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Wayne Trujillo Headshot

Ironies, Unrest and Upsets: Politics and the Power of the People

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We're having a heady season of political drama. Here in Colorado, Governor Bill Ritter announced he wouldn't seek a second term. Having captured both U.S. Senate seats and the governorship within the past few years, Democrats are skittish about maintaining their dominance in the state. But our current dramas are mere sideshows on the political stage.

Forget Game Change, the book that recently made a splash among pundits and politicos and produced several snippets and news cycles of controversy. The upcoming game change unleashed by Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts' Senate race is but a prologue to this year's political dynamics with the denouement yet to be written. But it's the one to watch. While Game Change surveyed yesteryear, or more precisely the last presidential campaign and all its brilliance and backbiting, this game change won't be so much about the past election as it is the next election - the upcoming mid-terms. In the closest thing to a mid-term test, Tuesday's Senate race suggests that more than a few Democrats might fail. Of course, Republicans will make it out to be the equivalent of a final exam with that one race symbolizing a popular grade assigned to the entire Democratic Party and agenda; specifically health care reform.

Opponents of any Democratic agenda (whether it's initiatives that are progressive or even those compromised by political give-and-take) will be emboldened to cast the race as nothing short of the apocalypse - an implosion preceding the triumph of red righteousness over leftist lunacy. However, I doubt the Massachusetts decision is the complete cataclysmic event that people are surmising right now. But make no mistake. Brown's victory over Martha Coakley is stupendous. And all the other adjectives that are flashing across Internet headlines - epic, stunning, shocking, upset of a lifetime.

Beyond the obvious shell shock that Massachusetts elected a Republican to assume the seat held for decades by a man venerated as the "liberal lion," there are several outstanding ironies. First of all, on a lighter note, who would've thought that Republicans from Alabama would take to the Internet, cheering the victory of a former Cosmopolitan centerfold running to claim the seat held by Kennedy in the blue Bay State? Heck, if anybody had been asleep the last few weeks (as some are claiming the Democrats have been), the words Cosmopolitan, centerfold and Bay State would draw inferences of urban elites and Baywatch.

More seriously, beside the political implications, this race is rife with irony, almost as stunning as the upset, itself. Brown, previously a largely unknown state senator, campaigns against Beltway insiders, waging his spirited battle as an outsider. He had a good message and presence. Even though President Obama was already a U.S. senator when he campaigned against Washington's entrenched power and politics, it was barely a few years before that he was also a relatively unknown state senator. He also had a good message and presence. And voters responded in both instances, catapulting their campaigns from long shots to upsets. Each ultimately won in states that hadn't voted for their respective party in a generation or longer (for the office in which each ran), signifying a rearrangement of the political landscape.

For Democrats, perhaps the greatest irony and upset is the loss of the seat held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy for nearly a half century. And in deep blue Massachusetts to boot. The president received a huge boost in his pursuit of the Democratic nomination by the man who held the Massachusetts Senate seat. Now the man who will hold that same seat could conceivably be a huge obstacle in the president's pursuit of health care reform. Another huge irony is that the derailment of health care reform, at least for now, could possibly result with a senator who holds the seat of the man who made it his primary passion. I've seen numerous mentions on Internet blogs that Kennedy is spinning in his grave. Perhaps another past Democratic leader is in a tailspin. As a comment on CNN's Political Ticker stated: "The poor Democrats could not pass a health bill with a solid majority of the House and 60% of the Senate. Lyndon Johnson must be spinning in his grave."

Departed leaders aside, the Brown victory and its ramifications have Democrats spinning now in what some dread could be their political graveyard. Already Democrats are assigning blame; accusing each other of sleepwalking through the last month. Whether this current crisis was caused by Coakley and/or the national Democratic leadership being asleep at the wheel, it's likely that slumber has been disturbed. Perhaps even catastrophic, as Senator Evan Bayh warned, saying that if they're not alert, they could sleep right through an electoral disaster. He told ABC News:

There's going to be a tendency on the part of our people to be in denial about all this, but if you lose Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call, there's no hope of waking up.

That may be true. But I also think Arianna Huffington makes the best case in a recent post. Many times, it isn't the punditry, political class and conventional wisdom that decide the outcome. If that were the case, it's likely neither President Obama nor Senator-elect Brown would have those titles. Some of the most seismic events and causes in American history were initiated not by leaders but by citizens. Whether it's electing a long-shot candidate or demonstrating for civil rights, the people have the power and audacity to effect change. Historically, it's usually when the people lead that reminds both Democrats and Republicans they should be struggling for equality and justice rather than merely political survival.