Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Scott Brown versus Obama. Really?

Allow me to indulge in a non-Venezuelan (almost!) post.

I have written often to my US detractors, from either side, that one of the things I admired the most about the U.S. political system was its ability at some point to correct its excesses, to find ways to return to more centered positions when a political group loses its ways and purpose.  

Even though a Liberal I did not lose much sleep when Bush was "elected" in Florida thinking that he would be a single term president.  But 9/11 happened.  The correction I expected as early as Bush first mid term elections was delayed until 2006.  History and politics work these ways, but in the US the pendulum so far has always come back.

Now the People's Republic of Massachusetts has handed the seat of Ted Kennedy to a Republican!  Goodness gracious!

Before I go further let me remind folks that I wrote an eulogy for Ted Kennedy, one of my favorite politicians.  And yet I must say that I am sort of pleased by the result of last night election of Scott Brown, a rather handsome politician to a rather gray Senate, a "moderate" Republican that might end up bringing more trouble than joy to a GOP bent on refusing gay rights, abortion needs and such unavoidable XXI century social rights.  After all he needs to get reelected and the results of this vote are far, very far from guaranteeing him a reelection in three years.

If the coloring change of the image above  is dramatic, the real results are clear though: if you look at the numbers above you will see that Brown improved only slightly over McCain.  Thus his victory is due to Democrats staying home.  Why?  You can find many explanations from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times (I have avoided reading Boston papers on purpose).  But the one I will subscribe to is that the Democratic Congress elected a year ago behaved in an Imperial, Elite way, and that never works out.  The Republican Congress elected in the second year of Clinton presidency, after yet another Health Care debacle, acted as arrogantly and allowed for a much easier reelection of Clinton than expected.  The pendulum pattern exists.  Quite possibly the Democrats might retain Congress this November, but their wings have been clipped last night and it is a good thing, at least for me.

I lived one year in Waltham, a working class suburb of Boston, while doing research in a campus (it is the only light pink county in the map above, the only county Brown carried with less than 50%).  Of course I looked for the results of Waltham.  Obama carried it massively last year, with 15,276 votes (even though Waltham, if I remember well, was not very African American 20 years ago).  This time Brown carries it with a mere 8,546 votes.  I mean, the man carries it with barely half of the votes Obama got one year ago!!!!  Can Nancy Pelosi of wealthy Marin County understand what happened in Waltham?  I have my doubts.  But if someone does not explain to her fast what this means, that blue collar and shop keeper democrats might return fast to the GOP, her days as Speaker are shortly numbered.

This election was not about health care reform, but about how this one was carried.  After all Massachusetts, and Waltham, do have already a state health care system.  What has upset the Waltham voter and made it stay home is that what really matters for them, job security, economic growth, obscene bail outs, had to wait until Barack and Nancy pushed through an expensive package which was not a priority for them.

Why did Obama misread so much the mood of the country and his own election implications?  For reasons that always blind politicians who prefer to believe that people voted for them and their ideas rather than against the other side.  A little bit like Chavez believing Venezuelans voted in 2006 for his socialism just to be disowned one year later in the referendum.  People had reelected Chavez for his handouts, not for his ideas and that is why Chavez has been sinking slowly ever since.

And yet I do not think that this marks an end to Obama, not at all.  After all, after a post election learning curve I consider his foreign policy to be globally on the right track.  At least for Latin America from his studied avoidance of Latin American viper's nest while managing to undo the Honduras entanglement satisfactorily. 

Maybe Obama did not feel as confident about Foreign Policy, he listened to his advisers, took experience into account and his prudence paid off.  If this is the case then his approach to US policies was overconfident and he let himself be seduced by the left of the Democratic Congress who whispered sweet nothings to his ear.  Thus the solution for Obama could be very simple: listen to ALL Democrats (and some Republicans).  That way the damage can repaired enough that by November you will retain Congress.  Maybe a weaker Congress but still a Democratic one (I do not see how Democrats can lose the Senate but I can see Nancy out of a job).

