Analysis: ‘Change’ Message Worked Against Obama’s Party

Posted January 20, 2010 at 10:16am

Republican Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts’ special Senate election will do a lot more than take away the Democrats’ filibuster-busting 60th seat.Here are a few takeaways from Tuesday’s election:Democrats Haven’t Pocketed ‘Change’Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign themes of “change— and “hope— struck a chord with most voters who had wearied of Republican George W. Bush and worried about the nation’s unraveling economy.Obama delivered on the change part, with a $787 billion economic stimulus measure, federal government interventions to shore up Wall Street and the auto industry, and highly controversial efforts to overhaul health care and environmental policy. But a lot of voters, disgruntled by a still-staggering economy, aren’t seeing the hope yet.As longtime Democratic consultant Peter Fenn summed it up a few hours before the polls closed, “The change message still works. Only now it’s working against Obama and the Democrats as the party in power.—Things aren’t that much different now, he said, than in November 2008: “People are upset, angry and nervous.—“That change theme is a dagger pointed at Democrats,— agrees Ron Faucheux, president of the Clarus public opinion research firm.That’s One Angry Tiger the Elephant Is RidingJust as the Democrats’ surge in 2006 and 2008 was jet-fueled by the anger of activists on the left toward Bush, the Republicans’ comeback hopes this year are driven by conservative populists — many affiliated with the upstart “tea party— movement — who are outraged about Obama.“The message from Massachusetts is that populist anger is real and that Democrats should not underestimate the force of anger in American politics,— said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington, D.C.’s Brookings Institution.“A populist uprising against the privileged classes— is how Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican consultant and author of “Rendezvous With Destiny,— describes the backlash.But there is a cautionary note for the GOP. The tea partiers in general appear to be more conservative than Republican, and perhaps more populist than establishment conservative.“Republicans who don’t understand what is going on — by, say, defending big bankers against paying fees for their participation in TARP — could also suffer,— Shirley warns.That Better Be One Heck of a Speech“Look for Obama to pivot to jobs in his State of the Union address. He will become more populist in his rhetoric,— West said.It is impossible to overestimate how important this speech will be, for the Democrats’ fortunes in November’s midterm elections and perhaps for Obama’s entire presidency. Soaring rhetoric about American values got him to the White House, but this is different. He needs to explain, in a clear and persuasive manner, what he is doing as president and why it is the best course for the nation. That is something at which Obama, despite his powerful communications skills, has not excelled.And Finally, a Word About Reaping What You SowThere are few things I hate more than situational ethics in politics, something at which both parties excel. And there is no small irony that what happened Tuesday in Massachusetts would never have happened if it hadn’t been for a doozy of a ploy pulled by the Democrats in 2004.Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) that year was the Democratic Party’s challenger to President Bush, and the Senate vacancy that would have occurred had he won would have been filled by Mitt Romney, then the state’s Republican governor. So the state Legislature’s dominant Democrats changed the law to institute a special election to fill a Senate vacancy, stripping the governor of his appointment power.The change wound up depriving Gov. Deval Patrick (D) of the authority to permanently fill the vacancy created when Kennedy died. Though the Democrats doubled down on the situational ethics front by amending the law to allow Patrick to appoint Kennedy associate Paul Kirk as a temporary placeholder, the remaining three years of the unexpired term now will be filled by the winner of the special election that the Democrats wrought — a race they never thought they could lose, but did.