Learning the lessons of the 2000 election in 2010’s Massachusetts race

The Massachusetts Senate results have got me down. I’ll admit it. I hear statements like those from Barney Frank and Jim Webb, saying that health care reform is now dead, that this was a referendum Democrats can’t ignore, and I get a little blue. I see shades of the 2000 election: so much opportunity lost through the stupid assumption of deserving to win.

Matt Yglesias has it about right today:

If you think back to November of 2008, Democrats won a sweeping electoral victory that left them with 59 Senate seats, a majority in the House, and control of the White House. Then thanks to Arlen Specter Democrats wound up with 60 Senate seats. Now after an impressive win by the Republicans in Massachusetts, the Democrats are back to a majority in the House, control of the White House, and 59 Senate seats. The Democratic Party continues to be more popular than the Republican Party, and the President’s approval rating continues to be over 50 percent.

Which is just to say that while losing the MA Senate seat puts certain objective constraints on what Democrats can do the most important constraints come from within. Nothing about losing an election forces you to bend to the will of the guy who won—just ask the Republicans who lost in 2006, then lost in 2008, then opposed everything Obama proposed, and are now thrilled to have 41 votes in the Senate. The option of responding to this setback with determination exists.

The emphasis is mine. Yglesias goes on to note that while that option exists, it’s not a part of the current Democratic party make-up. “They could go down in history as the people who took bold action to solve that problem, but they prefer not to.” Yep. We will now, in the great Democrat tradition, snatch an even bigger loss from the jaws of defeat.

So, yes, this loss will be met with a frank and full-throated determination to turn a single state’s election into a nationwide crisis of party identity and tea-party triumph. It will be leveraged to question the president’s strength, popularity, political acumen, and overall wisdom. It will be used to further fuel a split between two camps in the Democratic Party.

Why can’t we be smarter than this? Why can’t we just enjoy the majority we still have? I understand Democrats are afraid of encouraging any kind of reduction in employment, but I for one won’t exactly spend my time weeping if some people have to lose their seats in November because they stood up this week and voted to actually save lives by passing a health care bill as soon as humanly possible.

Shouldn’t we have learned in 2000 that election results mean whatever you want them to?  Shouldn’t we have learned, even before that, that a candidate whose résumé implies he should win will not always defeat a candidate who is less qualified but more popular?  Shouldn’t we, Jesus Christ, Democrats, LEARN?

Since clinging to this goddamned useless majority that Democrats seem virtually unwilling to use in any dramatic, effective way trumps actual, practical progress, I guess I’ll join in on National Whiners’ Day  myself.

Dear Massachusetts, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Everyone in D.C., Everyone who voted for Scott Brown, Everyone who voted for Martha Coakley in the primary, Everyone who’s said the word “Massachusetts” today (including myself), and Everyone who can find Mass. on a map:

Suit up, you overpaid, overstrategized jerks. If you insist on taking the Massachusetts defeat personally, at least show that you can learn and grow from the insult. Get energized. Fight a decent fight for once. If health care and Ted Kennedy’s legacy meant anything to anyone — if you’d actually paid attention to the man during his strange, bold, checkered career — you’d see that he wouldn’t want anyone to roll over and let Scott Brown be the new president of the United States.

So stop going on television and the radio and the Internet to talk about how fractured this shows the party is, or how strong the backlash will be. Instead, explain why those things aren’t true. Stand on the Capitol steps every morning, in groups of 5 and 10 and 20, and explain your  case to the American people instead of trying to out-smart them at the polls with over-wonky wimpy candidates who won’t shake hands in the rain.

If you must go on TV and whine, at least do it about the right things. It’s time we say it out loud: Democrats have no guts anymore. It’s much easier to sit in your snug Senate office building (or House office building for you, Mr. Frank) and not risk your government-funded health care plan than to hit the actual road and campaign for something so trivial as helping 40 million Americans escape the grinding anxiety of having no health insurance. Ted Kennedy rode a freakin’ bucking bronco and did a ski jump on a dare, where the prize was bragging rights and making his brother president.  The guy risked his life — sure, foolishly — to make things happen.

That’s the legacy of Ted Kennedy. Dare to fail, Democrats, and dare to be proud of the reasons why. Martha Coakley was a sucktastic candidate, but the issues she ran on shouldn’t mean any less to us just because she didn’t communicate them well. So, if we’re gonna lose — and you all seem to be saying that’s inevitable — let’s do it splendidly and massively. Let’s own our actual beliefs instead of whatever sounds good in the polls.  I don’t care if it starts with the president or with the dog-catcher, but the first person who stands up and says that passing health care reform is more important than getting re-elected will be my new favorite Democrat.

Let’s at least learn one thing from this election, from the 2000 election, from all of the heart-breakers we’ve lost in the last century: Losing is only as powerful as you allow it to be. We have a lot of experience letting it rule our lives; maybe we should try something new.

Yours, etc.

Now, to help me get through the day, I offer an anthem.

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