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U.S. Senate Candidates from Massachusetts: Republican Scott Brown, Democrat Martha Coakley, and some irrelevant third-party candidate (Joseph Kennedy, for those of you who care...or are Libertarians)

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.

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