A fellow named Edward Markey has just been elected senator by the good folks of Massachusetts, who picked Markey to succeed John Kerry, who surrendered his seat in February to be secretary of state.
The run-up to yesterday’s special election yielded extremely limited interest all the way through, with the commonwealth’s attention being largely focused on the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. Indeed, awareness of Tuesday’s vote was so tepid that both candidates were compelled to expend considerable resources simply to remind voters which day the election was to be held.
While we could drone on ad infinitum about how depressing it is that Americans take their most sacred rights so much for granted that they sometimes forget about them entirely, the fact is that the Massachusetts election never carried anything in the way of real tension or urgency, its result never much in doubt.
Markey’s opponent, Gabriel Gomez, was by no means lacking in positive appeal. The son of immigrants, Gomez graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy to become an aircraft carrier pilot and later a Navy SEAL. After retiring from the Armed Forces, he embarked upon a business career that has proved quite profitable.
However, Gomez was persistently (and fatally) handicapped in the campaign by his most marked characteristic of all: He is a Republican.
What is worse, his opponent, Markey, is a Democrat.
Considerable scholarship has been done on the eternally complicated balancing act that is required for a Republican to win elected office in a state such as Massachusetts, where a highly disproportionate number of voters are registered with the other team.
The “trick” is simple enough: Pledge to cut taxes and not restrict the rights to abortion and same-sex marriage. As in so much of America, to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative allows one a fighting chance for electoral success regardless of party affiliation.
All the same, events such as Scott Brown’s victory in the 2010 vote to replace Ted Kennedy are exceptions to the rule. In the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a score of 128-32; and in the State Senate, 32-4.
What I would argue, in the context of the special election just past, is that far more alarming than the inherent disadvantage in being a Massachusetts Republican is the inherent advantage in being a Massachusetts Democrat.
Case in point: What was arguably the most substantively damning charge against Markey was simultaneously the most advantageous.
That is, the assertion that in his 37 years as a U.S. congressman, Markey had not once bucked the party line on any major legislation on any major issues. Time and again, he proved a reliable rubber stamp for Democrats in Washington, with seemingly no interest in assuming a contrary view.
According to conventional wisdom, such a record is supposed to be the kiss of death. In every last opinion poll, Americans claim to value nothing so much as bipartisanship, and will vote with happy abandon for those who credibly vow to “cross the aisle” in the interest of “getting things done.”
This week in Massachusetts? Not so much. In a state with more than three registered Democrats for every registered Republican, compromise is all well and good, but you know what is even better? Liberalism, that’s what.
The people of Massachusetts were told a vote for Markey was a vote for every Democratic Party policy in the book, and they responded, “Yes, please.”
On an individual basis, this is entirely rational. I cannot hear myself dissuading someone from voting for a candidate with whom he or she agrees on practically every issue.
Yet I despair, nonetheless, that the “D” at the end of a candidate’s name makes his or her ultimate victory more or less inevitable, just as it is still very much true that the word “Kennedy” at the end of a candidate’s name ensures the same.
This trend, as long as it persists, tends to engender a sense of entitlement amongst its benefactors and a sense of bitterness amongst those not already in the club. Members of the first group are given every last benefit of the doubt by John Q. Voter, while those in the latter are provided none at all, and must prove themselves far more rigorously as a consequence.
Somehow this does not seem fair. No election should be a foregone conclusion, not least on the basis of party affiliation. No instance of the mass exercise of the right to vote should be so assured as to empower a lowly scribbler to muse upon the meaning of the results—as this particular scribbler has—before said results have even trickled in.