Calling home Sunday night, I found that the otherwise-serene politics of Boston suburbia had been transformed into a frenzied state. My parents’ home phone had been ringing constantly with recorded messages from President Obama and dozens of calls from campaign volunteers. My inbox has filed with e-mails from Joe Biden and John Kerry, and my phone chimes occasionally with a friendly text informing me that Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for senate, will raise my taxes.
As Coakley’s quiet shuffle to victory has degenerated into a dramatic tossup, Democrats around the country have been left scratching their heads. What could possibly have gone wrong? After all, this is a state where, to a great extent, saying that you are a Democratic politician is to repeat yourself.
Scott Brown has surged in the polls, even though he does not represent the citizens of Massachusetts. He opposes gay marriage, which is out of step with Massachusetts’ progressive views on the topic. He opposes national health care reform, even though it resembles the Massachusetts reform he supported and is desperately needed. Brown is running in the state that, as Bill Clinton noted yesterday, “gave birth to accountable government and stood up against the abuse of power,” but opposes holding banks accountable. Most strikingly, his policies are at odds with the progressive advocacy for the voiceless featured prominently by the late Ted Kennedy, whose seat he is fighting for.
Much of the blame lies with the Coakley campaign, whose strategy of acting like the race was already won was ill-suited to the real campaign at hand. The complacency that came from not taking the race seriously, along with a number of avoidable gaffes, did much to damage her support.
But besides campaign missteps, the race reveals some changing electoral dynamics. Democrats, anxious for quick victories, are less enthusiastic after observing the roadblocks President Obama has faced in implementing his agenda. Unaffiliated voters, who initially supported Obama or gave him the benefit of the doubt, are wondering whether he is really on their side.
What the cacophony of the campaign has failed to make clear is that Obama has only been in office a short while. As he pointed out yesterday, “We have had one year to make up for eight. It hasn’t been quick, it hasn’t been easy, but we’ve begun to deliver on the change you voted for.”
When President Obama took office, he inherited many problems: two foreign wars, the legacy of Guantánamo and torture, an economy in recession, a budget unbalanced by President Bush’s reckless spending, a health care system that leaves 15 percent of Americans with no coverage and many more with insufficient care, among others. The magnitude and scope the of problems he’s had to face this year has meant that, no matter how much he does to solve them, there will still be a way to call some programs a failure.
In addition, the president has received no help from Congressional Republicans, who are determined to obstruct any progress in order to do political damage to the Democratic Party. This is why, one year into his presidency, 177 of President Obama’s nominees for federal office, including many nominated for offices related to national security, remain unconfirmed. It is why, after pretending to bargain over the details of health care reform, Senate Republicans, like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, admitted this was only a tactic to block any meaningful legislation. In this atmosphere, bipartisanship and meaningful action have become mutually exclusive.
And though President Obama’s campaign was funded with many small contributions from ordinary people, Congress has been as susceptible as always to the lobbying efforts of moneyed interests. In 2009, 2.5 billion dollars were spent on federal lobbying efforts on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars donated to candidates by corporate political action committees. Unsurprisingly, there has been an underwhelming amount of Congressional enthusiasm for major overhaul of the financial industry.
The dismal state of the economy and the resistance in Washington to major change has given voters the right to be impatient. Democrats must remind voters that we, not the pro-status quo, obstructionist Republicans, are the party fighting for that change.
Andrew Feldman is a junior in Morse College and the Vice President of the Yale College Democrats.