While I was in the shower last night, I heard on my portable radio that Martha Coakley called Scott Brown to congratulate him on winning the Massachusetts Senate race. The right-wing talk shows I dropped in on were the first to announce it, and were madly celebrating while the ‘progressive” pundits on WBUR were still arguing over whether Martha or the White House should be blamed if she lost. (Coakley reportedly “leaked” a memo to Politico yesterday blaming Obama).
The only similarity between the liberal and the conservative radio commentators was their ignoring the fact that this was a referendum on the Democrats’ health insurance reform, as much as it was a referendum on Obama’s trail of broken promises, and billionaire bailouts, and unemployment. I don’t think the outcome of this election had much to do with who Martha Coakley is or what she believes. Most of those Brown supporters who called into local conservative talk shows said she was probably a “nice woman.” But, when Scott Brown said he’d trash the current health insurance reform proposal and start all over with a real health care reform plan, many people, regardless of party affiliation, thought that sounded great even though they were not thrilled with the fact that he supports expanding the slaughter in Afghanistan, fewer taxes on the rich, unregulated financial markets, and still others are afraid of what he really thinks about women’s right to abortion.
Election day, local news announcers also agreed that Massachusetts had remarkable voter turnout. It was raining and sleeting; snow drifts several feet high, slush and black ice covered the sidewalks and streets of my town. People who would usually not venture out on a day like this—like the elderly women in my housing project–were on their way to the polls. There was a remarkable difference I noticed in the appearance of the Brown and Coakley supporters lining the streets near town hall and other polling stations. On one side of the avenue were the Coakley supporters: mostly middle-aged; well-dressed in attractive winter coats, boots and hats; supporting enormous and colorful “Martha” signs, smiling and chatting with passers by. On the other side of the avenue, were the Brown supporters, mostly older women (some elderly from the subsidized housing project now facing hugh increases in their 2010 Medicare premiums and drug costs), wearing headscarves and old coats or jackets, determinedly wading out into the slushy street with little, often homemade, “Scott” signs. Further down, at the major traffic intersection, there were two young men in denim jackets and blue jeans holding relatively small “Scott” signs on one corner, while their well shod opposition on the other corner struggled to keep extremely large “Martha” posters from carrying them off the curb. I wondered how two young guys got the afternoon off from work; but maybe they were unemployed. As I walked around my town (“best place to live in Massachusetts” if you are “rich and single” according to one survey), it appeared to me that the class distinctions between the opposing campaigners were visible.
This election was a referendum that brought out people who would normally ignore an off-term election. Was it, as the media has speculated, anger that warmed them up and motivated them to weather the icy rain and sleet? Were those who would usually have stayed home, so fed up they just wanted to let others know that they did not like being ignored and pushed around by politicians who took them for granted in this bluest of the blue states? Eavesdropping on the late night AM talk shows, I have been impressed by the number of callers who said that they had been life-long Democrats, but this time they were voting Republican. In fact many said they didn’t usually call up conservative radio show hosts. There is also a noticeable class and occupational difference in the audience of those who call up the late night AM radio shows (more truck drivers), and those who call into NPR talk shows, like “On Point” for example.
Personally, I have no doubt that if the Republicans held power in the White House and were the majority in Congress, they would do much the same as the Democrats have done. (Comparing Obama and Bush policies makes that crystal clear.) After all, they are paid for by the same corporate interests, befriended by the same lobbyists, and both parties know who they need to represent to get re-elected….and it ain’t the people I saw standing in the streets today. Clearly one has to have the big bucks to run for US Senate in the first place, and Scott Brown is no man of the people (or, at least, not of the people I know). In spite of his everyman’s truck symbol, Brown is reported to own at least five different pieces of valuable real estate—and no one wins without the party’s deep financial pockets and the party’s friends who write the big checks. The Republicans would probably not have been able to bail out all their wealthy friends, expand the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, cut funding to Medicare (which has already happened), and facilitate elimination of jobs, wages and benefits from union contracts, etc., etc. in quite the same bold and audacious manner that our Irish-African American President has been able to pull off. People would have been on to them immediately and protesting loudly in much larger numbers than “progressives” have been able to mobilize. No, the very unique Obama magic would not have been available to disguise the loyal opposition’s goals as it has for the current administration (even though their goals are identical to Obama’s).
Now we will see if Scott Brown remembers his threatened promise to dump the current health reform proposals and start from scratch. Or will he conveniently forget this idea when faced with the power of the largest health insurance and pharmaceutical industries in the world that strongly back that highly profitable health insurance mandate proposed? He would not be the first to go back on his word once victorious, right?
Or will he have to face this test at all? Some predict swift passage of the health insurance overhaul plan that is on the Senate table right now, as the Dems will want to get Obama’s health insurance legislation passed before Brown takes his seat.
If, after Brown takes his seat, we see the inevitable process of business as usual (you know what I mean) the enforced health insurance rip-off goes through, more bail outs and less regulation for Wall Street, increased military spending; pollution and unemployment continue with no remedy; Guantanamo, military contractor crimes, and secret CIA prisons continue; civil rights and human rights are even more compromised, and Obama moves on to attack Social Security and bring it down in the same way he is cutting up Medicare — then will all those people who usually don’t get involved come out onto the streets again? Will those from both sides of the avenue get together this time? Really, what will it take?!
PS: The morning after: Independent pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that those who oppose Obama’s health insurance proposal voted overwhelmingly for Scott Brown; those in favor of it, voted for Coakley (WBZ AM Radio, Boston). My town went 65 per cent for Coakley.
MARY LYNN CRAMER, MA, MSW, LICSW, has a background in history of economic thought and bilingual clinical social work, as well as personal experience dealing with Health Reform fallout and increased Medicare premiums. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org