Many voices – including mine – were raised against Democrat Martha Coakley’s indolent campaign in last week’s loss to Republican Scott Brown; they bumped heads in Massachusetts’ special election for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat. On further thought I find she was no less guilty than the majority of Americans who swept Barack Obama into the White House.
Ms. Coakley had great expectations that in her Democratic state she would be handily elected. In hindsight, we critics jumped on her for taking a leisurely Christmas holiday. And specifically the way she pointedly questioned the wisdom of soliciting votes by standing outside Fenway Park in a freezing rain. It’s all too simple to laud Senator-elect Brown’s hard-charging effort to do the things she refused to do.
Her campaign began in the atmosphere of mourning the man who stood as his party’s most celebrated figure; he died before the fierce backlash against President Obama’s health care reform. It did absolutely no good that Senator Kennedy was the nation’s leading proponent of reform. It proved equally disastrous that she counted on her party’s great lead over registered Republicans.
Last Tuesday’s outcome was decided by so-called independents that decline to state their partisan preference; they are the electoral system’s mavericks. Because they are not organized there is no proven way to reach them; in any event, their individuality makes them politically unreliable. They wield power beyond their nebulous estimate; even when registered their appearance at polls cannot be counted on. They are notoriously fickle. Their growth in numbers has transformed the republic’s elections, down to the local level, into a crap shoot.
Electing Mr. Obama was an emotional response to the previous administration’s failures in important areas, notably economic and the manner of handling the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. By the time George W. Bush and Richard Cheney left office, Wall Street and the nation’s big banks had collapsed. Their attempt to make the Muslim nations into carbon copies of America proved manifestly unsuccessful. Corruption in Baghdad and Kabul sticks out.
As a national political neophyte, Mr. Obama lit a match in our dispirited darkness; he offered hope and preached a positive “Yes, we can” motif. He never proposed that he personally was capable of righting the nation’s wrongs; he used the word “we.” He excited great expectations throughout the country and not simply in Massachusetts and Martha Coakley.
At its core, politics strike most Americans as boring, which is why so few of them go to the polls. In response to a strong human tendency to avoid responsibility, other nations legislate fines and punishments for those who do not vote. (The English “let George do it” exists in every language: “ohne mich” (without me) is the way Germans put it.)
Republicans – including Rush Limbaugh – and their attacks have little to do with the death of Mr. Obama’s “hope;” it was murdered by voters, Democrats and independents; they expected he would pull off the righting of so many national wrongs – all by himself. I am reminded of Jimmy Carter’s single term.
As the current president, voters chose Mr. Carter in the wake of the turmoil created by Richard M. Nixon; Gerald Ford kept alive his predecessor’s years by pardoning Mr. Nixon. (Of course, Mr. Ford was right. He healed Watergate’s hurt.)
As Barack Obama, Georgia Governor Carter presented a fresh national face; people were disgusted with Washington “insiders.” Jimmy Carter walked down Pennsylvania Avenue for his inauguration: I covered that day as a reporter. Once in office, when he exercised the very attributes that caused people to vote him in, he was made a universal laughing stock and not only by professional comedians. At the end of his four years, all by himself, he exhibited truly presidential grace. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for “seeking peaceful solutions and promoting social and economic justice.”
With the Nobel already in his pocket, Barack Obama looks like he will follow Jimmy Carter’s example and serve a single term. Not for his performance in the Oval Office, as the gentleman from Georgia, the current president incited great expectations that no single individual could possibly fulfill.