Any Massachusetts voter who pulled the lever for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown in 2010 is on pretty firm ground. They didn’t want Obama then—and they don’t want him now.
Voters who chose President Barack Obama but went for Brown in this week’s special election just canceled out their own vote.
Maybe that’s exactly what they wanted.
Let’s just be clear about what went down in Tuesday’s Boston Massacre: Bay Staters, who voted for Obama over McCain by a 62 to 36 percent margin, rebelled against lackluster Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, and in the process, they also decided for the whole country that Obama only got one year—actually, 364 days—to roll back unemployment, unfreeze lending, curtail global warming and wind down two wars.
Massachusetts to Obama: Time’s up, bro.
If this wake-up call doesn’t do it for Democrats, nothing will. After doing what seemed impossible a mere two years ago—electing a black guy president of the United States—they unlearned three crucial lessons they should have learned by heart a long time ago:
This is still America…
In this country, good looking people win elections, voters are impatient, and as John Travolta noted poignantly in Pulp Fiction, you “don’t f*** with another man’s vehicle.”
Yet stumping on the Sunday before Election Day, Obama tried to breathe life into Coakley by jabbing at the very emblem that helped Brown connect with voters—his pick-up truck—saying, "Forget the truck. Anybody can buy a truck." Why?
Plain-spoken, central casting Brown won by superimposing a red state vibe over blue state Massachusetts. It’s a move right out of Sarah Palin’s playbook—and Obama’s too.
Until Northern, urban Democrats come to terms with the power of this crossover appeal, they’re going to keep losing elections. You don’t mock the truck—you go get your own.
Stop blaming Bush…
George W. Bush may well go down as the worst president in history. That’s duly noted.
Now Democrats need to move on. There’s nothing wrong with putting policy decisions in the context of rolling back the Bush excesses. But a year out is the statute of limitations, and now a new Pottery Barn rule applies to Bush and Obama: He broke it; you bought it.
Play to win…
Let Coakley’s loss be a lesson to future candidates. If you don’t have a fire in your gut, stay home. Over Christmas, she went on vacation while Brown pressed the flesh outside of Fenway Park—just like Obama campaigning in the rain when McCain took it indoors.
Remember this guy? He just wanted it more:
So now Democrats should stop scratching their heads over the fact that voters were so pissed off this time around, they answered “Obamacare” with a guy who supported “Romneycare.”
It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not going to.
Democrats can keep haggling over “Medicare + 5” and “Cadillac plans.” But every now and then they ought to mix in something like “Keep Grandma Plugged In!” or “Life Panels!” so folks know where they're headed.
Conventional wisdom says they need a win—any kind of win—on health care before Brown is seated. But what they really need is a loss. Put healthcare reform to a vote.
Until that happens, Democrats will be left explaining something they’ve yet to explain—why they believe it’s a good idea to extend health coverage to 30 million people without it. Once Republicans vote it down, it’s on them to explain why 30 million people aren’t covered.
And when Obama’s State of the Union comes around next week, he needs a full-on, Aaron Sorkin “I’m Barack Obama, and I am the president” style riff. He has to tell voters, "message received." He has to remind his party in Congress that they have nothing to fear but fear itself, and let his opponents know that he's not afraid to lose. Not an easy task.
Obama to Massachusetts: Game on.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.