Whether or not Martha Coakley wins the Senate seat today in Massachusetts, the battle for the interpretation of what it all means is already underway.
From our point of view, the spin from right-wingers of both red and blue persuasion will go something like this. “Republican Scott Brown rode a populist uprising. People are unhappy about health reform. They are unhappy about the Obama agenda. They are angry about the economy. So Democrats have to back off their agenda of decent health reform, Employee Free Choice Act, climate change bill and immigration reform. The White House will even have to back off its diplomacy -first foreign policy.”
“To win in 2010 means to go slow. Don’t do so much. Be cautious,” they will opine.
That will be a terrible misinterpretation of events.
Yes, there is anger at the mind-boggling job loss and economic insecurity. And there is disappointment among the most active of the Democratic base on the health care compromises.
Some in the Democratic Party think, “So what if the base is angry? They have no where else to go.” Well, yes, they do. They can stay home.
And that is exactly what was happening in Massachusetts before the president got there on Sunday to breathe life into the campaign. Democrats, who have a 3 to 1 registration rate over Republicans, were sitting on the sidelines for numerous reasons – including the confusing and compromised health care struggle, lack of a stronger focus on shifting the wealth of the banks and Wall Street to Main Street, a poorly run Coakley campaign and a clever push by the Republican Brown who has kept his distance from Palin, McCain and the rest of the Republican ultra-right crowd.
Brown walked right through the opening left for him by timid Democrats who weren’t stepping up to the plate and successfully painted himself as a working-class champion while painting Coakley and the Democrats as out-of- touch elites. AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka hit it dead-on when he said workers and their families won’t be taken for granted.
All of this is not meant to minimize the impact of racism, coded or not, that emanates from the GOP, Tea Partiers and their ilk continued in Massachusetts with their messages of “tax-and-spend Democrats” out for only the minorities and immigrants, and all of the rest of their garbage.
While a number of grassroots-oriented organizations raised the alarm on the situation in Massachusetts a few weeks ago, among them women’s groups, it wasn’t until President Obama went to the state and fired off a speech that talked about taking on the banks, creating jobs, getting health reform done and finishing the “change” agenda that things started to get fired up.
It’s that kind of leadership that the country needs to take on the corporate and political forces. While such leadership is needed, however, the voters that elected this country’s first Black president cannot sit on the sidelines and take things for granted.
It might sound cliché, but democracy, in fact, is not a spectator sport. What was said during the campaign, “It’s not about me, it’s about your ability to make change,” needs to be said again, understood and acted upon.
The White House and the Democrats will have to stick to their guns on health care but make a major shift in the direction of a massive jobs program, radical curbs on big finance and shifting wealth from Wall Street to Main Street if they expect to come out ahead in 2010. If they make those shifts and if the peoples’ movements line up behind those issues, real change is not just possible but much more likely.