PS: the problem viewed from here is that I do not see now how Obama will get the nerve to try to pass the much needed FTA with Colombia. And yet it is more needed than ever, something that Pelosi should wake up to, the easiest way for her to prove that she is more than just a knee jerk Liberal, that she is also a stateswoman.


  1. Juan Cristobal5:29 PM

    Good post, Daniel. There is a post over on HuffPo from Mark Penn about what Obama needs to do. Basically, he needs to move to the center. However, it's going to be harder for him to do this - Bill Clinton was a master of the center, but Obama has problems with the very blue-collar Waltham voters that inhabit there. Aside from that, moving to the center will enrage his progressive base, which is more crucial to him than it was for Clinton. And Obama may not have the fortune of having a hapless candidate in 2012 like Bob Dole was in 1996.

    Interesting times.

  2. "you will see that Brown improved only slightly over McCain. Thus his victory is due to Democrats staying home."

    It was a special election, not a general election. Comparing Brown and McCain's performance is apples and oranges.

    McCain won only 36% of votes cast in Massachussetts, Obama was at 62%. 3.1 million people cast their vote in Massachusetts in 2008, an all-time record turnout. Only 2.25 million turned out for this election (high for a special election but one million shy of a general election)

    While it was true that Democrats were less enthusiastic than Republicans, remember that they outnumber Reps by 3-1 in this state. It was the independent voters ("unaffiliated", as they say) who were the determining factor, not the Dems who stayed home.

  3. Let me make my point more clearly, sorry.

    51 percent of voters in Massachusetts are unenrolled in a party. While they have tended to be reliably Democrat, they've elected a couple of Republican governors and are the determining factor in this race. Abstention by actual registered Democrats was a small factor in Brown's win.

  4. sheik yer Bouti6:15 PM

    Dano....your personal biases are acting up again....what is it with you and "gay rights" in the USA? I kinda doubt you would wear a pink ribbon in your hair holding a rainbow sign and march down any street in Venz bringing up the subject... not damn likely

    and despite your optimism...Obama is toast...he is already a lame duck one term president....thats not wishful thinking but reality....Obama is WEAK and is only propped by the news media....if we have one more "almost successful" or even a successful terrorist attack on our soil, people will be calling for his head....

  5. I very much like this post Daniel.

    I think the Venezuelan voter has a very different attitude towards the arrogance displayed by their leaders and all those in authority.They tend to take it as a given and focus on mainly whether they get thrown a bone or not.
    The US voter tends to react swiftly towards what they consider abuse of authority, or tone deafness to their demands.An authority figure can only ignore public opinion at his or her own peril.

    Ironically if Obama wants to pass the FTA with Colombia, he is more likely to do so with a Republican majority in Congress.After his mostly anti FTA declarations on the campaign trail , he would have to spend an enormous amount of political capital to persuade his own followers that this FTA has now become a necessity.As of now, it seems Obama deems the FTA with Colombia as desirable but not a priority.

  6. JSB

    I would like to see detailed exit polls before I can agree with you.

    Historically independents in any country tend to split along the prevailing mood. In the US additionally there is plenty of "independents" that register so because they can participate in whichever primary they want or because they do not want people to know that they are in fact GOP or Dem.

    Without exit polls in hand one cannot say more than what I wrote though it is certain that Gopers did not stay home.

    Besides, if independents did not feel motivated to go out and vote, what does that really change to my conclusions?

  7. sheik

    My "biases"? Since when have I been required to be neutral besides anti Chavez? And why do you leave out my pro choice bias? Since when is it a bias to summarize the two main "social" concerns of US politics today? Or did you want an off topic complete list of all, including school prayers, anti war movement, etc, etc........

    This is a blog, not an encyclopedia of grievances!

  8. I think this has been over analyzed
    by the Republicans and Democrats. The voters are fed up with the lying cheating politicians, big government, high taxes, government nationalization of private business, national healthcare and all the other B.S.
    What happened here is the voters are simply taking back their country.

