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Referendums and Such

January 21, 2010
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For all the prattling about “referendums” on what happened in Massachusetts, I think the best explanation of events came from, that’s right, the President himself:

Here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country.   The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office.   People are angry, and they’re frustrated.  Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

Not to pretend that I care for a second about what the President actually says, but uh, yeah.  I fail to see any other explanation for a Republican victory in Massachusetts than pure populist frustration with the state of the economy.  And that may be the President’s fault, given that he promised the country everything and has delivered it a steady diet of a 10% unemployment rate (even though the rate itself is probably not his fault).  Do I think Congress and the Administration could have done something to help the floundering economy?  Yes.  And I firmly believe that had they implemented that policy, Scott Brown would not have been elected.

But for the Obama supporters who voted for Brown, what the hell were they expecting?  They thought that this stimulus package was going to make the economy rebound like a bouncy ball?  They really believe that, only one year later, the President would have turned the world on its head like he said it would?  It’s really disappointing to see how impressionable even the people of Massachusetts are.  Sure, I think Congress could have done more for the economy, but how can you be surprised by the unemployment rate if you were even a sentient being over the past year?

Meanwhile, as Sullivan notes, the only difference between Scott Brown and any other standard Republican is his speaking ability and his social liberalism.  Which, as Douthat argues, could wind up being really bad for the Republicans and really bad for the country:

As I’ve argued before, the problem increasingly isn’t a dearth of right-of-center policy ideas; it’s a dearth of politicians willing to champion them. It’s easier, in the present populist environment, to just run against Democrats and punt on policy specifics. But that’s how you end up with a “catastrophic success,” to borrow from Peggy Noonan: You win an election because the country wants to rein in the other party, and then realize you have no idea, beyond the usual “limited government” generalities, what you want to do instead.

This sort of makes me reconsider my position that the Republicans don’t need a leader right now.  Maybe they need somebody to vocally advocate smart policy ideas so that the rest of the sluggards will get in line.  And we know that person isn’t Michael Steele.

UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf makes a good point:

It is particularly amusing to see folks call the outcome stunning in one breath and aver in the next that they can explain why it happened mere hours after the fact, without any new data save the result. This is especially grating when it’s so obvious that the election turned on all the issues that were most important to me, that the outcome so clearly vindicates my world view, and that the wisest course in light of the results is for both parties to do exactly what I’ve been advocating for all along.

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