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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Messiah Compulsion

by digby

There are many post-mortems in the press and the blogosphere today and they all have interesting things to say. Quite a few are saying that the Democrats should adopt a more populist tone and aggressive economic policy, something which many of us have been advocating since the economic meltdown last year. The long months of ugly health care deal-making and coddling of bankers has only made it more essential --- but possibly too late. It's obvious that the zeitgeist out here in the country is angry, frustrated and scared and people want some acknowledgement of that. The spectacle of elites diddling each other while Real America burns naturally tends to lead to bad results.

The Democrats are all running around this morning looking panicked and freaked out which doesn't give anyone confidence. Everyone seems to forget that a year ago, Obama only had 58 votes in the Senate and everyone was in a state of near hysteria over his massive institutional power and soaring mandate. Now he has 59 and he's suddenly impotent. But this reaction was sadly predictable. And the message from the media and their centrist muses is also predictable --- move right immediately. SOS.

So it's hard to see today exactly where this is going, particularly on health care which many people are saying should be passed piecemeal --- "just the popular parts." I'll be looking forward to a bill which says that health insurance must cover everyone and can't cancel anyone but which has no cost controls. Somehow I don't think that's going to be popular for long. So, that's very much in flux as well.

Anyway, there are obviously many factors here, and frankly, because there were no exit polls done, we will probably never know exactly what combination of factors drove this race in Massachusetts. My personal opinion is that Scott Brown ran a vague campaign based upon personal charisma in the Barack Obama mode and became this year's vessel for protest against the status quo. The tea partiers are claiming him, as is the GOP establishment. And the media has declared him a maverick independent. Nobody knows who he *really* is, but in this era it seems that everybody's just looking for a young, handsome hero with a beautiful family to step in and save the day. (In fact, I think this particular paradigm was set by the special election of Arnold Schwarzenneger in California in 2003. As usual, as California goes ... oh lord.)

All the happy supporters at Scott Brown's victory party last night were shouting "yes we can."

It's fairly clear that this inchoate desire for "change" going forward is not going to benefit liberals much, and it's not just because they are erroneously perceived to be in charge in Washington. And that's because I think people are very much undestimating the conservative propaganda arm, and its creation, the teabaggers.

Dave Weigel writes about them in the Brown race:

The volunteers, journalists, and donors who entered the ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel on Tuesday were greeted by enthusiasm that didn’t usually belong to Republican campaigns in Massachusetts. The room was packed–no one else allowed in–only an hour after the polls closed. And among the throngs were Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler, leaders of Tea Party Patriots, who’d flown in from Georgia and California to watch the final stretch of Scott Brown’s Republican U.S. Senate bid. Meckler held up a Flip Video camera, panning it across the room to film Brown supporters as they chatted and lined up for food and drinks.

“What you’re seeing here in Massachusetts is a reflection of what’s happening all across the country,” said Meckler. Democrats, after all, had tried to turn the momentum against Brown by attacking his endorsements from Tea Party groups and painting him as a tool of out-of-state right-wingers. In a fundraising appeal, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had even called Brown a “far-right teabagger Republican.” Laura Clawson of Daily Kos derisively called him “the first teabagger senator.”

“Clearly, they’re paying attention to us,” said Martin. “They’re not ignoring us.”


A few steps away from the stage where Brown would make his victory speech, a team of conservative activists–some from the state, some not–focused on how they’d brought together their movement to outsmart and outspend one of the country’s most effective Democratic machines. Two months ago, several of them had worked for the insurgent campaign of Doug Hoffman, a first-time candidate who ran on the Conservative Party ticket for a House seat in New York’s 23rd district, forced the Republican Party’s moderate candidate out of the race, and narrowly lost what had been safe GOP territory. Those activists looked at Brown as Hoffman 2.0, a candidate and a campaign that learned the right lessons from that experience and leveraged them into a winning effort.

“They were better funded than Hoffman,” said Eric Odom, the executive director of the American Liberty Alliance. “More importantly, NY-23 lacked any sort of a coherent get-out-the-vote effort. That dominated here. Phone banks, visibilities, giving everybody something to do.” Tea Party activists, said Odom, had flooded into the state. A few feet behind him stood Hannah Giles, the young conservative activist who’d posed as a prostitute for video stings of ACORN, and who had come to the state for (mostly unsuccessful) crowdsourced investigations of possible “voter fraud.”

Brown’s short campaign–he announced for the seat on September 12, 2009, the very day that many Tea Party activists participated in a “taxpayer march on Washington”–masterfully wove together traditional campaign strategy and outreach to old and new conservative media. The arc of his victory demonstrated just how the modern conservative movement can boost a campaign without generating a backlash from voters. His online campaign strategist, Rob Willington, explained to TWI that Brown focused early on outreach to conservative media and built on that with technology that let local and out-of-state activists grab a piece of the campaign.

“I concentrated on specific conservative opinion leaders here in Massachusetts for the first part of the campaign,” said Willington. “Right around Christmas, I started targeting some national political leaders, using certain hashtags, and using video.”


From that point, Brown became a cause for the Tea Party movement and the people who’d backed Doug Hoffman...


Every negative Coakley storyline was amplified and made infamous by the same means. On January 14, the Wall Street Journal–owned, like The Weekly Standard and Fox News, by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp–ran an op-ed on Coakley’s record as attorney general, putting the spotlight on a gruesome case of sexual abuse involving a curling iron. The story, aired out earlier by the Boston Globe but not yet known to activists, became infamous, as did Coakley’s verbal stumbles. At Brown rallies attended by TWI, there was universal awareness of Coakley’s gaffes and the curling iron case.


“He’s almost like a messiah,” said Deborah Strange, a former Ted Kennedy supporter–although she’d voted for George W. Bush and John McCain–who sat resting her bad knees as Brown gave his victory speech. “He’s given us hope. He’s given us hope.

Read the whole thing. That story is important. Political messiahs have a pretty short shelf likfe these days, but the Republican propaganda arm is stronger than ever. And it would behoove all of us to spend some time watching exactly what it is they are saying.