There were a few things made clear in this election -- and no doubt, the blame game will begin (it already did before the polls closed, really) -- and I wanted to hit on a few of them, briefly, while they're fresh in the mind.
First, hats off to Scott Brown. While I find little to admire about his politics, there's a lot to admire about him when it comes to his ability to campaign. He maximized every advantage he had, which is not easy to do. He ran a serious race, when most Republicans in his position would assume defeat. He got on the air early, not only defining himself, but also his opponent -- the two most important things to do when developing an effective campaign message. Finally, he got out and reached enough voters to win, brewing excitement that became a tidal wave.
But we have to be honest, he didn't win this election alone. Martha Coakley stayed silent early in the election, giving opportunity to Scott Brown. It allowed herself to be defined by unpopular Washington policies that she's stood against as Attorney General for years, while Brown, one of the Bay State's most conservative politicians, defined himself as a populist (!) "Independent Republican." If you don't give voters a reason to vote for you, then give your opponent the stage to control the message and momentum, prepare to lose.
Additionally, one can't forget the environment this election took place in. Barack Obama and national democrats, after gaining massive majorities and a mandate for real change, refused to act on that mandate, creating those changes. Big mistake. Reform was watered. Lame attempts were made to bargain with the Party of No, which lead to bad concessions, making for even more unpopular bills, and we usually didn't get the votes anyway. Meanwhile, Democratic refusal to put the Party of No down, giving them opportunity after opportunity to stonewall and win, got their base excited and left our base despondent. We felt as though we worked for nothing -- and many of the people who worked so hard just months ago, were not willing to work again.
So, where do Massachusetts democrats and progressives go from here? Well, we take Republicans seriously, because Scott Brown will not be the last. No Democrat in Massachusetts should think they can walk to victory; even powerful incumbents and favorites shouldn't just try to win, they should try to win by 40. Furthermore, we cannot allow national democrats to flee to the right -- we need to get quick victories and get government moving, even if that means twisting arms. That reform must be good reform, not just policies that are acceptable to Wall Street and HMO lobbyists. We need tough leadership from Obama and Congress that's willing to tell the Blue Dogs of the world that they'll receive no DSCC, DCCC or DNC cash if they don't vote for our popular reform efforts. In effect, they have to do what the voters put them there to do in the first place -- and if they don't, they'll end up like Martha Coakley, too.