James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Predictably ‘shocking’ Brown win makes Dems blue, but election’s meaning far from black & white

Posted by James McPherson on January 20, 2010

“In a stunning upset that reshaped the U.S. political landscape…” “… an upset victory of epic proportions…” “… one of the biggest political upsets in modern history…” Yeah, sure. Yawn.

Reactions from both sides of the political aisle after yesterday’s Massachusetts election were as predictable as they were meaningless. Lots of celebrating on one side, much gnashing of teeth on the other. Many on both sides predict/hope/fear that Congressional health care reform may be dead. (Though he also overstates the “stunning upset” angle, Chris Cillizza offers a good review of winners and losers.)

Maybe with an electorate as uninvolved as ours (and no, religiously watching Fox News or MSNBC, an activity likely to make voters stupider rather than politically smarter, doesn’t count as political involvement), we deserve to have such an abysmal health care system. Besides, it appeared that any health care plan coming out of Congress was going to do far more for insurance companies than for most Americans with poor health care.

Still, I hope the surprise voiced by so many “experts” in politics and the media over Brown’s victory is posturing on their part, and that they’re not really dumb enough to be shocked. If they are, it again raised the question of why they’re considered “experts.” In fact, Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley falls short of shocking for several reasons:

  • Though he’s a conservative in a blue state, Brown comes across as someone personally far more like Barack Obama than Dick Cheney, and he downplayed his Republican ties while raising funds in Obama-like fashion. While he may think like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party crowd (and gladly takes their money), he doesn’t say it out loud. He’ll probably end up as a moderate (and definitely not a “family values” icon), just to guarantee his future electability.
  • Coakley ran the worst campaign of anyone since, well, John McCain. She didn’t much seem to want the position.
  • Massachusetts isn’t as blue as some people keep pretending. Yes, Ted Kennedy was a god there–but then the same is true to a lesser extent of almost all longterm incumbents who bring lots of pork and attention to their home states. But keep in mind, this is the same state that elected Mitt Romney–perhaps the most credible 2012 GOP presidential candidate–as its governor.
  • The party in power typically loses midterm elections. And even though it came earlier than most, this was a midterm election. Incidentally, Brown will have to run again in 2012, when the turnout (because it’s a presidential election year) will be much higher.
  • The 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate was a freak event–and, considering the conservatism of many of those Dems, largely meaningless except as a further example of how stupidly undemocratic the U.S. Senate is. By the way, even if they should win a majority in 2010 (my prediction: they won’t), those conservatives who think they’ll achieve any major legislative goals under the current system are delusional. The system works only for those who exemplify the “party of no.”
  • Finally, the result is unsurprising because American politics in general (including the politics of Barack Obama) are so conservative. But then I’ve devoted much of a book to that issue.
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2 Responses to “Predictably ‘shocking’ Brown win makes Dems blue, but election’s meaning far from black & white”

  1. “and no, religiously watching Fox News or MSNBC, an activity likely to make voters stupider rather than politically smarter, doesn’t count as political involvement),”

    lol!!!

    ” a further example of how stupidly undemocratic the U.S. Senate is”

    What? Back room deals and 60 vote supermajorities don’t count as Democratic? 😉

    Yeah, the Senate has really collapsed into itself. If 59 senators out of 100 is a stunning defeat, what’s a tie look like? If 59 Senators can’t get legislation passed, how many do they need? 60 didn’t seem to help them out very much either. Ron Paul said it very good a few weeks ago on the Rachel Maddow show when he said Americans were mad at both parties for failing to govern.

  2. James McPherson said

    It would be nice if the obvious failures of both Republican and Democratic majorities in recent years would prompt true bipartisanship of the Ronald Reagan-Tip O’Neill variety–a return to the days when, despite their ideological differences, members of Congress seemed to care more about governing in the interest of the American people, more than for the benefit of themselves or their parties.

    But I’m not optimistic, especially after today’s Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance will allow those in politics to get even richer, with even more incentive to serve corporations over individuals.

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