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What the Massachusetts Senate race is really about

I was never a real fan of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Perhaps it was because -- having felt the loss of his brothers, Jack and Bobby -- I didn’t want to warm up to another Kennedy. No doubt the man’s own failings were a factor. (How, for instance, could he be so obtuse as to name his dog “Splash,” considering his actions that cost a young woman her life?) It surprised me, then, that I got so caught up in Kennedy’s memoir.

Unlike those hasty bios that promote a candidate’s political prospects or exact revenge on enemies or try to exploit what should be the most private, “True Compass” is an honest and heartfelt accounting of a political life. It should be required reading for anyone even thinking of entering public service. And it’s particularly timely in light of Tuesday’s special election to fill Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat.

Kennedy writes of having to deal, particularly at the start of his political career, with the dangers and perceptions of entitlement. He knew there was more risk than advantage to falling into the trap of believing his famous brothers or his family’s fortune or his good looks entitled him to anything. It seems, though, that that’s exactly what has happened to Democrat Martha Coakley, who, assuming there was no way traditionally Democratic Massachusetts would go Republican, let a 30 percent lead slip away. Coakley, the latest polls show, is now barely holding her own against Republican Scott Brown.

And it was Brown who, in the Massachusetts Senate race’s one debate, gave an answer I think Kennedy would have cheered. Challenged on whether Brown would cast the deciding vote against the health-care reform bill if he won Teddy Kennedy’s seat, Brown said: “With all due respect, it’s not the Kennedys’ seat. It’s not the Democrats’ seat. It’s the people’s seat.”

Which brings me back to why this book should be required reading: namely, to absorb the real meaning of what is at stake in elections such as Tuesday’s.

“To say that I love the Senate does not begin to convey what that institution means to me,” Kennedy wrote. “Let me put it this way: after nearly half a century, I still cannot be in a car, headed for the Capitol, especially in the evening, and glimpse it in the distance without the hair standing up on my arms. I’ve told [wife] Vicki: if ever that sight does not move me, I will know it is time to step aside. That building symbolizes to me the benevolent power and the majesty of our government. It is awesome to me; not ‘awesome’ in the reflexive way that young people use the word, but in its real sense, its older sense, as evoking reverence.”

By Jo-Ann Armao  | January 15, 2010; 12:28 PM ET
Categories:  Armao  | Tags:  Jo-Ann Armao  
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The Democratic Party, and liberalism in particular, is the single greatest threat to the livelihood of ALL Americans. Regardless of who wins in Mass, let this be a lesson to all would be politicians: this is not a leftist nation, never been, never will.

2010 and 12 cannot come soon enough.

Posted by: DCer1 | January 15, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Even if a Boston Liberal can't bring himself to voting for Brown, he can still voice his objection to Coakley's campaign by writing in the name of "Gerald Amirault "as an affirmation of his opposition to her candidacy. Bottom line, what's most important here is Martha Coakley should not be elected, not because she's a Democrat, but because she's Martha Coakley..... and both Massachusetts and the country don't need the likes of her in Washington DC.

Posted by: Spartann | January 15, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I can't bring myself to vote for anyone that was willing to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the Presidency. I'm holding my nose and voting for Coakley.

Posted by: jkarlinsky | January 15, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Why not just say: I hate Kennedy because he killed that girl by driving drunk. Why bring his dog into it? He's a terrible person because his dog's name reminds a WaPo op-ed columnist of his accident?

Rather, you decided to start this column with a reminder that Kennedy killed somebody by his negligence 30 years ago, and you tried to figure out some new and fresh way of doing so.

But it's not new. It happened 30 years ago. Get over it.

Posted by: philogratis | January 15, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Armao that Scott Brown's answer to Gerson no less about filling "Kennedy's seat" WAS the game changer. It's also the only thing anyone remembers from that "debate." I guess Dems can always blame Gerson for asking that loaded question, but at the end of the day, this game was Coakleys' to lose. Still, it would be tragic for Coakley to lose this one. She's not the most popular girl on campus, but she's the hard-working A student without the gift of the gab who would actually do her job. Brown disappoints me because of his stance on healthcare reform and the cheap one-dimensional tack of his campaign - to thwart on Capitol Hill what he voted for on Beacon Hill. But I guess that's what makes him a good politician - the ability to lie through one's teeth, yet seem almost charming doing so.

