Ah, Martha Coakley. She truly is a wonder, isn't she? I'll be stunned if she pulls out this special election tonight, based upon my simple rule that candidates who make the most structural campaign mistakes tend to lose elections. The larger media narrative -- that this is a referendum on health care reform -- has long been in motion, and is well nigh unstoppable. But I wouldn't take away the lesson that the country opposes health care reform. Rather, I'd take away the lesson that in the current economic climate, you shouldn't run candidates who act complacent and entitled.
We'll hear, of course, that the Massachusetts Senate race was all about health care. That's because the fight to get reform passed is a daily horse race, the Massachusetts Senate race has become a horse race, and so, for cable news, this can get very neatly packaged as the Sum Of All Horse Races. The lost data point in all of this is that while support for the health care reform package has declined, it hasn't declined because the country has embraced the right-wing position on the matter. Rather, it's because the health care reform measure has become much less than what was promised and what people voted for back in November of 2008.
Polling has typically yielded a distorted picture of where the country stands on the issue, as the media has neatly lumped tea-bagging opponents and disaffected progressives under the same rubric. Not long ago, Democratic strategist Mark Mellman was taking solace in the fact that some of the people identified by polls as opposing health care reform were actually for reform, just against what the Congress was cooking up. (Note to Mellman: This is not "good news.") And now there is a special election in Massachusetts, where voters already have a government health care plan upon which the whittled-down national reform package fails to improve. So it makes sense that you're not going to animate progressive voters of a progressive state based upon the need to save a measure that doesn't reflect their values.
To me, this quote from Coakley, responding to a Boston Globe reporter asking her if perhaps she hasn't been too passive, sums up her entire campaign:
"As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" she fires back, in an apparent reference to a Brown online video of him doing just that. "This is a special election. And I know that I have the support of Kim Driscoll. And I now know the members of the [Salem] School Committee, who know far more people than I could ever meet."
Now, the above quote has been typically hawked by the press as Coakley dissing the Boston Red Sox, which is a bit obtuse. Subsequent remarks by Coakley lead me to conclude that she doesn't know enough about the Red Sox to diss them, anyway. But what bothers me about this is that she doesn't appear to want to work hard for the seat! That she seems to feel that there are other people -- like Kim Driscoll, I guess -- who are supposed to do the hard, cold work of talking Coakley up to voters, while she stays warm.
Meanwhile, in America, the combined rate of unemployment and underemployment is around 17 percent. That means one in six Americans are out there hustling for work. It also means that just about every American has got a family member, a loved one, or a good friend who's getting ground up in the teeth of this economy.
I don't think I can stress enough just how much long-term joblessness fractures the daily life of ordinary people. Without work, and the income it provides, life is stripped of purpose, and basic decisions become hugely difficult. It becomes impossible to plan for a future, let alone imagine one. And that's precisely the sort of environment where traditional patterns -- like, say, a Senate seat always going to the Democratic party -- start to break down.
I don't know about you, but when Martha Coakley acts complacent about these concerns, and seems to be downright ungrateful for the opportunity that Massachusetts voters might extend to her, I get to feeling pretty disgusted.
So, yeah, this is a national referendum on the Democrats running people for national office who seem catastrophically out of touch with the fact that the nation is in the midst of a massive unemployment crisis.