What’s wrong with politics (AKA: Why Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts)

When I woke up this morning, I remembered there had been an (important?) election yesterday and asked someone who won.  I was not surprised in the least.

I’m not a political correspondent.  I don’t live in Massachusetts.  But you don’t need to be either of those to know why Brown (a Republican) beat Coakley (a Democrat) to take the Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy in (what the NY Times calls) “the overwhelmingly Democratic state of Massachusetts.”  You just need to follow the political system a little bit these days.

Here are my three reasons why Brown beat Coakley in Massachusetts:

1. There is no such thing anymore as “party loyalty.”
While there may have been such a thing in the past, we’re past that.  Sure, people my have liberal or conservative views, but for the most part, people don’t care what party label the person carries on the ballot.

The first example came in the 2008 election.  Barack Obama won many “formerly Republican” states.  I say no, these weren’t “Republican states,” but instead states that had previous voted in the majority for the Republican presidential candidate.

Secondly, the current “tea party” people.  Many would say they’re Republicans who are mad at their party.  I say no, these are conservatives who no longer see enough Republicans championing the issues and values that are important to them.  In the special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district in November 2009, you actually had the officially endorsed Republican candidate drop out after massive pressure by a conservative, “tea party,” challenger backed by people like Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News’ Glenn Beck.

People can no longer be counted on to vote a “straight party ticket,” as they call it, for people will choose to vote as they see fit (see reason #3 below).

Reason #1 is the basis for the next two reason:

2. Marth Coakley got lazy and ran a horrible race (if you can say she ran a race at all)
Again, I’m not a political correspondent, but if you followed the news stories before the election, you know this to be true, and it was definitely a factor in her loss.  Obviously, she was counting on the “party support,” but as I said in reason #1, that doesn’t exist any more.

3. Voters are sick of all the government bureaucracy and things not getting done, and they’re not afraid to voice their opinion about it at the ballot box
It seems to me that recently, voting has become not a way to select what you want but a referendum on what you don’t want.  Since I can recall, I’ve been told that voting is the way to “make your voice heard,” and I’m sure millions of others have been told the same thing.  While this is definitely true, voters are now using this in a new way, a way that really fuels the fire they’re trying to put out!

Underlying voter habits the past 5 or so years has been an overwhelming feeling that government is broken, and it needs fixed.  Thus, the remedy, it’s been decided, is to get rid of all the people in Washington (and maybe the state capital, too) and get new people in there who will surely do a better job.  Instead of focusing on how to work with the government already in place (when was the last time YOU called your representative?), the general consensus has been to just get rid of what’s there and start over.  That’s why there was so much turn over in the recent fall 2008 and 2009 elections.

The problem comes in the disconnect between the reasons voters are making their choices and the way politicians, our elected officials, interpret them, as I don’t think politicians are getting the message.  Let me simplify this, again with a few points.

a. Voters want government to do something
b. When government is stagnant and not making things happen, voters get frustrated
c. When frustrated, voters get upset and want to get the politicians who are the problem out and someone (usually anyone) else in
d. When a politician is voted in, they think the voter picked them because of their ideas and beliefs — who they are — when, in fact, it may have more to do with who they aren’t
e. When an elected official doesn’t realize the actual reason they were elected, they make no effort to change the structure of government, and not much changes
f. If nothing changes, voters continue to be upset and the cycle continues.

Now, here are a few suggestions that might help remedy all these problems:

1. Elected officials need to work together…
… their jobs depend on it!  Until politicians get the picture that no one is safe and voters aren’t afraid to continue turning over the name cards on office doors in Washington and state capitals, no one is safe.  The “Obama brand of politics,” where you try to get support from conservatives and liberals alike, doesn’t work when he’s the only one playing — and unfortunately for Obama, he’ll suffer, too, if no one else joins in.

2. Voters need to work with and pressure their current elected officials, not just wait until the next election to change them
Perhaps, when all is said and done, the change really needs to happen here, or else there really won’t be any change at all.  Politicians aren’t dumb people (no matter what you believe), and part of their job is doing what it takes to get reelected, and in most cases, that means making the constituents happy!  The “whatever it takes” mentality is obvious in politicians switching parties, as well as recent retirements by those who feel they couldn’t win anyway.

Elected officials do listen to their constituents — if only because they want to get elected again!  They may not believe everything they have to do, but that’s not the point, the point is that they act on behalf of their constituents.

Unless we, as voters, communicate with them, they can’t do that — and just voting them out for disapproval isn’t how it’s going to happen.

3. Voters need to pay attention to their representatives, not the outcome as a whole
It takes some energy, but just because the end results didn’t come out how you, the voter, wanted them to, doesn’t mean your rep is personally doing a bad job and needs to be axed.  Voters need to recognize this when they go to the ballot box instead of holding a “get rid of them all” mentality when things don’t go as they hoped.

