There were many elements that led to Scott Brown defeating Martha Coakley to fill Ted Kennedy’s senate seat:
- The attractiveness of the candidate as a person: NPR has already discussed his viability as a presidential candidate.
- The uninspired campaign run by the Democrats until they were in trouble.
- The dumb luck and/or inspired planning to peak at the right moment.
- General anger at economic conditions.
- Displeasure because of the healthcare bill.
- Dislike of Obama.
The first three reasons have to do with politics, and mean nothing to the great ideological struggles in this country right now.
So let’s consider the general anger over the economic conditions. The media has fomented this anger in four distinct ways:
- The need to come up with startling or awe-inspiring economic and business news every hour of every day creates an impatient and panicked public, one that sees its economic fortunes bouncing constantly from pillar to post.
- The mainstream news media gives frequent voice to the false assumptions mouthed by many on the right that the recession belongs to Obama, despite the fact that Obama assumed office after the meltdown of the financial system because of the securitization of bad mortgages and after most of the massive layoffs had already occurred.
- The ideological subtext of instant gratification—so necessary to keeping people buying goods and services— that imbues most non-news reporting makes people believe that all desires can be gratified instantly, including the desire for economic hard times to disappear.
- The ideological subtext of much economic and business reporting that it’s always a good time to invest in stocks influenced both the news media and the government to declare the recession over while millions of people were still out of work or severely underemployed. That might have pissed some people off, you think?
Interestingly enough, some of those who are angry over economic conditions want more government regulation and job stimulus programs, while others want fewer regulations and less government spending. It is only the view of this second group that the mainstream news media insists on featuring.
When it comes to healthcare reform, it’s the same story as the economy: some people are angry because the likely bill doesn’t go far enough and others don’t want any bill at all. In this case, I’m reasonably sure, though, that people angry because the bill doesn’t go far enough probably voted for Coakley, because they had nowhere else to go.
The news media played a role in creating anger over the health care bill, to be sure:
- The mix of sound bites from the “person in the street” interviews gave credence to incorrect information that reporters must have known was incorrect.
- The entire phalanx of right-wing media repeated a series of lies, the biggest of which was the biggie that our health care system is better than those of other industrial and post-industrial states.
- Perhaps the most pernicious act of the news media in the healthcare reform debate was the complete abdication of its responsibility to educate the public on what health care insurance is and does; for example, never presenting the fact that any public system in the United States would contract with insurance companies to process claims and provide oversight.
But I won’t blame the news media for the attitudes people currently have about healthcare reform: the management of the legislative process by the Democrats was so inept that it probably had the old Senate Master Lyndon Johnson turning in his grave.
I’m sure that some people voted for Brown because they dislike Obama, but I’m also fairly confident that most of them would have voted for Brown in any case.
Unless dislike of Obama was the only reason they voted, that is, that the turnout on the right increased, while turnout of the poor, minorities and the young decreased (as compared to the Presidential election). In fact, the Boston Globe reported that voting was heavy in the suburbs and light in the cities.
So at the end of the day, perhaps the real reason Brown won is that his people voted and Coakley’s (Obama’s) did not. That of course points a finger at the political explanations listed at the beginning of this post.