You Rang?
With respect to Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts yesterday, the question that I’ve been asked most frequently over the past twenty-four hours is “what is the big lesson to be learned from this remarkable political upset?” For me, the answer is actually pretty straightforward – voters are angry – about the economy, about the cost and accessibility of health care, and about a generally dysfunctional policymaking system in Washington, D.C. that can’t seem to extract the country from its current existential rut. These voters were angry when they voted President Obama into office in 2008, and they are still angry about many of the same issues one year later.
We will be talking about this anger in the context of independent voters for some time to come, although it is fair to say that progressives and conservatives are angry for their own reasons, as well. But there is no denying that the steady movement of independents away from Obama over the past year poses a real problem for the administration as it tries to keep its agenda on track heading into the 2010 midterm elections. We saw this phenomenon in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, and it was front and center again last night in Massachusetts.
If we think about this voting behavior as the search for a political comfort zone, part of the problem is that while a big chunk of the electorate votes as a slightly center-right or center-left nation, it is governed by a policymaking system in which partisan polarization causes policy outcomes to lurch back and forth between polarities on the left and right. Independents unhappy with President George W. Bush are now unhappy with President Obama.
While there is a pragmatic streak in Obama’s political persona that could help him reconnect with these independent voters, right now they seem largely lost in the pitched battle being waged between progressives and conservatives for control of our government’s institutional prerogatives. It certainly seems like their anger and frustration at the situation boiled over once again last night.
Note: I have to step away from the website for a few days. Sorry for the truncated posting schedule this week. I will be back on Monday, January 25th with a full week of new content for you. See you soon. -Dean

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