughter and his wife's quick intercession), plainly meaning to invite suitors for their hands in the way fathers of an earlier era might have done, MSNBC anchor Keith Olberman couldn't keep himself from sneering at the off-color implications.
The newly elected senator plainly spoke clumsily in the excitement of the moment, but Olberman and his confederates? decision to focus on that, rather than the substance of Brown’s speech, and the quick cut-away for sour and obviously snarky commentary, demonstrated just how far apart the two political sides are in today’s debates. MSNBC's coverage contrasted dramatically with the more issues-focused approach offered by Fox.
Olberman and his cohorts, Chris Matthews and Rachel Madow, didn't completely disregard the issues, though. It's just that the issues they were concerned with revolved around the implications for the Democrats' agenda and who was at fault for "losing" that historic "Kennedy seat" and thus putting the Obama agenda at risk rather than the policy questions raised by the recent campaign. Nor were the MSNBC commentators content with demeaning the Republican win alone, or with just talking down its adverse implications for the Democrats' health care plans. (This race wasn't about an aversion to big government by Massachusetts voters they told viewers; it was a rejection by voters of Democratic compromise!) Indeed, MSNBC commentators and their guests spent so much of their on-air time musing about how the election result could be neutralized by Democrats that I thought I was watching a gathering of party operatives. Perhaps I was!
If only Democrats in Congress and the White House had simply ignored Republicans from the start in pushing health care, the commentators intoned solemnly, things wouldn’t have come to this. According to Matthews and Maddow, Obama's problem wasn’t that he had ceded policy on things like health care to geniuses like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who are intent on throwing fiscal restraint to the winds, it was that these folks hadn't been sufficiently ruthless! Matthews went on to note that the solution to the election of a Republican Senator must now lie in adopting parliamentary maneuvers that would erase the role of 60 vote majorities in the Senate. From the mouths of MSNBC commentators to Harry Reid’s ears!
During the last administration, of course, when Democrats were using the filibuster threat to block Bush judicial appointees, Republicans who even broached such an idea were roundly excoriated for trying to circumvent the Senate’s hoary traditions, even though Republicans actually had a case given that filibusters had not historically been applied to judicial confirmations until Democrats began doing it to block conservative judicial appointments in recent years.
Today's Democratic case? According to Matthews, filibusters should just be disallowed on any "really important issue" as determined by the Senate majority, which is to say the Democrats, of course.
It’s passing strange when Democrats and their sympathizers make the argument that moderates in Massachusetts really wanted more, not less, big spending and government expansion given that Massachusetts Senator Elect Scott Brown made his case on the basis of his explicit opposition to the Democrats’ health care reform package, a package that increases costs and taxes for middle class Americans while jeopardizing benefits to seniors and quality of care for all ? and that more than 50% of Massachusetts voters, the ones who made the difference in this race, are independents, unaffiliated with either party.
While the Bush administration pushed through an unpopular bailout to save major financial institutions in the wake of a collapsing economy in
08, Democrats have tripled down on spending since coming to power, blowing the nation’s budget sky-high with auto industry takeovers, an ineffective stimulus bill, and health care legislation that requires a thousand pages of description to contain it. Democrats, during their years in the political wilderness, used to tell us how much they cared about the deficit. But that was then. This is now.
Voters in Massachusetts, where universal health care reform was introduced by former governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, are all too aware of the unforeseen costs and service impacts. Having seen the flaws and problems in their own state, many balked at the prospect of going national with it and thereby adding to their already high tax burden to pay for implementation of a similarly flawed national program. Is it a mistake then to suppose that voters, in choosing Brown over Massachusetts State Attorney General Martha Coakley, were reacting to the high-handed and fundamentally tone deaf way Congressional Democrats had pushed their programs since coming to power, without regard to the opposition of most Americans (as recognized in the polling data) and through backroom deals and pay-offs to major supporters and specific states to garner crucial votes? Rather than seek reforms via inclusion of opposition party ideas (like opening insurance markets across states, policy portability and tort reform) to forge an expansive national consensus, the Democratic majority elected in '08 simply decided to remake America in the shadow of their longdeferred progressivist dreams as American voters watched with increasing alarm. Democratic leaders and policymakers dug in, precisely as the MSNBC commentators claim they should have but didn’t, despite rising national opposition to their big government/ big spending/tax heavy model. Watching it all, Americans have been shocked and angry at the looming deficits, expanding as far as the eye can see to even swamp the steadily sinking boat of existing entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security (set to go under as demographic changes kick in and reduce the number of workers available to pay benefits to active recipients).
Americans couldn't help but swallow hard at the prospect of ever rising taxation, the implications for jobs creation and the ever expanding national debt that may yet turn us into a third world country with a collapsing currency and questionable creditworthiness before the halfway point of this century is even reached. The message of recent off-year elections, which delivered the statehouses in two previously Democratic venues (Virginia and New Jersey) to Republicans, was something Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House stubbornly refused to credit. Now Massachusetts may prove to be the one even they can't disregard. In the endless scrap to achieve their political comeback, Democrats came to believe a certain entitlement came with it – the right, indeed the duty, to implement their vision for America, voter sentiment be damned. But in so doing they seem to have forgotten one very important thing about democracies along the way. Elections count and sometimes even the voters remember that.