*A Country of Closet Republicans: The Beautiful Democratic Debacle in Massachusetts

Martha Coakley’s ignominious defeat to Republican Scott Brown, posing as your average American next door in his pick-up truck, is a just cause for celebration – but not for any reason imagined by the Republicans.  The Obama ‘strategists’, as such creatures are known in American political culture, as though they had the mind of Clausewitz, Bonaparte, or Sun Tzu, will mull over how their candidate for the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward Kennedy blew it in a state that is believed to have been secure for Democrats for decades.  We have already heard that the Democrats were caught napping:  according to this wise version, the party establishment never for a moment seriously contemplated the possibility that a firmly ‘blue’ state would send a Republican to the US Senate to replace a man whose family has been, in one fashion or the other, at the center of American politics for over half a century.   Obama was vacationing in Hawaii, and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was holidaying much further away, in the tourist belt of north India.  To read the narrative of how Coakley went down to a punishing defeat is to understand why animal fables, such as those of the Hare and the Tortoise, have endured for centuries.

Scott Brown, the ‘analysts’ — another mysterious category of American politics, intended to reassure the public that there are thoughtful men and women out there who have a grip on the situation and are in a position to enlighten the masses — inform us, ran a disciplined and tight campaign.  He took nothing for granted, went from home to home, held ten times as many town meetings as his opponent, and persuaded voters that Obama’s health reform bill would cost them money without improving health care — and, needless to say, that taxes under Obama would rise.  But is there is an iota of anything new in this analysis that we have not heard before?  The sheer poverty of imagination is staggering to behold.  The slightly ‘more astute’ analysts, always looking for something to celebrate about American democracy, have come forward with the explanation that, in this election, ‘independents’ made all the difference.   Far many more voters than is commonly imagined are registered as ‘independents’ in Massachusetts, and this time they decided to abandon Obama’s ship:  their exercise of the vote is, on this view, a true vindication of American democracy.  All the talk of independents blissfully obfuscates the morose reality, namely that in the US there is no escape from Democrats and Republicans, no freedom from the horrible tedium of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  Independents are free only to cast their vote for Democrats and Republicans; the day when independence could be proclaimed from these two monstrosities, which have all but massacred democracy, is nowhere in sight.

For all of its Nobel Laureates, famous universities and gigantic libraries, a bloated professoriate and renowned researchers, the United States has been unable to generate a public sphere characterized by intelligent discourse and, to an even lesser degree, anything that would muster as analytical reasoning.  One of the signature truths of American politics, at least from the days of Clinton, insists that there are ‘blue’ states and ‘red’ states.   The ‘red’ states are supposed to have delivered the Presidency to George Bush; the ‘blue’ states, for the most part removed from the American hinterland, are thought to be the bastion of liberal sentiments.  No political family has been as closely associated with Massachusetts as the Kennedys, and three generations of the Kennedy family were thought to have sealed the liberal credentials of the state.  In truth, Massachusetts is as viciously racist a state as any in the American Union, and one hopes that the fiction of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states, which passes for political analysis, will have received something of a fatal blow.   It seems that in this liberal state, the home of Harvard, MIT, Amherst, and other celebrated institutions of higher education, all that was required to send the democrats to a resounding defeat was to remove a Kennedy from candidacy for high office.  (Only in third world countries, so goes another piece of wisdom, are the masses enthralled by political families.  The illiterate voters of many a country, I daresay, would have done much better than the ‘independents’ of the most liberal state of the Union.)  As my wife put it to me when the news of Scott’s victory was announced, in the US there are Republicans, more Republicans — and closet Republicans.  Their stampede has just started.

2 thoughts on “*A Country of Closet Republicans: The Beautiful Democratic Debacle in Massachusetts

  1. Not to forget that some of the “most cited” political scientists and some of the most well known “analysts” have decreed that “mature” democracies tend to a 2-party system.

    Also, the European imagination has, at least in the last 300 odd years, not really been able to free itself of the need for intermediaries. The priest standing between man and God has been substituted by the “analyst”, scientist, professor, “expert” standing between man and Truth or Reason. Sadly, the capacity to think for oneself and the freedom from expert opinion are lost to the denizens of the land of reason and freedom. I wonder if the staggering lack of imagination that you note is not just a feature of American politics, but endemic to modern politics at large.

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  2. The rise of the ‘expert’ is one of the principal features of modernity. I wouldn’t disagree, therefore, that the lack of imagination I have noted characterizes modern politics at large, and not just US politics. In my piece I didn’t take some leaps that I could well have entertained: for instance, it is assumed that literacy and education (which are not the same thing, of course, but let us leave that aside for the moment) make one more capable of independent thinking and autonomy. I suspect, on the contrary, that the educated are much more socialized to rely upon the judgment of the ‘expert’. Moreover, whatever the limitations of democracy everywhere in the world, such shortcomings in the US, which prides itself on being the most “mature” democracy and the torchbearer of freedom, are all the more unacceptable. For all its reputation as the most advanced chamber of democratic deliberation in the world, the US Senate is a body comprised of overwhelmingly rich, dull, and extraordinarily mediocre men. If politics in the US is supposed to represent what can be achieved, then we should start saying our prayers.

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