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"The Browning of America - Commentary by Raynard Jackson"
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The stunning win of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race Tuesday has sent shock waves throughout the political world. But, as usual with tectonic shifts like this, everyone is totally misreading what happened.
Republicans have every reason to be crowing today and Democrats have every reason to be depressed. I would call what happened Tuesday night the “Browning” of America. The people of Massachusetts spoke with their votes that they are more interested in results, not party labels.
The problems both parties face is not with their bases, but with independent voters. There are more independent voters than there are Democrats or Republicans. In Massachusetts, 51% of the electorate is independent. The “Browning” effect is going to force both parties to come to the political center. That is the lesson from Tuesday vote. Any other spin is simply nonsense.
Brown was a little known Republican state senator with an unremarkable voting record. Conservative columnist, Kathleen Parker, has described him as a moderate New England Republican with socially moderate and fiscally conservative views. Brown describes himself as, “fiscally conservative and socially conscious.” Conservatives are going to be shocked to find out that Brown supports Roe v. Wade.
Brown provided Massachusetts voters (and the country by extension) with an empty vessel to channel their total dissatisfaction with Washington and the White House. Most people have no idea what either Brown or Martha Coakley (his opponent) stood for, other than their respective positions on healthcare. Republicans are concluding that the election was a repudiation of healthcare and Obama. Democrats are saying that Coakley ran a horrible campaign (which she did). While both statements are true in absolute terms, that’s not the message voters were sending.
Yesterday morning on a news show, Brown made it perfectly clear that he is an “independent” Republican. Ah, this is the message to be taken away from the election! Brown’s election is a dire warning to all incumbent politicians. Americans are pissed at the dysfuntionality of our political systems and the seeming inability of politicians to solve problems.
Voters don’t feel like politicians have made air travel any safer than before 9/11, or made government work more efficiently, nor controlled government spending, to name a few. With technology, we are travelling at the speed of thought, but governing at the speed of a horse and buggy. We communicate with emails, BlackBerrys, and instant messages; but our political systems function at the pace of a tortoise.
The problems facing Americans today can not be solved with the pace our political systems are operating under. Why does it take years for the simplest of legislation to pass? Why does it take weeks for politicians to organize a town hall meeting? Why couldn’t our government properly respond to Katrina?
There are a lot of similarities between Brown’s and Obama’s candidacies and ultimate victories. Neither was given a realistic chance of winning; both were running again a frontrunner who had been all but crowned the victor (Hillary Clinton in Obama’s case); neither had the support of the party establishment. Their victories both stunned the political world.
But, if Republicans think Brown’s election was a vote for Republicans or conservatism, they are greatly mistaken. Voters are angry. They don’t want to abolish government, they want effective government. This provides a great opportunity for Republicans to have a discussion on what is the role of government in a Republican world. No more campaign slogans like, small government, low taxes, and more individual freedom. Voters want to know how these words translate into policies that impact their daily lives!
Democrats missed a golden opportunity to prove to America that they could govern, but as usual, they blew it big time. Two nights ago, I saw Howard Dean make an amazing statement on TV. He said if Bush was still in the White House, he would have rammed health care through Congress—it would have already been law. Voters basically told Democrats and the White House that they don’t believe they can effectively govern; therefore they were willing to vote for a Republican to register their dissatisfaction.
How can you control the White House and super majorities in both houses of Congress and yet, not get anything done. Obama, by far, is the biggest loser. He has proven to be a very weak president because he refuses to make people in Congress fear him (especially Democrats). Why have the Democrats not stripped Sen. Lieberman (I-CT) of his chairmanship? He actively campaigned for McCain (a Republican) and was almost chosen to be his running-mate. And he is rewarded with the chairmanship of a major committee? This would have never happened in the Republican Party. If Democrats can’t or won’t govern their own caucus, why should they be given the opportunity to govern the country? That’s the question Democrats must answer immediately.
Even though half of America disagreed with Bush’s policies, they respected how he was willing to fight for what he believed. No one will ever accuse this White House or Democrats of doing this.
With the high level of frustration across the electorate, people are distancing themselves from party labels and are more focused on who is going to solve the problems that this country is facing. People know we are facing tremendous challenges and are not looking through rose colored glasses. Brown’s victory is merely the opening salvo in what surely will be the continuing “Browning” of the American electorate.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-public relations/government affairs firm. He is also a contributing editor for ExcellStyle Magazine (www.excellstyle.com).