Massachusetts Mayhem: The Democrats’ Debacle and the Perfect Moment for Party Progressives

Scott Brown, the Republican Senator-elect from Massachusetts, defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in a special election Jan. 18 for the seat vacated by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Photo/Wikimedia

The media punditry, corn-fed on conventional wisdom, are all atwitter about Tuesday’s Democratic debacle in Massachusetts, saying the trouncing of the Democratic candidate for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, by upstart State Senator Scott Brown means Democrats in Congress should abandon plans to push through a House-Senate compromise health bill, and instead just go with the Senate’s version of health “reform” legislation, thus circumventing a certain Republican filibuster attempt.

Brown campaigned promising to be the “41st vote” to kill the Obama health bill.

The Senate bill, remember, is the dreadful health bill version that outlaws abortion coverage for anyone getting subsidized insurance, and that taxes the hell out of health insurance benefits that are the mainstay of many middle-income and working-class families, not to mention mandating that people with low incomes spend significant assets they don’t have to buy lousy insurance they may not want or need. As bad as the House version is, the Senate bill is even worse.

It is a crummy bill, cobbled together from bits and pieces of self-serving elements submitted by health industry lobbyists, who have spent the last year swarming over the Senate like ants and maggots over a fetid, unrecognizeable lump of roadkill.

The call for the House to adopt the Senate plan, so as to avoid a filibuster, is advice that would doom the Democrats in 2010. While that might well be a good thing, given the sorry excuse for an alternative to the Republicans that the Democrats have become, I would argue that the time is right for the small rump of Democrats who are still progressives to take a stand.


Because they have the power to drive a stake through the corporatists who run the Democratic Party, and who have been working assiduously for decades to neuter the party and especially its progressives caucus. If progressive members of the House simply refuse to vote for the Senate version of the health bill, it cannot go forward.

The reason President Barack Obama’s health plan, the president’s and the Democratic Party’s support have all cratered even in that most emblematic Democratic state of Massachusetts is not that Republicans are resurgent. It is not even that unaffiliated voters have turned from Obama, though certainly some have. It’s that Democrats have become disgusted with the man they turned out for so enthusiastically in November 2008, with his “plan” for health “reform,” and with the party that they gave such a resounding victory to in Congress that same election and in 2006.

Democratic voters–especially liberal Democrats–are rightly feeling punked. Even those who did hold their noses and voted for Coakely in Massachusetts, were not doing it with any enthusiasm, and certainly weren’t hustling their friends and coworkers to vote along with them.

And the Obama/Democrat health care reform sellout is only one of their complaints. There is also the Obama cave-in to Wall Street, and his enormous escalation of the Afghanistan War, his failure to restore Constitutional government, and his wishy-washy efforts on climate change. And of course there’s the willing complicity of the Democrats in both houses of Congress.

It’s funny to recall that a year ago, it was common to hear pundits pronouncing the death of the Republican Party. Now, it appears that it is actually the Democratic Party that is headed for history’s dumpster–with President Obama and the party’s corrupt hack leadership in Congress in the driver’s seat of the careening truck.

Coakley was true to form as the party’s standard-bearer in this collapse. Even as her candidacy was heading for the rocks, instead of campaigning hard for the state’s liberal base, she headed off on January 12, just a week ahead of the special election, to pander to lobbyists from the health industry and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bribes from them. No wonder her base deserted her or just stayed home!

Hell, if I were in Massachusetts, I’d vote have for Coakley’s GOP opponent. The former Cosmopolitan centerfold model may be just a buffer version of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but at least he has vowed, if elected, to kill the Senate health bill.

For that alone he deserved progressive Democrats’ support.

The Mass. mayhem proves that Democrats in Congress area headed for a historic and well-earned rout this November. Progressive Democrats in House and Senate should be cutting themselves loose as soon as possible from this sinking ship and following the lead of Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. There is no home for progressives in the Democratic Party. They now have a historic opportunity to send the corporatist Democrats off to their well-deserved demise, while forging the Congressional core of something new: a true progressive opposition party representing America’s working people.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at

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1 Response for “Massachusetts Mayhem: The Democrats’ Debacle and the Perfect Moment for Party Progressives”

  1. Jesse Hemingway says:

    Mismanagement and lack of leadership but the corporations really don’t care what their shills call them self politically. We the people know there no leadership looking out for U.S. The democrats prefer work from a pathetic failure center.

    All the Eyfing Democratic that have been ridiculing Gov. Howard Dean the jokes on you.

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