  9. Daniel

    I must take exception to the over-used expression "Kennedy's seat." Brown goes to prove that this is the "people's" seat. I am neither liberal or conservative but stand strongly by this belief.

  10. Boludo Tejano8:09 PM

    This election was not about health care reform, but about how this one was carried. After all Massachusetts, and Waltham, do have already a state health care system. What has upset the Waltham voter and made it stay home is that what really matters for them, job security, economic growth, obscene bail outs, had to wait until Barack and Nancy pushed through an expensive package which was not a priority for them.

    There are several problems with your statement, Daniel. One problem is your assumption that off-year elections have the same turnout as presidential elections, therefore the lower turnout in yesterday’s Senate race was the result of turned-off voters staying home.
    In the 2002 Senate Race in Massachusettes, (the spelling was VERY deliberate), the US Senate race which John F Kerryman won had 2,000,681 votes cast. In the 2006 Senate Race in Massachusettes , 2,165,490 ballots were cast in the election which Ted Kennedy won. Both numbers exclude blank ballots. As the number of ballots cast in this off-year election were comparable to previous years, your claim about the reasons for abstention in the election is not supported by the facts.

    I am not going to opine on the motivations of those who stayed at home. However, there is a good indication that those who voted did so with similar motivations to your prototypical Waltham voter, as opposition to Obamacare was a big motivator for those who voted. Yet you inform us it was a motivator for not voting. Here is what people who voted say.
    Scott Brown’s opposition to congressional health care legislation was the most important issue that fueled his U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, according to exit poll data collected following the Tuesday special election.
    Fifty-two percent of Bay State voters who were surveyed as the polls closed said they opposed the federal health care reform measure and 42 percent said they cast their ballot to help stop President Obama from passing his chief domestic initiative.
    “I’m not surprised it was the top issue, but I was surprised by how overwhelming an issue it was. It became a focal point for the frustration that has been brewing with voters, and it’s a very personal issue that affects everyone,” said Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, a Republican firm that conducted the exit poll of 800 voters.
    “A plurality of voters said their vote was to stop the president’s health care plan — more than those saying it was a vote against his policies in general,” Fabrizio wrote in a memo that accompanied his exit polling.

    More follows, with the inevitability of meatball grinders,fried clams, and groundcover Princess Pine staying green all winter.

  11. Boludo Tejano8:17 PM

    "you will see that Brown improved only slightly over McCain. Thus his victory is due to Democrats staying home."
    Nonsense. Brown’s voting percentage was about 15% above McCain’s.Rasmussen Reports proves my point.

    In the end, Brown pulled off the upset in large part because he won unaffiliated voters by a 73% to 25% margin. The senator-elect also picked up 23% of the vote from Democrats. [Our polling shows that 53% of voters in Massachusetts are Democrats, 21% Republican and 26% not affiliated with either party.]…
    Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters in the state say health care was the most important factor in their voting decision. Brown made it clear in the closing days of the campaign that he intended to go to Washington to vote against the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats.
    Twenty-five percent (25%) of Massachusetts voters say the economy was most important.
    Forty-seven percent (47%) favor the health care legislation before Congress while 51% oppose it. However, the intensity was clearly with those who are opposed. Just 25% of voters in Massachusetts Strongly Favor the plan while 41% Strongly Oppose it.
    Fifty percent (50%) say it would be better to pass no health care legislation at all rather than passing the bill before Congress.

    In summation Daniel, a native New Englandah like myself has had more motivation to keep in touch with events on the ground than someone who has the stressor of living in and writing about Thugoslavia. If only so I can inform my Yellow Dog Democrat sister-in-law, long gone from Mass, that Brown swept her hometown with nearly 70 percent of the vote. My sister and her brother-in-law, on the other hand, are rejoicing in Mass right now. They put their dog to sleep years ago.

