THE BLOG
03/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mitt, Waldo, Tip, Ted and the Real Revolution

Not far from the site of the original 1773 Boston Tea Party, Mitt Romney introduced the winner by echoing the American Revolution. The former Massachusetts governor called Scott Brown's victory "the shot heard 'round the world."

Brown, whose earliest political triumph was winning the Mitt Romney Lookalike Contest, agreed. His election night oratory crackled with revolutionary rhetoric. "The cause and victory that all America has seen tonight started right there with all of you," he said, evoking what Bay State schoolchildren once recited, the first stanza of Ralph Waldo' Emerson's Concord Hymn:

Their flags to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world.


By any American standard, certainly any in Massachusetts, Brown's defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley was the Concord and Lexington of a new political order. The shade of Tip O'Neill surely stirred when voters challenged his dictum, "All politics is local." Brown's persona, ideology and stance on issues from gays to guns could have fitted the electorate of Idaho, Utah or Oklahoma. His campaign was from the one-size-fits-all Republican rack

Brown bears little resemblance to the Bay State's traditional Republican moderates. Early in Tip O'Neill's political career, Republican Leverett Saltonstall defeated Democrat James Michael Curley for governor in 1938, claiming that under his legislative leadership, "our Commonwealth has been in the forefront in the passage of Liberal, Humane and Progressive legislation." Saltonstall later went to the Senate, succeeded in 1966 by Edward Brooke, who after two terms, lost to Paul Tsongas in 1978, the last time a Republican represented Massachusetts in the Senate.

According to town-by-town results, Scott owes his victory to today's embattled farmers, the truck-driving middle class of suburbia and exurbia. Coakley won the older cities. But in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lynn, Lawrence and Brockton, turnout was light. In small towns and distant suburbs, turnout soared far above the statewide average of 54 percent. Coakley did clobber Brown in academic strongholds, winning 84 percent in Cambridge and Amherst. Can the faculty lounge replace the factory floor as a reliable Democratic base?

Brown's major theme, bannered at his election-night headquarters, proclaimed "The People's Seat." He was not dismissing Ted Kennedy's 47 years of seniority. The 100 chairs in the Senate are often called Harry Reid's or Mitch McConnell's seat. Brown attacked the Massachusetts Legislature's "power grab" approach to filling a Senate seat. In 2004, when Democrats thought John Kerry would vacate his seat, they changed the rules. In 2009, they changed the rules again.

Independents outnumber the two major parties largely because of the disdainful fury Massachusetts moderates and liberals feel toward entrenched legislative leaders, several of whom have been indicted. "Power tends to corrupt," Lord Acton wrote and he never witnessed the Massachusetts Legislature in action. Brown's ads often bracketed Coakley with her fellow Democrats.

Necessity also taught Brown, one of five Republicans in the 40-member state Senate, how to campaign. As Brian C. Mooney wrote in the The Boston Globe Jan. 20, "Brown had much more experience in tough partisan elections than Coakley, and it showed in this campaign. In 2004, the Republican won a close special election and November rematch to capture and then hold his state Senate seat. Coakley, by contrast, won the offices of attorney general and Middlesex district attorney over token Republican opponents."

In a one-party state, Brown benefited from the experience of operatives from Romney's 2008 presidential campaign. They enjoyed a successful trial run for the once and future presidential candidate, proving that conservative ideology does not disable a Republican on Democratic turf.

As Brown goes to Washington, he is aware of the history in "The People's Seat." His predecessors include John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Henry Cabot Lodge (the 19th century one), Henry Cabot Lodge (the 20th century one), John F. Kennedy, and the greatest legislator of the lot, Edward M. Kennedy. In 1841, Emerson wrote, "There is properly no history, only biography." If that observation is not sobering enough, Brown can consult Arnold Schwarzenegger on the merit of Emerson's prediction in 1850: "Every hero becomes a bore at last."