Thursday, January 21, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A LOUISIANA GAL JUST MIGHT HAVE
WON THE SENATE RACE IN MASSACHUSETTS!
It was supposed to be a slam dunk senate seat for the Democrats. Obama had carried this bluest of blue states by 26 points just a year ago. And the Democrats had led this seat for the past 57 years. But the democratic candidate lost, and now the political world in Washington seems to be in a major upheaval. Could a Louisiana lady, who thought seriously of running, have been able to pull off a victory for the Democrats? Many think she could.
The Democratic candidate was in fact a lady, Massachusetts Attorney general Martha Coakley. She received the Democratic Party nod after a number of Kennedys turned down the chance to replace the family patriarch, Ted Kennedy. Coakley proved to be a weak campaigner, doing little “meet and greet,” and came across as a weak candidate. She showed a real lack of knowledge on international issues when she said at a forum the week before the election that the Taliban were no longer in Afghanistan. But even if she had been better informed and a more aggressive campaigner, Coakley still had an uphill fight in overcoming the tag of representing more of the same old Washington rhetoric.
Obama and the democrats just bit off more than voters wanted to chew, and a large number of voters made no bones about their distrust of Washington politics and their increasing unease over the federal government’s expanding role in the private sector. The Democratic candidate lost because the Democrats are in charge. But two years ago, the same rage was taken out on Republicans. And no one from either party in Washington seems to be listening. Bailing out Wall Street Bankers, massive stimulus money that many felt went down a rat hole, and major healthcare costs didn’t resonate with Massachusetts voters, and don’t here in Louisiana either.
The healthcare debate was the issue that finally broke the camel’s back. The availability of affordable health care was an issue that was a major concern during the twelve years I served as Insurance Commissioner. The democrats were supposed to find a solution that made economic sense. After all, costs for those who have decent coverage continue to go up. The Obama plan covers millions more who certainly need it. But little has been done about rising costs. The Democrats seems to be telling us that “we have a dysfunctional health-care system with out-of-control costs, so let’s add 45 million people to it.”
So with future elections looming in the fall, are the Democrats moving towards political toast? Hardly. It’s true that only 35% percent of the electorate have positive feelings towards the Democrats in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. But just 28 percent have positive feelings for the Republicans in Congress, a rating lower than poll results just before the GOP defeats in 2006 and 2008. Over all, Congress gets a twenty two percent approval rating, no big plus for Republicans.
Remember the 1970s? (I hope I have more readers than just young political geeks.) Louisiana and the rest of the country witnessed and experienced one downer after another: failing companies, high unemployment, spiraling deficits, tense international problems, rampant incivility, corruption at all levels of government, and a seemingly endless war. It all sounds both familiar and quite current, doesn’t it?
Remember the mad television anchorman Howard Beale in the movie Network, who shouted out to his audience; “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore?” A recent national poll asked the same question to some 6,400 voters wanting to know if they agreed. Nearly 3 out of 4 – 72 percent – said yes. So it’s obvious that millions of voters across the country are screaming. But voters don’t see it as just a “Democratic problem.” The polls show that, at least for now, neither party has been doing much listening.
So how could a Louisiana gal have made a difference in this week’s Massachusetts senatorial election? Senator Kennedy’s widow is a Crowley native from the Reggie family. Her dad, for you younger readers, was a city judge and a confidant to several Louisiana governors. Back in 1956, Judge Reggie bucked then Gov. Earl Long and lined up the Louisiana delegation at the democratic convention to support Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy for Vice President. Kennedy lost, but stayed indebted to Reggie after he became President four years later.
Senator Ted Kennedy eventually married Reggie’s daughter, Victoria, 16 years ago and she became quite a personality and celebrity in her own right over the years in Massachusetts. The consensus was that she was the guiding force that helped to straighten out the Senator’s numerous personal problems and get him refocused in his later years. When Kennedy died recently, there was significant support for Vicki Reggie to run for her husband’s vacant office.
A Vanity Fair article in June of last year on Senator Kennedy pictured a power struggle within the Kennedy Family over who would be first in line to succeed the Senator. There was not unanimous support for Victoria from the clan, and she, with some reticence, passed on the race. Close observers in Massachusetts with Louisiana ties feel that considering what a poor campaigner Martha Coakley turned out to be, that Victoria Kennedy would have been a much stronger candidate. Remember that Coakley only lost by 2.6 percent of the vote.
With the whole nation polarized over the Massachusetts senate race, it might have been that a Louisiana gal could have ended up winning the vacant seat of her husband. Voters would still be “mad as hell.” But at least there would have been more gumbo and crayfish on the tables in the nation’s capitol.
“There’s not one dime’s worth of difference in the two parties. If you put all of the Republican leaders in a good cotton-picking sack with the Democrats, shake ‘em up and let the first one drop out, you’d stick ‘im right back in ‘cause there’s no difference.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to www.jimbrownla.com.