  12. Boludo

    And in which way does your comment contradicts what I actually wrote?


  13. To all (Including Boisbrule)

    Please, keep in mind that I write such post as a view FROM Venezuela, by an interested but not obsessed observer.

    In addition I write using occasionally and intentionally clichés that reflect cultural or historical precedent, such as using "Kennedy's seat".

    In other words, whether you are a Jesse Helms red meat conservative or a Kennedy granola crunching liberal, my posts on the US are NEVER going to please you. In other words relax and take these posts as my view, not the truth. Heck, I do not even aspire at writing the truth about Venezuela except that Chavez is such an obvious asshole!!!

  14. Boludo

    Deep breath.


    Take another one.

    Look now at the numbers, NOT the percentages. I use mostly numbers through the post, not percentages. GOP use only percentages and Dems are in shock to use anything.

    And then tell me really how far apart we are. We are not in full agreement, true, but we are not as far as what you think we are.

  15. The great damage of this result is its effect on health care reform, which is the most crucial piece of legislation in the US possibly for the last half century. Because of the vagaries of the political system, particularly the crazy 'filibuster' rule, this legislation, already threatened, could really be in danger now. If it should go down at the last minute, and fail again as it did in 1994, that would be catastrophic, in my opinion, for Obama, for the Democratic Party, but above all for the nation as a whole. That, apparently, is exactly what this Brown guy desires and intends, and why hearing of his election victory - which as you correctly point out, is completely the fault of Democratic complacency - gave me such a sickening feeling when I heard about it.

  16. Boludo Tejano9:38 PM

    Daniel to Boludo:

    And in which way does your comment contradicts what I actually wrote?(2:39)
    Your claim that dissatisfaction with Obamacare the economy etc. was what motivated abstention on the part of Democratic voters.
    1) Abstention/voting numbers were normal for off-year elections. See 2002 and 2006: very similar number of votes. In fact voting was better this year: 2,249,026 total votes (including Kennedy’s votes) compared to the off year 2006 Senate election : 2,165,490 votes cast ( exdluding blanks).
    2) On the contrary, dissatisfaction with Obamacare etc. was a big motivator for VOTING. I gave two sources to support that: Politico and Rasmussen.

    Deep breath.Again.Take another one.Look now at the numbers, NOT the percentages. I use mostly numbers through the post, not percentages….
    If you would also take a deep breath and take the time to closely read and reflect on my posts, you would have realized that my posting @ 2:39 PM already discussed the issue of NUMBERS. Please read it again. My reason for dealing with percentages in the @2:47 posting was that I also discussed the exit polls. Recall that you said to another poster, “I would like to see detailed exit polls before I can agree with you.”

    I will reiterate my point about NUMBERS. Do not compare apples to oranges. Off year election voting NUMBERS should be compared with voting numbers from other off year elections, not with numbers from Presidential elections. Turnout for off year elections is always lower than for Presidential elections. Lower turnout this election is not due to dissatisfaction with Obamacare and the economy, but to its being an off year election.
    (off year= not a year when a President is elected.)

    Regarding how close or far apart we are, I have no idea at this stage. Third and final posting. I agree with you here about no more than three postings (Ibelieve this is my third, I might be mistaken.). No point in more.

    At least you are very civil towards Gringos who disagree with your interpretation of US events. In other blogs I have gotten some rather nasty remarks from Venezuelans when I disagree with their interpretation of US events. They have drunk the Kool-Aid that says that those who disagree with liberals are stupid/evil/racist/theocrats etc. Actually, such Venezuelan responses sound very much like a standard garden variety liberal born and raised in the USA. Of course I have also gotten nasty remarks from US citizens, who have drunk the Kool-Aid. Yo: Post Liberal.

    Again my point is that abstention for this election is normal for an off year election. Abstention this year is not due to dissatisfaction with Obamacare/economy etc., but is instead normal off year voting behavior. The votes when combined with exit polls indicate a substantial Democrat and Independent shift to Brown.