OK, so there’s a lot of room for discussion here.  Please have some!

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4 Responses to What’s wrong with politics (AKA: Why Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts)

  1. eric bjorlin says:

    Here’s some comments, based on a conversation I had on facebook:

    Kurt: I agree with some of that. I do believe those in office have stopped listening to their constituents. As I called Marcy Kaptur about voting against cap n trade, her aide said they have received a lot of calls and a majority were against cap n trade, yet Kaptur voted for it.
    I think people do want the politicians to work together, but all the … See More recent polls have shown that while voters want reform on issues, they don’t necessarily want larger government. That being said, I think Brown winning Mass was good for slowing the healthcare bill down, but I don’t think he is a staunch conservative, nor do I think it will stop the current healthcare bill being debated. Pelosi has said it will go through. And I don’t doubt her.

    me: With the Kaptur thing — I think the problem for reps, too, is to determine whether the calls they get are representative of all the voters or just the vocal callers — which is why a more representative group need to be callers in the first place!

    Kurt: If you’re not vocal, then do you care? When someone calls obviously it’s because it is an important issue. If it was important to vote for or against, then you should be calling. That’s my opinion.

    me: But also we do elect them to represent us so we don’t have to all do the work they do — so it’s a balance. Because with technology, we could really all do our own voting on bills and issues by computer or anything else if we really wanted to be in control, but it’s a “representative democracy” as it stands now — but maybe that’s not what we want any more — would that make it a really small government or a really big one?
    (rereading it) Maybe a bit more to your point — we can let the reps do most things, but on the “important” stuff, we need to call — but then it becomes a question of what’s important to who and what issues to call or not call on, and then if it’s not important enough to you (and you don’t call) then it’s decided by the people who did call… it’s still a balancing act as the current structure stands if it’s never an all or nothing proposition

    Kurt: I see your point, and agree that most of the time there is no need to call. However, large issues like cap and trade, stimulus bills, auto and bank bailouts, illegal immigration, and the healthcare bills are all pretty important. Those 6 issues most people have a well defined position on. That being said, it still comes down to whether or not … See More people feel their voice or vote matters. Those that believe their vote and voice matters and that the constitution hopefully still means something today, are more likely to call or write. Those who feel disenfranchised think, “it won’t matter what I say or do”. Which frankly is what ALL of Washington (both sides) risk have happening.

  2. jason says:

    I think I might disagree with you, Eric, when you say that voters are mad because things aren’t getting done. I would think that voters, at least in this MA election and the attention given to it, would see that voting in a Democrat would be a way of getting something (i.e. health care reform, financial reform, greenhouse gas emission caps) done. In my opinion this election result just shows how classically liberal the United States citizenry is when it comes to its views on government. It is almost a fear of something getting done in my opinion.

    Unless of course you mean things aren’t getting done in a way that they are satisfied with in terms of cooperation of elected officials. But the very limited knowledge I have of Scott Brown’s campaign, I’m not sure if he ran on cooperation or not.

    And I’m not completely convinced that the US public even really desires a changing of the guard. There have been retirements and a change in party membership, but I think I’d have to see fewer than 80% incumbent winning rate in Congressional elections.

  3. eric bjorlin says:

    To jason’s response:
    I’ve been thinking about your post since I read it last night, and I do think I overstated or overemphasized the role of voters being fed up played in this and possibly other elections. I do, however, think that voters have seen in the past year that Democrats seem to unable to accomplish anything (in voters’ opinions) in respect to jobs or the economy, even with control of the House, Senate, and Presidency, and are frustrated and fed up enough to want a serious shake up. If the only issue and reason to vote was health care, maybe the outcome would have been different, but as someone said in conversation last night, “people are rarely rational (and usually selfish) when they vote.”

    There are lots of reasons people vote how they vote, and I was probably oversimplifying a bit and not taking other things into account as much as I should have, but I still think voters’ feelings that the government is currently doing nothing and/or runnings inefficiently (not necessarily their views on the size of government) had a significant effect on this election, and will probably be an effect in the fall.

  4. jason says:

    I concede that voters might have felt the government wasn’t acting on things it cared most about (i.e. jobs and the economy), so therefore it felt it needed to vote out the party in power and your point is valid. I think the point I was trying to build on was the tendency that the party of the presidency typically loses seats in the mid-year election. It would seem that this tendency would indicate a citizenry who is not happy when the government acts and therefore errs to the side of inaction. I, which is obvious given my posts, am not exactly enlightened on the actions of government. I can barely string a coherent sentence together. So I’m doubtlessly oversimplifying things and missing other points entirely.

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