I think it will be decades before activist Democrats in Massachusetts get over the loss that Martha Coakley suffered to Scott Brown in 2010 .
I don’t think the local Democratic Town Committees ( disclosure:I serve on Hingham’s Democratic Town Committee), ever really seriously and effectively ‘debriefed’ that loss.
I know the consensus was that we did not turn out our supporters – ‘reliable Democrats’ as it is termed.
I recall having a meeting where far too few of our members got together informally and discussed what had occurred. There were different theories that were bandied about : Martha Coakley as an ineffective candidate was admitted to; brushed over, from my perspective, was that one of the details of the Affordable Care Act had just ‘made the news’ right smack dab in the closing weeks of that Special Election: ‘good’ or ‘premium’ or it was called ‘Cadillac’ health care benefits, the type negotiated by Unions in which pay increases are foregone in return for good health insurance benefits, was going to be ‘taxed’. It sent the Unions into an uproar. Another disclosure: my family is a Union family. I can recall the faxes brought home by my husband from outraged Unions concerning this issue.
The political science major that I am and always will be – GO FRIARS! – immediately saw the dilemma Martha Coakley was placed in: all of this was happening in the middle of the Special Senate campaign and while she was being given campaign fundraisers orchestrated by Rahm Emanuel. Remember the campaign commercial that Scott Brown’s campaign ran of her attending a fundraiser in DC while the Special Senate campaign was going on? As someone who has a degree in political science, I would say that was one of the most perfectly timed political ads I have ever witnessed.
Talk about pressure – she needed the campaign money, no doubt she was getting pressure from Rahm Emanuel and the donors he had lined up; we all know Emanuel dislikes progressives and is a classic neo-liberal, and that he loves the ‘triangulation’ theory of politics popularized under Bill Clinton, who Emanuel worked for, and yes, to a major extent a theory and practice pursued by Barack Obama under whom Emanuel served as Chief of Staff, and all while having to react to, or ignore, what she had to know was being received so negatively by ‘reliable Democrats’ – Unions and their families.
In my opinion, that’s when the tide turned.
It didn’t matter how many doors got knocked on, or how many phone calls got made.
Too many informed, ‘reliable Democrats’ KNEW that the Affordable Care Act prior to that Special Election, as written, was going to tax their hard fought for good health care benefits – all obtained through collective bargaining ,which would itself - collective bargaining – then come under subsequent attack by Governors such as Scott Walker and groups like ALEC; already the public option had been jettisoned, which polled so popularly and which Barack Obama had campaigned upon and then dropped once in office, so it was looking really grim for middle class families.
That’s what Martha Coakley was dealing with – a perfect storm of being considered a stiff politician who made dumb, unnecessary remarks about shaking hands in the cold as if she couldn’t be bothered to do it, as well as being caught between a rock and a hard place – ticking off Rahm Emanuel who had the money she needed, or ticking off the Unions whose votes were necessary to push her past her opponent by supporting the bill as written at that precise moment in time. Her opponent, a slickly packaged politician, Scott Brown, was artfully pushing the meme ‘that he was a regular guy’.
We know the ending to the story: she lost. Lots and lots of ‘reliable Democrats’ stayed home.
That’s my recollection, but it seems to have gotten glossed over and reworked to the lowest common denominator: certain ‘reliable Democrats somehow ‘forgot’ to vote. And we can never ‘let them ‘forget’ to vote ever again.
We have now adopted as de-riguer that we will knock on doors until our knuckles bleed, make phone calls until batteries are dead and we have been told that while we activists have demanded signs, and gotten them, that ‘new science,’ new studies’, show that political signs and visibilities have a negligible effect upon campaigns.
That may be true. I like to think that if I am shown evidence I will accept the results even if they run contrary to my beliefs.
But one of MY beliefs is that at this precise moment in time, what I like to call the transitional information age, there are far too many people who ‘cling to their political traditions’ to paraphrase an infamous Barack Obama quote, and that we need to respect that.
People want to contribute to political activity in the way they feel most comfortable doing, and if that means holding a sign in the early morning on a highway overpass, or putting a lawn sign in their yard it is too abrupt to just say ‘no’ you cannot do this, that it has a ‘negligible effect’.
That’s like saying to the volunteer who is willing to do this activity – YOU are having a negligible effect; it diminishes them. It causes senseless hurt feelings.
I’m all for science, I see the benefit to person to person contact, I love that it re-enforces a sense of community, that it is an essential element of real democracy – the art of persuasion and listening. But so is all forms of being willing to volunteer. If the use of political signs is something that is ‘negligible’ then I suggest we ease into that condition slowly.
Additionally, it is a mistake to assume that ‘reliable Democrats’ forgot to vote:the biggest lesson is: reliable Democrats are informed, and in 2010, they sent a message.