    Not directed to your question: here are 2008 Party Enrollment Figures for Massachusetts" Not quite the same as reported to Rasmussen, but

    51% Independent/unenrolled
    37% Democrat
    12 % Republican
    Third post. Finished.

  17. Boludo

    The three posts rule is not a stone written rule: as long as the point keeps evolving one is allowed to have more than three posts.

    Second, thanks for acknowledging my civility. See, I am an old fashioned Liberal, not the new generation take no hostage approach that developed first under Clinton from the right and now under Bush from the left.

    This being said I now disagree with you. If indeed turnout is lower then it should affect BOTH parties, unequally for sure but both. Clearly the victim here is the Democrat more than the republican, way more.

    One can make a point that independents stayed home, but those were much more independent leaning democrat than independent leaning republican.

    Whatever: whichever way one looks at it, Massachusetts democrats did not feel like going to vote, the GOP might have won or not but the Dems lost for sure.

  18. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I've seen NO evidence that Democratic party abstention played a role in Brown's victory. Rather, 25% of Democrats and a huge majority of independents turned on Coakley and voted for Brown. Not sure why that's such a controversial idea to you.

    Turnout for this election beat all previous non-general election turnouts. For the record, in Massachusetts, voters break down as follows:

    D: 1,559,464 (37.0%)
    R: 490,259 (11.6%)
    Other: 3,080,985 (51.4%)

    If we do find that 100,000+ Democrats who normally vote in non-general elections stayed at home, I'll buy you a beer. ...or whatever you Yaracuyanos drink.

    Peace. --jsb

  19. Sorry Daniel,

    ( unless you were excluding me)Do you have something against farm animals?

    I mostly like your posts on the US because even when sometimes I disagree with you, I think your humor, your tone and analysis have great merit.


    I understand you well here.I also had a sinking feeling and for the same reason.On one hand I like change because I think it is good for democracy but I am very worried about losing some kind of health care reform.

  20. but Obama has problems with the very blue-collar Waltham voters that inhabit there.

    Yep. Dead cold on the money. As you may recall, Hillary was making a death-charge against Obama in West Virgina, Ohio and Pa with these voters.... and came damn close to a comeback.

  21. jsb

    there are 1.5 million registered dems and 1 million votes for their woman. how does that match what you are trying to say?

    a beer will be fine, thank you!

  22. Tell me the last time 1.5 million registered Democrats voted in a non-general election in Massachusetts. Breaking third post rule so I will buy you that beer.

  23. Anonymous4:25 AM

    I have a totally different view of this election result: Cognitive dissonance. This is something that is characteristic of voters.
    Browm himself claims that the same anger that brought Obama to power last year helped him get elected.
    So, people claim that they are angry that the economy is not doing well, and that there is massive spending. Well, guess what, the way to create jobs in a deep recession is to spend money. This is part of the massive spending by the administration, isn't it? People want health reform, but claim that the governments has gone too far, and that this will cost too much. Really? Take the simplest issues of health care reform, which are universally agreed upon by all parties: Forbidding insures from denying coverage based upon preexisting conditions, and capping benefits to the insured. Well, to do that, the insurers themselves insit on universal coverage (lest they end up sunbsidizing a large portion of the insured population). But to get universal coverage subsidies for the poor are necessary. This requires a layout of government money in the early stages of the game. So, what gives?

    Indeed, there is anger, but it is very misguided. You can't have the cake and eat it too, and the American voter for far too long has tried to do that.

    Pelao Manrique

  24. ConsDemo5:31 AM

    job security, economic growth, obscene bail outs

    Common on Daniel, you should know governments can't make the economy grow or guarantee almost sound like a Chavista! Having said that, I know many people have this populist notion that the state can simply wave a magic wand and declare prosperity for all simply be taking from the evil rich.

    As for the bailouts, on the banks Obama had no choice, the last thing we needed was a wave of bank failures.


