Bill Knight - January 28
Macomb, IL – Despite Republican claims and cheerleading by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk, the results of Massachusetts' special election for the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy stemmed less from discontent about Big Government and wasteful spending than from dissatisfaction with progress on issues and significantly lower turnout by key Democratic constituencies.
A relatively new conservative Republican, Scott Brown, defeated weak, Old School Democrat Martha Coakley 1.1 million votes to 1 million votes, 52% to 47%. About 2.2 million people cast ballots out of the state's 4 million registered voters, a 54% turnout. That compares to a 66% turnout for the 2008 election in which President Obama won.
Specifically, more 18- to 29-year-old citizens voted nationally in the 2008 race than in any election since 1972. These voters cast their ballots overwhelming for Obama, and in Massachusetts, 52% of young voters cast ballots in 2008, but just 15% last week, according to Tufts University's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
Peter Levine from CIRCLE said, "Under-30 voters in Massachusetts are very Democratic and liberal right now. Seventy-eight percent voted for Barack Obama in 2008 [in Massachusetts]. The fact that it was a special election was part of it - you have to remind people of the date and the need to vote," he continued. "I think it was especially hard to campaign to young voters, because those who attend college were not on campus during the past month, since it was winter vacation. I also think ideology played a role. As I said earlier, Massachusetts young voters lean extraordinarily to the Democratic side right now, but Democrats seem to be demoralized in general."
Indeed, according to a poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO, the vote showed profound disappointment about Congress' inability to do enough. The poll, by Peter Hart Research Associates, also said that any candidate who ignores that anger will be in political trouble this fall.
Pollsters Mark Bunge and Guy Molyneux said, "It reveals the danger to Democrats of not successfully addressing workers' economic concerns."
Key opinions of the registered voters polled - a representative sampling not asked whether or not they belonged to a union - included that Massachusetts voters want Washington to tackle jobs and health care, but 61% believed the government is helping banks and Wall Street; only 18% said it helps workers.
The pollsters added, "The most important qualities voters were looking for in electing a senator were someone who will (1) fix the economy and (2) reform the health care system. Sending a message about the size of government was much less important."
Some 79% said that "electing a candidate who will strengthen the economy and create more good jobs" was the most important or very important factor in their vote. "Electing a candidate who is committed to controlling health-care costs and covering the uninsured" finished second, at 54%. Almost half the voters - 47% - said Obama and Congressional Democrats haven't done enough to fix problems.
Meanwhile, church readings on the Sunday after the Tuesday election echoed a call to unity of purpose, a far cry from the divisive claims made by the Right. Paul in First Corinthians wrote about everyone being an integral part of the whole, regardless of individual gifts. The apostle said, "To one there is given the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge, to another faith , to another gifts of healing , to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
"The body is a unit," Paul continues, "though it is made up of many parts. The eye cannot say to the hand, I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, I don't need you!' If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
The conservative extremists misleading us that the Massachusetts win was a repudiation of reform and celebrating a new, minority-controlled Senate sure to try to do even less might be cautious to remember that the nation is one body.
And Democrats tempted to be even more timid in surrendering to the GOP "party of no" might be careful to appeal to all parts of the body, the young voices as well as the old faces.