Having grown up in Massachusetts, I never bought into the idea that the state was that much more liberal than most others. The dominant media there is not the center-left Boston Globe but the right and far-right talk radio shows that pervade the Bay State as they do the rest of the country.
Beyond the usual right-wing standard-bearers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, there are home-grown shock jocks like Howie Carr, who delights his audiences with slurs about Hispanic immigrants and jokes about African-American rappers.
The two idiots who baited Hillary Clinton before the 2008 New Hampshire primary with the chant “iron my shirts” were affiliated with Boston’s WBCN, which once was a leading progressive anti-war station (the original home of Danny Schecter “the news dissector”) before it was sold off and evolved into just another source of loud and obnoxious talk.
So, why should it be such a surprise that a guy like Scott Brown, who played to that jock-like mentality, would catch the fancy of many Bay Staters? Especially given the inchoate anger of people who are suffering from a wretched economy and who can take some perverse pleasure in punishing someone like Martha Coakley, who slipped up on where Curt Schilling stood on the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.
Still, ever since Tuesday night – the latest Massachusetts “shot heard round the world” – politicians and pundits have been analyzing what the voters’ message was. According to the dominant analysis, the voters of Massachusetts were “sending a message” to Washington about bipartisanship.
That’s what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid heard. ”The American people want us to work together,” he said. And he was not alone in hearing a call for greater cooperation on the tough issues facing the United States.
However, if that was the intended message from Massachusetts voters, it was a message of stupid.
The last thing that the election of Scott Brown will do is to get the Republicans to be more cooperative with President Barack Obama and the Democrats. Indeed, now that the Republicans have tasted blood – realizing that their strategy of obstruction is paying off – there is absolutely no political reason why they should make any meaningful compromises.
In other words, the logical result of the Brown election will be more Washington gridlock, which GOP leaders think will give them a powerful campaign theme about Democratic ineptness and failure. That, in turn, will likely mean a major Republican sweep in November’s congressional elections and thus more gridlock as the Republicans seek to ensure that Obama is a one-termer.
And, if the Republicans do regain total control of the U.S. government in 2013 – maybe with Sarah Palin as President – the nation can expect a reprise of George W. Bush: more tax cuts tilted to the rich, more swaggering foreign policy, more unrestrained corporate power, more right-wing religious fervor, more neglect of global warming and environmental dangers, and more deficits.
Is that the future the Massachusetts voters wanted to presage with Scott Brown’s election to fill the Senate seat formerly held by John F. Kennedy and his brother Ted? Perhaps, it is.
Perhaps the people of Massachusetts want to be in the vanguard of a really stupid America, one that continues to ignore real challenges and continues to drift toward a unique combination of Big Power military and Third World debt.
In his post-election comments – when he wasn’t pimping out his daughters as “available” – Sen.-elect Brown was explaining that a key secondary selling point in clinching his victory was his opposition to Obama’s plan to try some terrorism suspects in civilian courts, rather than military tribunals, a favorite topic of right-wing talk radio.
Most voters, Brown noted, don’t think that accused terrorists deserve the constitutional protections of the American legal system. “In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them," he said in his victory speech.
And recent polls seem to back Brown up. Many voters apparently have no historical appreciation for the reasoning behind the habeas corpus principle of English law or the thinking of the American Founders, who understood the need to protect individuals from abuses of government tyranny.
Instead, the “Dirty Harry” tough-guy-ism of ignoring the law and just shooting the “bad guys” has deeply infected the American psyche.
For the past three decades, vigilante-ism also has been skillfully exploited by politicians from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Indeed, any politician who dares suggest that legal principles are important can expect to be hooted down as an ACLU-card-carrying wimp. Remember Michael Dukakis in 1988.
This message from the Brown victory should be particularly chilling to civil libertarians who have argued that Obama should go even further in rejecting Bush-style kangaroo courts. Lacking any media infrastructure that compares to the vast right-wing echo chamber, progressives and other advocates for the rule of law must recognize that they are losing this debate.
Massachusetts voters also were sending another message on Tuesday, that politics should be a fun diversion, like some reality TV show where the cool guy wins out over the serious gal.
The United States has seen this trivial pursuit of politics before, especially in Election 2000 when the refrain was that George W. Bush was someone you’d “like to have a beer with” while Al Gore was a tedious know-it-all.
In the Massachusetts Senate race, Brown drove a truck and hung out with ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, Massachusetts football star Doug Flutie, and one of the actors from the TV show “Cheers,” which was set in a fictional Boston bar.
By comparison, state Attorney General Martha Coakley thought Schilling was a Yankees fan. Plus, she looked so uptight, so straight, so b-o-r-i-n-g.
In other words, despite the experience of Bush’s disastrous presidency, the American voters are still enthralled with how they “feel” about a candidate, not those tiresome questions about experience, judgment and policy prescriptions.
Brown, a former nude male model, began embarrassing the state soon after the votes were tallied, when he took the national stage to accept his victory. To groans even from his supporters, Brown declared that his two daughters were “available,” presumably for guys looking for dates.
Brown’s comment about his daughters shocked even the Right’s madcap oracle Glenn Beck, who is known for his own off-the-wall remarks. Still, Beck thought Brown – in inviting men to make moves on his own daughters – was demonstrating the creepy behavior of a sexual predator.
“I want a chastity belt on this man,” Beck said. “I want his every move watched in Washington. I don’t trust this guy. ... This one could end with a dead intern. ... I’m just saying: Congratulations, now let’s monitor him. Let’s put an ankle bracelet on him. Let’s just know where he is at all times.”
Massachusetts voters may have thought they were sending some kind of message to the nation with their choice of Scott Brown. And surely they have thrown a wrench into the legislative process, whether on health care or on regulating Wall Street.
But whatever Massachusetts thought it was saying, it comes across as a message of stupid.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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This story was published on January 21, 2010.