  25. Love the post, Dan. Very well done.

    One note to offer: You mention that Obama/Pelosi need to pass the FTA with Colombia. Daniel: the leftists in usa HATE free trade. It's the enemy. That's like asking Chavez to fix the currency to the dollar. The left here believes in labor unions, the labor unions will fight to the death against FTAs, and that's the end of the issue. You're right, they should pass it. But they never will even consider it, since in their minds, it's evil.

    Basically, whatever the lawyers association and unions want, that's the official position. And a FTA with Colombia will NEVER even be CONSIDERED with dems running the country.

    Again, though, your post, as a perspective from VZ, is well appreciated.

  26. Boludo Tejano4:23 PM

    Daniel to jsb
    there are 1.5 million registered dems and 1 million votes for their woman. how does that match what you are trying to say?

    Apples to oranges. Off year NUMBERS should be compared to off year NUMBERS, not to Presidential year numbers. Percentages, because they discount the difference in turnout between off year and Presidential elections, are a more valid form of comparison.

    Vote totals
    2004 Presidential 2,905,360
    2008 Presidential 3,102,995

    2002 US Senate 2,000,681
    2006 US Senate 2,165,490
    2010 US Senate 2,249,026

    2004 Presidential
    Kerry 1,803,800
    Bush 1,071,109

    2006 Senate
    Kennedy 1,071,109
    Chase(R) 661,532

    Daniel, using your logic,it might be said that because the votes for Kennedy in 2006 were over 700,000 lower than Kerry’s in 2004, there were a lot of stay at home Democrats protesting Ted or whatever. Percentages count. Also note that the off year vote totals for Kennedy in 2006 were about the same what Coakley got.

    If you are going to reply to this, take your time, as I am not going to be checking for 24 hours.

  27. To several

    If there is 500 registered voters for party X and 300 voted, it means that 200 stayed home. It is irrelevant that we are on an off year or not, they stayed home. You may debate ad infinitum why they stayed home, but they stayed home.

    What needs to be discussed is that when a national issue of immense importance that even requires the president to come and campaign is not enough to drag a third of the registered voters of X party, then there is a problem. Are Massachusetts voters such a bunch of irresponsible folks? Maybe, maybe not.

    Or if you want a more direct example, Virginia and New Jersey are indeed off years, local affairs, but Massachusetts senate vote was not anymore an off year vote since too many politicians made it a national issue, starting with the winning candidate.

  28. consdemo

    my commenting on what people want from obama or maccain or whomever does not represent any endorsement on my part.

  29. Daniel: "...Pelosi should wake up to, the easiest way for her to prove that she is more than just a knee jerk Liberal, that she is also a stateswoman."

    Mrs. Pelosi can prove she is not a "knee jerk" liberal when Chávez can prove he is not an ignorant tyrant. As for "stateswoman"; if she qualifies for that characterization, so does Daniel Ortega. Also Pelosi's official "residence" (congressional district) is in the city of San Francisco not Marin County. Her family vineyard is in St. Helena, Napa County.

  30. Leonidas

    I write: "for her to prove that she is more than"

    All words count in my texts.

    AGAIN: I am a Liberal. If this is offensive to you and others I am sorry. If you cannot understand how a Liberal can oppose Chavez and be neutral on certain US issues, it is your problem! If you think that all Liberals are the same then you allow me to describe all conservatives with whatever cliches I feel like pulling off my ass that day.


  31. " I am a Liberal. If this is offensive to you and others I am sorry."

    I've always known you were a liberal, all the more credible are your criticisms of Chavez for it. I see your point about the Mass vote. I guess here we're all just used to people sitting out mid-term and special elections for no other reason than folks are just lazy or busy. You seem to want to attribute it to a Congress who "behaved in an Imperial, Elite way." We're just trying to tell you that folks ALWAYS stay home on off-year or special elections. Is it Polar beer? And can it wait till my next visit to Venezuela? Peace.


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