Posted by: jaysit | January 15, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

The "Kennedy Senatorship" seat from Mass. is not mentioned in the Constitution. Talk of owning a senator's seat makes me wonder about the thinking in Massachusetts where people pride themselves on intelligence. Also,Murder/manslaughter does not have a statute of limitations, so those who protest that justice was never done after Chappaquidic should not be told to shut up because it happened 30 years ago.
It is indeed the people's seat, and their right to choose. We'll know Tuesday if Mass. will give up their monarchy.

Posted by: drzimmern1 | January 15, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I read that the man child Obama is going to Mass. to save the day. I hope he goes today and stays until Wednesday. He also needs to take Nancy, Harry, Barney, Chris, and any other prominent liberal to help save the day. This will do more to insure that Kennedy will be rolling over in his grave Wednesday than anything Scott Brown could possibly do. The democrats’ refuses to believe that governing against the will of the people
will cause a Republican tsunami in the mid-terms and this weekend Obama stunt will insure that are swept out to sea.

Obama refuses to believe that America realizes the mistake that his election has been and that anywhere he goes, his numbers drop further.

Flash----Barney Frank just said if Coakley loses this election, the HEALTH CARE take over by the socialist party will be DEAD. RIP with Teddy.

Posted by: GaGator | January 15, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Brown disappoints me because of his stance on healthcare reform and the cheap one-dimensional tack of his campaign - to thwart on Capitol Hill what he voted for on Beacon Hill. But I guess that's what makes him a good politician - the ability to lie through one's teeth, yet seem almost charming doing so.
Posted by: jaysit

First of all, he's not lying if he tells you exactly what he’s going to do. And as far as a Beacon Hill vote, some people learn from mistakes.

Posted by: GaGator | January 15, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Another, really - really bad day for the DEMOCRUDS.

Posted by: stephenwhelton | January 15, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

"this is not a leftist nation, never been, never will"

Are you sure about that? Remember, the "leftist nation" had to bail out "capitalist" Wall St. Oct. 2008? If you remember recent history, Wall St. and capitalism in general has had to be bailed out by the "leftist nation" numberous times.

In this country it's socialism for the rich and savage "free markets" for everybody else.

I suppose what you object to is socialism for the middle class and poor (i.e. retirement security, health care, etc.) but not the rich (i.e. Wall St. bankers and failed corporations getting bailed out by the government because they are "too large to fail.").

So I would take issue with your assertion this is not a "leftist nation."

America is indeed a "leftist nation" if you're one of the business elites because you'll always get bailed out by the big bad government no matter how bad you screw up.

Posted by: montana123 | January 15, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: philogratis

But it's not new. It happened 30 years ago. Get over it.


If someone drove you off a bridge and left you to drown, would you still be telling people to get over it because it happened so long ago?
Kennedy robbed a woman of over half a lifetime merely because he's a drunk sorry excuse for a human being.

Posted by: axxionx12 | January 15, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I will be waiting to see the outcome, and wish the people of Massachusets well in their selection.

Posted by: wcmillionairre | January 15, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Mr. Brown has that same reverence for the institution of the Senate, or if he's just a guy who looked good naked twenty odd years ago? My personal motto is "Terrorists have not hurt me; Republicans have", and the behavior of the minority has done nothing to change my mind. No useful ideas, no answer but no and no political strategy but to appeal to the fear and ignorance of their base. Now, Martha Coakley might not be a very good candidate, but the Republicans surely have done nothing in the last ten years to make us stronger, balance our budget, or give us most of the benefits other advanced Western democracies enjoy. Why would anybody vote Republican?

Posted by: greyK | January 15, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I bought Ted Kennedy's book when it came out but haven't yet read it. I have little doubt that it will be articulate, engaging and honest. I doubt I could say the same about Sarah Palin's book. The Kennedys are a dynasty and as close to royalty, in a favorable connotation, as any family in the US. But, Mr. Brown is correct; it is not Teddy Kennedy's or the Democrats' senatorial seat. Perhaps it will be occupied by Mr. Brown after the election. But, if it is, I hope Mr. Brown will remember that it is not his seat or the GOP's; it is representative of the citizens of his State. Any vote he should cast must be for them and not to please his party or to curry favor with ambition toward higher office. A high bar perhaps, but one to which Teddy Kennedy aspired.

Posted by: wilsonjmichael | January 15, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Let's get the Republicans back in power.
Then we can attack countries that don't attack us. And who doesn't want to see Old Yellowstain (Dick Cheney) back in the limelight. Ann Coulter as minister of propaganda. Fox Fake News as the media of record. Has America turned into one big trailer park? Hell yes. Sarah Palin/Brittney Spears in 2012. For America's children.

