No one can say that history doesn’t have a sense of humor. Twelve months ago you would not have found an American alive who believed that the senior Senate seat in the State of Massachusetts would remain anything but eternally Democratic. Afterall, it had been occupied for nearly 50 years by the same man -a liberal lion who happened to be the scion to the family that had dominated Massachusetts politics since the early 1950s.
To say that the Democrats owned Ted Kennedy’s senate seat, is to understate the matter. Most of us believed that to dislodge a Kennedy or any Democratic successor would require the political equivalent of a comet striking Boston.
Republican Scott Brown’s victory yesterday, which upended more than 70 years of Democratic rule, was therefore not just historic; it was proof that American politics are never static, that change can come as quickly – and as brutally- as the time it takes to fashion a political agenda that is out to lunch on the way most Americans think and feel.
For Barack Obama this could not be a more depressing indication of the degree of national outrage and disappointment about his young Administration. Coming at exactly the one year mark of his accession to power, this voter statement was not a rejection of the Kennedy legacy per se, as much as a deliberate swipe at the big government, welfare programming and economic naivete of the current Administration.
Yet nor should it be read as an endorsement for the Republicans. The election of Scott Brown should rather be understood as a warning to them that the electorate will no longer tolerate politics as usual, nor will it give latitude to candidates who are out of touch with the basic concerns of life – jobs, housing economic stability and national security – or to those who prefer to gamble away the country’s future on health care reform, global warming obsessions or deficits that will saddle their children and grandchildren with onerous obligations for years into the future.
The lesson of Masschusetts, ultimately, is that Americans – liberals and conservatives alike, are fed up. They are not looking for a Messiah, as some wanted to paint Barack Obama; nor are they looking for big government, as both Bush and Obama presented to them. They are looking for common sense and stability.
Those are not qualities that our political system seems to produce in abundant quantities. But maybe, just maybe, an emerging leader in one of the parties will get the message and bring back to the White House those elements with enough time to stave off a true national disaster.