Thinking about it, Scott Brown’s election as the Senator for Massachusetts may be more significant than any election in my lifetime, including the Reagan Revolution and the 1994 Congressional takeover. I know this sounds silly. In 1980, the political shift involved a President, not a mere Senator; in 1994, it was an entire Congress, not just a single Senator. The thing with the previous elections, though, was that they represented the usual pendulum of politics. Of course, that pendulum shift is going on here too, although it’s significant how quickly the pendulum swung. This unusually swift voter backlash — in Massachusetts yet! — has to do with the fact that (a) voters have come to realize that Obama lied to them consistently about his political beliefs, going far beyond the puffery that is normative for political campaigns and (b) voters are seeing that unlimited one party rule is precisely as dangerous as the Founders feared it would be. Still, the back and forth of political winds is nothing new.
What is new is that Scott Brown represents the first populist candidate in my lifetime. As you recall, the Republican machine tried to ignore him. It was the people, galvanized by the internet, who elevated this campaign from a simple regional special election to a national referendum on the White House and Congress.
Nor can the power of people on the internet be discounted by saying “Well, it was Obama who first ran the perfect internet campaign.” While it’s true that he used the internet as a good fundraiser (although I believe I read that most of his money ultimately came from big bundlers), the campaign simply used the internet as another means of disseminating information from the top down and raising money from the bottom up. It was all very centralized.
The difference with Scott Brown’s campaign is that the internet did not function from the top down. Instead — and here’s the staggering thing — it functioned from the bottom up. This was the first big win of the Army of Pajama-clad Davids. The internet finally fulfilled the grassroots political promise all of us were expecting to see.
Think about it: Brown leaped to national prominence because his “It’s the people’s seat” went viral on the internet. He stayed in the public eye because bloggers and emailers everywhere spread the news. It was the internet functioning from the bottom up that enabled him to raise more than $1,000,000 in a single day, in donations averaging $77 each. In other words, not only did Scott Brown win “the people’s seat,” as opposed to the Kennedy Seat, for the first time in my lifetime, we also had the people’s candidate. This should shake them up, not only at the DNC, but at the RNC too.
All of this, of course, was helped by Scott Brown himself. The increasing unpopularity of health care and the Democrats’ other big-government initiatives, combined with an appallingly bad candidate, might have been enough for a squeaker, with Brown sneaking into the Senate seat under a cloud of recounts and recriminations. Brown, however, put the thing over the top. He proved to be an unusually deft and sophisticated candidate, who handled his sudden appearance on the national scene with great aplomb. He managed to maintain an intelligent focus on the issues, all the while projecting a warm, folksy populism. It didn’t hurt that he’s physically attractive. In a media age, people would rather look at Brown than at Reid. The question now, of course, is whether he’s a perpetual candidate, a la the increasingly weary and wearisome Obama, or if there’s substance behind the image. I would like to think we’re seeing a new Republican star being born here.
I also hope that Brown manages to remain grounded. The sudden wave of adulation can be very heady stuff. Someone who is weak could easily start discounting both the public mood and the horrible Coakley as factors in the election, and begin to think “it’s all about me.” My friends and I don’t think Brown shows any signs of narcissism, but I’m still nervous. Fame is dangerous.
UPDATE: More details about the true grassroots nature of Brown’s victory.
UPDATE II: More evidence (do we still need it?) that Brown’s victory came from below, not above. Wheeee!!! The people!