Posted by: Original1 | January 15, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Great spin Armao, it's not the dems fault for ignoring the will of the people, it's Coakley's fault for being a lousy candidate. Guess what, the dem party machine picked the candidate.
What's interesting to me, is that the dems have now thrown three of their own under the bus in their attempts to deflect attention from the fact that the American public doesn't buy into their agenda. Did Axlerod ask you to write this piece? Do you attend the weekly Dem/Com propaganda planning mettings at the White House??

Posted by: hdc77494 | January 16, 2010 1:25 AM | Report abuse

Just received word that AG Martha Coakley will be in Pittsfield, Ma . on Monday from
12-1pm at the American Legion on Wendell Ave. The buidling is just down the
street from the Berkshire Antheneum.

Please stop by to ask Martha how to explain these seven items :

The Big Dig tunnel collapse (shameless corruption and cronyism of the very worst kind)

Coakley's shady deal with a notorious pedophile (John Geoghan)

The financial disclosure "mistake" in which Martha Coakley failed to list $200,000 to $250,000 in assets on her financial disclosure forms for the Senate race.

Her failure in the Henry Louis Gates arrest in Cambridge last July

The Louise Woodward case

The Menino ?emailgate? affair

Former state rep Mark Howland wind turbine fiasco leaving Bristol County residents out millions

Posted by: fnhaggerty | January 16, 2010 4:11 AM | Report abuse

I, agree with an earlier comment regarding the reason Mr. Brown is running. Is it to uphold the GOP (the party of No) and the tea baggers with one thought in mind to see our President fail while supporting Sarah Palin who doesn't know the difference between South and North Korea OR do the Honest People bidding in striving to keep America Great on the World Stage as our President referenced in his Nobel Prize Speech. Massachusetts vote Coakley and continue the values and virtures the Late Senator Edward M. Kennedy stood for. Move on 30 years ago we all have things in our lives (if we are human and a forgiving people). I've forgiven the slave owners. Or some of you may be on the order of Limbaugh and Robertson.

Posted by: phyllisr5 | January 16, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Coakley says there are no terrorists is Afghanistan and refuses to answer questions about it. Her campaign manager threw a reporter to the ground to assure she wouldn't have to answer. Then the MA AG said she didn't see the act while photographs belie her statement. She approved an ad that had "Massachusetts" misspelled. Why would anyone want someone like that representing them?

Posted by: MrEici | January 16, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Coakley is a screwball VOTE SCOTT BROWN !!!!

Posted by: yourmomscalling | January 16, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Well, if the uneducated, unskilled teabaggers that follow Hanity, Limbaugh, and the republicans win the election and destroy health care reform the one silver lining will be that they are the ones who will die because they either don't have helath insurance or they will be dropped by their insurance companies when they get sick. They won't be able to complain about living in a country with a health care system like Guatemala, they brought it on themselves.

Posted by: orange3 | January 16, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Shel484 wrote:
Dear President Obama,

We are so happy you are coming here tomorrow. We hope you can clear up a few things for us.

1. Martha claims to have brought a billion dollars to MA. If she did where is that money and why did our sales tax have to go up?

2. Martha claims there are no more terrorists in Afghanistan. Why are you sending 30,000 of our young men and women to Afghanistan if there are no more terrorist there?

3. Martha claims that Scott Brown only cares about big business and Wall Street. Why was Martha the one in Washington DC collecting large checks from lobbyist and special interest groups?

4. Martha worked very hard to keep an innocent man (Joe Amoral) in prison after it was proven that he was innocent.
Why did she do that?

5. Martha allowed a man accused of raping a young girl to go without bail, because she thought his family was politically connected. Why did she do that?

6. Martha looked the other way while Diane Wilkerson and Sal Dimasi took money and twisted people’s arms. Do you think that’s good Mr. President?

7. Martha wants to give terrorists that seek to destroy our country the same rights as any other citizen. Why would we want to do that Mr. President?

8. Martha believes that Catholics or anyone with religious beliefs should not be allowed to work in an emergency room.
Do you feel the same way Mr. President?

I am just an ordinary citizen from the great state of Massachusetts. If Martha had only made one of the 8 statements above, maybe I could justify that we all make mistakes. Sadly she has done all eight things I have asked about. The country wants to make this a referendum on your policies. That may be true; however, we in this state need to make it about someone that works for us, not her own self interests.

Posted by: NPagliuca | January 17, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I expect the independent Kennedy will do better then forecast despite not being related to the famous family. Thirty years of returning the swinish Ted Kennedy shows many of the voters of Massachusetts are dumber than rocks.

Posted by: eldergent | January 19, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

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