Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts has set off a firestorm of rhetoric everywhere, suggesting – nay, burying – the Democratic party before it’s dead. All of this hype flourishes, despite the fact that this type of political trend happens so routinely that it’s almost predictable. Is this everyone making a mountain out of a molehill? Or are the Democratic Party and its agenda truly in trouble?
Florida is perhaps the next big battle ground in this political war, with a purportedly well-liked Republican governor running against a conservative former state politician, as well as a South Floridian Democratic congressman, for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez. If the Democrats win this seat, their 60-seat majority would be restored. Despite Obama’s 2-point win in Florida, his approval numbers have dropped here, just as they have nationwide.
Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart recently mocked the perceived fear of losing a single Democratic seat in the Senate, suggesting that Democrats think that 60/100 is a simple majority. He has a point, ignoring for a moment that the Senate’s rules require 60 votes to end debate on a bill. His point is that as long as there is still a majority, it isn’t the end of the world for Democrats. It just means that they’ll need more Republicans to join them on certain issues – issues that would cater to a more moderate viewpoint.
Additionally, every political commentator knows that after a Presidential election, where the White House and the Congress are run by the same party, the first Congressional mid-term election usually results in the President’s party losing a significant number of seats. In recent memory, Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1994, the first mid-term election after President Clinton took office in 1993. Democrats won the House of Representatives majority during the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency. Why is it surprising that Democrats may lose a few seats now that they control both houses of Congress and the White House?
One thing has been bothering me about Senator-Elect Scott Brown and his election, however. His victory speech Tuesday night, as well as the Republican punditry, have tied Brown’s upset victory to the Bay State’s citizens’ discontent over the health care bill. Do they really expect the rest of us to believe that the citizens of the one state that actually has a public health care system, that mandates that every employer provide and every person obtain health insurance, would really cast their votes based on a single bill that wouldn’t affect them? Come on. Give us some credit.
Coming back to Florida, the Miami Hearld spoke with a number of candidates in both parties, and noted that while Florida has always (except for the ‘08 presidential election) been strongly Republican, it appears that more Democrats are in stronger and more favorable positions for state-wide office when compared to their Republican counterparts. Gubernatorial candidate, Alex Sink (the current Chief Financial Officer), appears to have currently exceeded her Republican opponent in fundraising and in opinion polls. Furthermore, Florida’s Republicans seem to be increasingly favoring the more conservative Marco Rubio rather than the more moderate-leaning Governor Charlie Crist. Florida’s Independents may be more attracted to Sink, who has stayed away from President Obama and the national hot-button debates, despite being one of Obama’s high-level representatives during the presidential campaign.
Florida is in a very different position than Massachusetts. Our politics are very different. Our economy is different. The challenges our citizens face even vary from region to region. Loyalties vary widely from region to region. Broward County alone has the single largest Democratic Executive Committee membership in the state, and certainly one of the largest in the nation. In fact, until former Senator Bob Graham’s retirement (and Mel Martinez’s election), Florida had two Democrats in the Senate. It’s probably more accurate to call Florida a moderate state, which makes independents ever more crucial to political success.
Now that Obama has been in office for a full year, he has faced a great deal of criticism for not accomplishing his stated goals. One has to admit, however, that he had a pretty good start. Everyone seems to forget, however, that the President is the head of only one branch of government – the executive, whose job it is to actually put into action the laws and policy set by the legislative branch, within the legal framework set by the judicial branch. In order for Obama to appear to actually be making progress on his agenda, he needs a Congress that will work with him.
But after Obama announced last year that he wanted to close the detention camps at Guantanamo, because of an unreal hysteria about where to house the detainees, Congress, in its appropriations bills, forbade the use of any funds for the transportation, housing and prosecution of Guantanamo detainees on U.S. soil. Many other countries have refused to take in the detainees, leaving the administration with an unusual quandary – there’s no place to put these potentially very dangerous inmates. One of the greatest and most humiliating scars of the War on Terror remains, not because of the White House, but because of politicians worried about an imaginary threat that could bounce them out of office this year. So Gitmo remains the black eye it was before November ’08.
Obama has been criticized for the bank bailout, which he did advocate for. Don’t forget, however, it was implemented and devised by the outgoing Bush administration. But it was Congress that passed the legislation, and they have to deal with it. Iraq and Afghanistan remain a problem, although we hear significantly less about Iraq in the media these days. Does that mean that there is less violence, more rebuilding and progress in Baghdad? I hope so. Perhaps if we actually are able to pull out most of our forces from Iraq by Obama’s deadline, we will be able to finally recognize at least one major achievement. Obama promised an escalation of the war on terror against Al Qaeda, and we’ve seen a surge in forces sent to Afghanistan. Whether it works in the end or not, we have to recognize that the Commander in Chief is doing more in one year than his predecessor did over 7 years in Afghanistan.
One fact of life remains: presidential candidates initially take a more extreme perspective to win over their party’s support for the primaries, then come back to the center for the general election. Once in office, they tend to return to their previous right-leaning or left-leaning roots, causing a significant discontent among moderates and independents. So why is there so much political whining over single-seat victories and losses? Because it briefly energizes people. It draws viewers and readers, which also draws advertisers. In the end, it’s all about the dollars.
The rhetoric brings to mind one of my favorite lines from Monty Pyton’s Search for the Holy Grail: “I’m not dead; I’m getting better. I feel fine. I think I’ll go for a walk. I feel happy, I feel happy.” [of course this line is immediately followed by the speaker being fatally struck on the head with a club]. Given enough time, we’ll see whether Brown’s victory leads to the end of the Democratic agenda. But I wouldn’t bet money on it.