Monday, October 1, 2012

Reflections on the Warren/Brown contest

This election campaign could be filled with important issues, but it's been a disappointment, both nationally and in my state, Massachusetts. In the Warren/Brown contest, the biggest issue has been trying to figure out how wrong it was for Elizabeth Warren to list herself as part Native American. In no way can I understand why this is a major issue.

Maybe Scott Brown is pushing this issue, and he is, to play on class resentments. Now that's an issue with some meat on it. Elizabeth Warren represents a liberal/academic elite that supports higher taxes to fund ever more government programs. Personally, I'm not sure whether Warren in fact supports higher taxes, but I've met enough academics who do, so why should I check out her actual positions? That may not be my attitude, but I bet it's a common one.

 The Real Massachusetts
I realize the Massachusetts is supposed to be a true-blue state where these liberal views should win hands-down. However, Massachusetts actually has a lot of blue-collar workers. (All states do--they perform those important service jobs.) We often elect Republican governors, including from 1990 to 2006. We have a flat state income tax, not a progressive one.

The election of Scott Brown in the special election in 2010 showed that our habit of electing Democrats to the Senate wasn't unbreakable. Brown won a clear victory over Martha Coakley, a decent Attorney General (in that she hasn't had a major embarrassing scandal), but a cold-fish as a campaigner and a typical, uninspiring liberal.

Pluses and Minuses
Elizabeth Warren has a better resume than Coakley as someone who understands financial issues and headed up the reform for consumer credit. However, her academic career and her talking points make her sound like another hack liberal. Nonetheless, I don't think she is. With her solid understanding of financial issues, she could be quite an asset in the Senate.

This isn't to say that Scott Brown doesn't have strong points too. He has been a swing vote on some issues, like the repeal of DADT. However, on other core issues like budget discipline (the sequester) and repealing Obamacare, Brown talks just like any other Republican. He's not a bridge to compromise on those weighty issues, so he's better than a typical GOP senator, but not by much.

So who has more appeal in Massachusetts? If it was a race of a garden-variety liberal against a truly independent moderate, I think the moderate would win. We don't have a majority of true liberals here--just 30.3% according to Gallup. However, Brown isn't as moderate in his votes as he pretends, and that may be his undoing.

The race may hinge on personality, not issues. If that's the case, Brown will win if Warren continues to sound like a hectoring liberal academic. But Brown's supporters better stop acting like spoiled frat boys with their mocking war whoops. I doubt that's the way to convince independents.

Campaign roundup:


Anastasios said...

Maybe what would really be helpful to a MA Republican would be to position himself or herself along the lines of Olympia Snowe circa 2007. That is someone who is fiscally moderate but willing to consider tax increases, solid on civil rights issues (including LGBT), and willing to reach compromise on social/welfare issues such as health care (I found it interesting that much of Senator Snowe's initial criticism of the ACA was actually from the left, namely that the subsidies weren't big enough and didn't reach enough people). However, given present political reality, it would be very hard for such a person to exist -- even Olympia Snow could not pull it off after late 2009, which I suspect is the reason she retired. The Democrats would negotiate with such a person, but only with weary sighs and rolled eyes, and the GOP would shoot on sight.

The sad truth may be that Scott Brown is as good as the present array of forces will allow a Massachusetts Republican to be -- that is, he is trying to be far enough to the right to still exist in the GOP while stretching far enough the other way to win in MA. If he ends up losing because his voting record is too conservative and his positions too much from the GOP script, then he may indicate that such a balance is simply not possible these days. In that, he may just be an exclamation point to the end of the Mitt Romney story, who after all has also found that being a Republican within the borders of MA is not the same as being one outside of them.

If Brown really does want to be a moderate from MA (and I don't really think he does, I think he wants to be a conservative who speaks enough "Mass Moderate" to get elected), then maybe he should go the way of Angus King and run as an independent. Of course, that would still leave open the question of which caucus he would join. The state of being a political independent can, in truth, last about one election.

ModeratePoli said...

I disagree that Scott Brown is a conservative pretending to be a moderate--I think he's a moderate in a national party that abhors moderates. However, you have an equal chance of being right. From his outward behavior, who knows which is he? If we can't tell the difference, is there one? I can think he's a moderate, but he stills votes and quotes the party line way too much.

I can understand why he doesn't go independent--it's hard in this two party system unless you're a very well established politician, which Brown isn't.

I can think of only one politician who has gone independent and been returned to office in a subsequent year. Oops, I was mixing up Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, both senators from Vermont. I guess I don't know of any politician who has had more than one term as an independent. Maybe Angus King will. I'm certainly interested in how that works out.

Anastasios said...

I guess the prime example of a successful independent would be Bernie Sanders, who served eight terms in the House as an Independent and then went on to the Senate. Of course, he is from Vermont, which like Maine is a kind of cranky place given to bucking national patterns. You may well be right that it would be much more difficult in a more populous, more mainstream state like MA.

It is also interesting that, contrary to what one might expect, successful independents seem to be more on the ideological wings rather than trying to inhabit a space between the parties. Sanders of course describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, and Angus King is in many ways to the left of the current Democratic center. Joe Lieberman comes to mind as a "moderate" independent, but as you say that got him through one election only, and no one thinks it would get him through another (although such conventional wisdom is often wrong).