Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley may be a good person and a dedicated public servant, but thanks to her gut-wrenching loss to tea-bagging Republican Scott Brown in the race for the US Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy, Coakley is now — quite rightly — a figure of local scorn and national derision.
With her loss, Coakley wrests from her mentor Tom Reilly — himself a former AG and failed gubernatorial candidate — the dubious distinction of being perhaps the most humiliatingly inept politician ever to fall flat on the stage of Bay State politics. In a state where bozos vastly outnumber behemoths, that is a singular achievement.
Big-foot Democratic strategist Robert Shrum, who should know a thing or two about defeat (none of his presidential clients, who included Al Gore and Senator John Kerry, ever made it to the White House), called Coakley’s campaign “The Worst Hurrah.” And so it was.
There can be no doubt that Brown and his handlers skillfully tapped into the very real anxieties of independent voters, and channeled the rage of suburbanites while electrifying the Massachusetts Republican base and reconstituting battalions of what were once known as Ed King Democrats.
It is, of course, ironic that Coakley lost to a Republican state senator who is a Lilliputian among his party’s pygmies. Though like his mentor, former governor and White House aspirant Mitt Romney, Brown is a sharpie with a keen eye for the main chance.
The Brown campaign turned President Barack Obama’s inspirational mantra, “Yes, We Can,” inside out. Brown’s subliminal message was that the bad old days of the Bush-Cheney years were the best Massachusetts — and the nation — could hope for. And in the absence of a muscular rebuttal from Coakley, a majority of the voters bought it.
Like Reilly before her, Coakley is in perfect communion with the lowest-common-denominator, go-along-to-get-along politics that typify Beacon Hill. The State House frame of mind has spawned a culture that tolerated three consecutive House Speakers being driven from office under a variety of shameful circumstances. It also allowed three state senators who were charged with criminal conduct to hold onto their seats.
To deny that Coakley is a manifestation of Beacon Hill dysfunction writ large is to deny reality. (Governor Deval Patrick, take note.)
And yet Coakley’s defeat transcends the perversities of local political pathology. Considered in concert with last fall’s loss of the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey, Brown’s election spells trouble for the Democrats nationwide.
Massachusetts may not be as blue a state as most people believe. It twice voted to elect Ronald Reagan, and for 16 consecutive years sent Republicans to the governor’s office on the backs of independents.
But Brown’s election is in a category of its own. There is no escaping the fact that, in electing a right-wing Republican to take Kennedy’s place, Massachusetts is sending America a message: the nation’s middle-of-the road independents have been radicalized.
Congressional Democrats and Obama enjoy their majority at the sufferance of independents. But every indicator now screams that independents have lost faith in Democrats, just as a little more than a year ago they lost faith in Republicans.
Though public-opinion polls show that a majority of independents may still like and even admire Obama, their tolerance for his political performance is shrinking fast.