by Sam Klug
I now have a former Cosmo model as my US Senator.
Was it a referendum on healthcare? Partially. On Obama? Probably.
Was it the candidate’s fault? The state’s? The administration’s? Yeah, sure, if it makes you feel better to dole out some blame, it was a little of everybody’s fault.
But basically, this race was just a version (condensed, over-spun, nastier) of the battle we have been fighting for what seems like forever. It wasn’t about terrorist trials in civilian courts, or about the public option, or about the candidates’ genders. Of course, it was about all that, at least a little bit, because all of those issues fall within the broader conflict that has dominated American politics for the past three decades at least: the conflict between a vision of America dominated by fear and intolerance and one of gradual movement toward a more just society; between a philosophy that says government can do no good (except for the super-rich, but shhhhh) and one that hopes to turn government into a vehicle for the achievement of at least a few of our ideals.
The other side in this conflict has consistently gotten the better of us for the past thirty years. For twenty-eight years, we had eight of Democratic rule. Now we have nine, and let’s just think about this last one – since the inauguration, we’ve gotten a watered down stimulus and a root canal of a debate about health care that has led even the compromise of the public option into the jaws of the right-wing, teabagging, “get the government out of my pockets” monster. That’s it. Basically, that’s the legacy of the first year of the Obama administration and the Democratic super-majority.
So, you might ask, did we even deserve to keep the seat? Would it even have helped our country to have 60 Dems instead of 59? I don’t know about the first question (it seems you only deserve something in politics by winning it), but the answer to the second is, frankly, yes. Because if the belief that government actually can lead our society to a more just existence has any purchase anymore, we have to understand that baby steps forward are still better than leaps backward; that every vote, no matter how spineless, counts; that every victory matters. These are the lessons that Ted Kennedy learned in the Senate, and if anything positive can come from tonight’s results, for Massachusetts and for the country, it is a better understanding of these truths.
So no, Scott Brown, tonight wasn’t historic. It wasn’t new. It was a reminder, once again, of the power of the simple messages that Republicans have been spouting for 30 years. It was just a little more painful this time.
By Helen Kilian
Since the latter half of the 20th century, Massachusetts has come to be regarded as the crux of modern liberalism in America. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that there is a relatively large constituency of CU College Dems that hail from the Bay State (or the Gay State, if you prefer; we proudly respond to either) whose members are currently—one would hope—filling out their absentee ballots for the US Senate special election. Lately, however, this statewide election has garnered the attention of more than just New Englanders. Democrats across the country, especially on the heels of announcements by senior senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) that they will not seek re-election in November, are shaking in their Birkenstocks at the prospect of losing a Congressional majority. Now, with the latest Rasmussen polls in Massachusetts showing Republican candidate Scott Brown within two percentage points of Democrat Martha Coakley, there is a greater fear of a Republican victory in MA, which would undoubtedly represent the 41st vote against healthcare overhaul legislation.
Yet an upset of the Democratic majority is not the only factor that has drawn the public’s gaze to this special election. Let’s be honest, it is hard to turn one’s eyes away from this picture of 22-year-old Scott Brown that resurfaced just when we thought Cosmo’s 1982 “Sexiest Man of the Year” had been forgotten. Says Cosmo, “We bet he still has an amazing body underneath his suit and tie.”
As if nude pictures weren’t sexy enough for Brown, he followed up with a campaign ad comparing himself—albeit without emphasis on physical attractiveness— to the late Massachusetts great, JFK. Now anyone who knows anything about Ted Kennedy, whose tragic passing spurred this election, would be aware of his willingness to reach across the aisle and forge bipartisan ties with fellow Senators, but I dare to conjecture that Ted is rolling over in his grave at Scott Brown’s attempt to equate himself with our 35th President. Not only is the comparison exploitative of the Kennedy name and reputation, but the basis of the ad itself—that both JFK and Scott Brown support across-the-board tax cuts—is also fundamentally misleading.
First, JFK was not as committed to his own tax cuts as Brown might lead us to believe. A “modestly enthusiastic wait-and-seer,” as economist Richard Parker describes him, JFK agreed to experiment with the unprecedented tax cut tactic to appease conservatives in Congress. In fact, Kennedy favored government spending to combat recession, but his advisers counseled otherwise, arguing that the tax cuts would act more as a more effective economic stimulus.
Public radio reporter Curt Nickisch points out in his article “A Reaganite In Camelot?: The Partisan Battle Over JFK’s Tax-Cut Legacy” that the tax reform, finally passed as a memorial to JFK after his death in 1963, was indeed remarkably effective. However, the reasons for this efficacy go beyond the Republican “tax cuts work” doctrine. In the 1960’s, the top tax rate was 91%, meaning that the top earners paid out 91 cents of every income dollar to the federal government. Incentive for employment? Not so much. The JFK tax cuts pared this rate down to 70%, an obvious decision to encourage labor force participation and increase economic vitality in a time when taxpayer dollars were much more likely to remain in the domestic economy.
In contrast, the 2010 top federal income tax rate is about 35%, half that of the JFK era. Our economy, Nickisch notes, is also fundamentally different today, with burgeoning personal debt and national deficit complicating the story. Tax cuts can no longer be considered the magical economic panacea that they were in the 1960’s, a concept that Scott Brown—and many of his Republican colleagues—has apparently yet to grasp.
Brown may have some killer abs, but the last time I checked, it’s the grey matter that counts. The man has been endorsed by some intellectual giants (see Doug Flutie), but this Birkenstock-wearing Massachusetts liberal is simply unconvinced by his trite slogans and substantive weakness. So to end on a serious note, especially given the narrowing poll numbers, it is truly imperative to get out the vote for the strong, smart, and experienced candidate: Martha Coakley. Coakley, current Massachusetts Attorney General, has real policy plans and a strong history of doing what’s right for Massachusetts. So request your absentee ballot today, and keep MA blue.