Thursday, January 21, 2010

Brushstrokes in a Painting

Howard Dean was on Hardball yesterday “discussing” the Coakley loss with Chris Matthews. I put that word in quotes, because the “discussion” had more in common with two monkeys fighting over possession of a football that it did with adult discourse. Digby has a transcript of that comedy in a post at Hullabaloo if you’d like to read it, or you can watch the clip, or I’ll summarize the inanity for you;

Matthews says that voters voted against health care because Coakley said she favored the “public option” and lost, and Brown said he would “kill health care reform” entirely and won. Dean, strangely enough, claimed that Coakley lost because the “health care reform” did not go far enough. It was an exercise in silliness, which is why I watch Hardball, but I think Dean was closer to being right than Matthews was. (No surprise there.)

Art critics look at a painting and they see the brushstrokes; they see the technique that the artist used to make the canvas come to life. Ordinary people look at a painting and are utterly unaware of the brushstrokes; they see the canvas, the finished picture.

Media pundits are the “art critics” of politics; they are fanatical about individual statements made and positions taken by candidates. Voters hear thousands of statements on hundreds of issues, and generally remember none of them when they enter the voting booth. What they remember is the picture that the candidate painted of who he/she is. The individual statements and positions are the brushstrokes that the candidate uses to paint the picture that gets him/her elected.

Sure, maybe a voter or two went into the booth last November and voted for Obama specifically because he was for healthcare reform and opposed the individual mandate (omigosh, remember that?), and that voter was so concerned with that one issue that nothing else mattered. Millions more voted for him because he was “the agent of change” or something similar.

As Steve McMahon, thinking Democratic pundit, points out, candidates can run on a couple of differing sets of axes; the conservative/liberal axis, or the establishment/change axis. Coakley, regardless of any single policy position or statement, painted herself as part of the establishment and ran as a liberal. Brown, again regardless of any single thing that he said, represented himself as an outsider and ran as an agent of change.

To interpret the election as about any single issue would be viable, probably, only if we had one single voter. The trend that should be discernable is that voters were angry with the way government was working last year and wanted change and they are angry still, or again, and want change. The “outsider” vowing to change the system won the presidential election in 2008, and the “outsider” promising change won last Tuesday. That would suggest that Democrats are not delivering on their promise.

The Democratic Party does not seem to be getting that message.

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