Late Tuesday night, Scott Brown of Massachusetts won the special election for Senator Ted Kennedy’s senate seat. Brown is a Republican, but managed to win in one of the bluest states in the country. And Brown isn’t moderate either. He’s in favor of torture, doesn’t believe that gay people deserve the right to marry and is anti-choice. And, as has been in the news quite often recently, he’s vowed to be the 41st vote against Obama’s health care legislation, opening the door to a congressional filibuster.
As a Massachusetts Democrat, though, I’m not angry at him or even with my fellow Massachusetts citizens. Instead, I’m angry at the Democratic Party. A little over a year ago, we elected an incredibly charismatic young man into office. The party had energy, enthusiasm and seemed ready to lead. And somewhere between then and now, we lost all of that.
Pundits have posited that Martha Coakley’s run for the seat was hamstrung by the short campaign, which allowed Brown to make it an issue of personality rather than policies. But I can’t figure out why they were surprised. Did they honestly think that personality would not be a key issue in the election? Votes are cast not for a set of ideas, but instead for the person who holds them.
At a gut level, people know that issues change frequently, but people change less often. Furthermore, the average American does not live a strictly “logical” life. SUVs are not the most efficient vehicles, but it certainly feels good to climb into a hummer. Ice cream and steak aren’t nutritionist’s favorites, but most of us acknowledge that living to 85 instead of 84 really does not matter much if you have not enjoyed the ride. Any salesman will advise you to appeal to emotion, not just to intellect (which, incidentally, Drew Westen also told us). So for starters, the Democratic Party needs to run politicians with personalities, because, incidentally, they usually win.
Primaries should not be about choosing the candidate most connected with the obscure mechanisms of machine politics, but rather choosing the candidate with the best profile. Lack of political experience? Who cares? The Republicans, not to mention Barack Obama, have proven that choosing a charismatic candidate without a thin record works pretty well. How many years was McCain in the Senate? Well, I don’t want to count that high, but Obama’s count is easy — just four. And Clinton and Bush were never there.
But if the election was a referendum on national politics, then let me say this: It’s time for the Democrats to show some leadership and make it seem like they care. Perhaps we should take a lesson from the Republicans — who toe the party line and vote together. As far as I’m concerned, giving congressmen a national forum to about the health care bill is fine, but the complainers better not be from my party, because last time I checked, health care is something we would like to see passed.
Incumbents that refuse to vote for a key issue because they are worried about the next primary or general election are not doing the party any good. They should be pointed to the Republican caucus door and open up a primary in his state for his seat. Maybe the Democrats will be able to find someone who can win.
It’s time to stop sacrificing issues to save seats and to start sacrificing seats to save issues. With that tact, I’m willing to bet that the Democrats will lose fewer seats than we expect, and we might actually triumph when it counts most.
Leadership doesn’t have to be about cracking heads or drawing blood. Principle, integrity, empathy and compassion will suffice. But leadership requires continuing to fight when things don’t seem to be going right. Leadership is about inspiring a group to achieve a higher goal. We can see those higher goals. Now it’s time to find that 59+1 to take us there.
Benjamin Daus-Haberle is a sophomore in Davenport College.