18 January 2010

A Thought On Brown's Appeal

I'm no political whiz, so take this with a grain of salt.

I've been following Republican Scott Brown's special election campaign here in MA, in which he's competing with Democrat Martha Coakley for the Senate seat opened by the passing of Ted Kennedy last year. It's been quite a thing to see, how he's blazed from near-obscurity, thirty points behind to major political standing (in MA, at least), at the leading edge of the margin of error in the two most recent major polls of the race. There's been speculation all over the blogosphere as to what chord he's struck with the electorate of Massachusetts that's allowed him this (I daresay) historically unprecedented performance in the state.

But I really wonder if anyone's really hit it. Much has been made of Brown's deft riposte to moderator David Gergen during the final debate last week, referring to the open MA Senate seat, in short: "It's the people's seat." Sure, it was a stinging rebuke to Coakley and other Democrats who took it for granted that the seat in which the 'Liberal Lion' had sat for almost five decades would continue to be filled by a Donkey. But I really wonder if the line doesn't tap into something deeper in people's psyches.

A major critique I have of the Democratic party is its inclination toward the increase in government scope and power. (Not that the Republican party has been all that different of late, sadly!) Correspondingly, a major critique I've seen made by more than one person (often in wrangling political discussions on Facebook - hey, guys!) of the Republican party is its tendency toward handing favors and, indirectly or directly, power and (debatably appropriate) freedom of action to corporations, businesses and Wall Street. (And again, not that the Democratic party has been all that different on this count, either!) You may notice a commonality here, in that in both cases power is being handed to large, impersonal entities that often, and in many cases I believe rightly so, are seen to have very little real interest in the well-being of the individual... of the people.

Maybe Scott Brown's appeal stems mainly from his populist stance. Maybe his appeal is part of the same phenomenon that's led to the flourishing of the Tea Party movement. Perhaps it's all part of a broader populist resurgence; perhaps many citizens feel that self-governance is slipping away, with ever more power and freedom being shackled up in the form of endless waits in government office lines and on automated help line calls. Maybe neither mainstream party truly has its finger on the pulse of the nation, a strengthening beat of "Give Us Our Lives Back."

I think I don't neatly fit any major political labels... I'm not a pure populist, I don't think - but neither am I a socialist or a pure capitalist. Much of our current prosperity stems from the logistical and material economies of scale that large companies/corporations provide -- I can't fathom how computers would ever have come about without, among other things, the enormous semiconductor industry to manufacture them. A friend is convinced that it's possible to set up a market system that regulates itself -- I'm highly skeptical, as I think that some government regulation, judiciously balanced, is necessary and inevitable. National defense also (leaving aside please whatever you may think of the current exertions bearing this label) would probably be a nightmare absent the undergirding federal structure. (I'm reading Federalist Papers now, and I found Jay's case in #s 2-5 solidly convincing.) So, I think radically stripping back the government and corporate structures to next to nothing is neither feasible nor wise.

But I think what we're seeing in Massachusetts right now is a symptom of a desire for people to have more of their lives to themselves, and I think that Brown's message to the voters of, 'I'll be an independent voice, and if you elect me this seat will be your seat,' strikes exactly the right note to resonate with that sentiment. When you have 'Progressives Against Coakley' and a Cape Cod paper that "[does] not agree with Brown on everything," including "[his] position on health care reform" but still endorses him anyways, it seems clear to me that he's touching something that transcends the particular hot-button topics being tossed around today.