Democracy and the Senate

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times today run stories on the fate of health-care reform in the event that Republican candidate Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s special election for the U.S. Senate.

In light of that, I want to address the notion that it would be somehow undemocratic if the House could be persuaded to pass the Senate bill, thus avoiding a return trip to the Senate, or if a compromise measure were rushed through before Brown can be sworn in.

First, let’s look at the composition of the Senate itself. Even if Brown wins, the Senate will comprise 59 Democrats or their allies and 41 Republicans. Only in the upside-down world of the modern Senate would that be considered anything less than an enormous advantage.

What gives the Republicans clout, of course, is their unprecedented strategy of filibustering vote after vote. As Paul Krugman recently noted, a study by the political scientist Barbara Sinclair found that the routine filibuster is a very recent phenomenon, and entirely Republican in origin.

If the Republicans are going to insist that 60 votes are needed to get anything done, then rules reform ought to be the first order of the day. My preference would be an insistence that filibusters be carried out the old-fashioned way, Jimmy Stewart-style, on the floor of the Senate. Harry Reid could play Lyndon Johnson, forcing everyone to stay in the chamber until human biology brought an end to the charade.

My second point is that we tend to forget what a distorting effect the Constitution’s two-senators-per-state rule has with regard to whose voice gets heard. I ran some numbers a little while ago; in states with one Democrat and one Republican, I awarded half the population to each. Using that formula, I found that Democratic senators represent 196 million Americans, and Republican senators represent just 110 million.

Thus the Senate’s 60-40 margin in favor of Democrats would widen to 64-36 if the one-person/one-vote rule were followed. And a Brown victory would barely affect that margin, as it would be 63 percent to 37 percent.

There’s no question that a Brown victory would have an enormous psychological effect. It’s hard to know whether congressional Democrats would push something through in order to put health care behind them once and for all, or if they would decide instead to give up on the whole effort.

But that’s a matter for another day — perhaps Wednesday.

Coakley supporters cross the line

Over the past few days we’ve received numerous fliers on behalf of the two major-party Senate candidates, Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown. Somehow, though, this one eluded us: a nasty piece of work put out by the Democratic State Committee accusing Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals.

The truth about Brown and rape victims is bad enough. Under an amendment Brown unsuccessfully sponsored in the Massachusetts Senate in 2005, hospitals and individual health-care workers would have been allowed to refuse rape victims emergency contraception on the grounds that such contraception amounts to abortion. Brown has waffled on the subject during the past week, and his supporters have ludicrously claimed that insisting health-care workers do their jobs is a form of anti-Catholic discrimination.

But that hardly adds up to this:


As I said, the flier was produced not by the Coakley campaign but by the Democratic State Committee. I don’t know whether or not the campaign and the party are legally able to coordinate their efforts. But I think there’s a good chance Coakley didn’t know this was coming.

Should she denounce it? Yes. Will she? Probably not.

On the other hand, it looks like the Brown campaign is going to overplay the hand it’s been dealt. According to an e-mail posted at Red Mass Group, the campaign plans to file a “criminal complaint” about the ad. Sen. Brown, meet Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Then again, I’m not surprised that Brown would take this gift the Democrats have handed him and turn it into another example of his reverence for the Constitution — and his contempt for its actual provisions.

Push comes to shove

Since yesterday, we have received a thorough airing of the shoving (tripping?) incident involving John McCormack, a reporter with the conservative Weekly Standard, and Democratic operative Michael Meehan, who’s working for Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley. As we should. Even allowing for exaggeration, Coakley’s reaction was oddly passive. (Boston Globe coverage here; Boston Herald coverage here.)

But there are also a few stories floating around that we haven’t heard much about, and that political reporters might want to look into today:

  • Supporters of Republican candidate Scott Brown are mocking Coakley’s claim that Brown groupies have been “stalking” her. But independent candidate Joe Kennedy has posted a message on his Facebook page alleging the same thing, saying that he’s gone so far as to report threats of violence to local police. Obviously the Brown campaign is not involved. But what exactly is going on?
  • Brown has been caught telling a blatant untruth with regard to his claim that he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-party movement. Talking Points Memo has posted pictures and videos. (Correction: Talking Points now says the Brown campaign has provided evidence that Brown did not say he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-partiers.)
  • Despite claims by Brown supporters that the Coakley campaign has engaged in anti-Brown push-polling, I have yet to see a single account by a person with a name. On the other hand, there are numerous credible accounts of people receiving vicious anti-Coakley calls; here are a few. Again, I doubt very much the Brown campaign is actually involved. But why has there been no coverage of this sleazy tactic? And why has Brown said so little?

One of Brown’s attempts to hide from his record is getting a thorough airing: his claim that he had nothing to do with his own bill that would have allowed hospital workers to refuse to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Yvonne Abraham and Joan Vennochi let him have it with both barrels in today’s Globe.

Update: In the comments, Scutch points to this story from the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York. Apparently the aforementioned John McCormack creeped out congressional candidate Dierdre Scozzafava sufficiently that her husband notified police.

The Senate race and the media

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the national attention being paid to the Massachusetts Senate race has more to do with a simplistic media narrative — and one outlying poll — than it does with Republican candidate Scott Brown’s actual chances of winning.

Quick thoughts on the Senate debate

Three quick thoughts on last night’s Senate debate:

• It was by far the best and most energetic performance I’ve seen from the major-party candidates, Martha Coakley and Scott Brown. They really had a chance to mix it up, and though we learned nothing new, it was interesting nevertheless. Apparently Brown has decided he’ll live or die with his sneering references to “constitutional rights.”

• Joe Kennedy struck me as fringier than he has in previous appearances — especially the WBZ debate, where he was quite good. This time, he came off as Ron Paul with an even worse haircut.

• Two cheers for moderator David Gergen, who did an excellent job except for a longish segment in which he kept insisting that the candidates support cuts in middle-class benefits. What does the Gergen agenda have to do with the Senate race? Coakley finally put him in his place by reminding everyone of the tens of billions of dollars spent on Wall Street bailouts.

John Carroll’s got a nice take on the debate. And notes that “Massachusetts” is misspelled in a new Coakley ad attacking Brown (via David Bernstein).

Is there any evidence of anti-Brown push-polling?

I find myself wondering whether I should have passed on claims that someone is involved in push-polling targeted at Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown. In the case of those anti-Martha Coakley calls, I have specific examples from people I know. The anti-Brown calls amount to no more than a rumor.

If you have received a push-poll call aimed at damaging Brown, please post some details. If you want to be taken seriously, use your real name.

Anti-Coakley (and anti-Brown) push-polling reported

Friend of Media Nation John Doherty posts this in the comments:

here in Boston suburbs, I just got “push polled” on the election.

Oddly, they identified the candidates by party first “Republican Scott Brown” *, etc. and then asked if I supported either one (no mention of the faux Kennedy libertarian).

When I said Coakley (in fact, I already voted absentee in case of bad weather), they asked if it would change my vote if I knew Coakley supported “tax payer funding of abortions”.

Call came in around 8:40 Sunday night from DC number: 202 461-3440.

Reverse lookup tells me it’s a landline in Westchester, DC and is unpublished.

* odd because GOP label is pretty toxic here.

This is so mind-blowingly stupid that I have agree with John that it’s “odd.” My guess is it’s some right-wing organization working not just independently of Brown, but against his interests. Apparently they haven’t heard that Massachusetts isn’t Alabama.

I tried calling the number and got a busy signal.

Instant update: A poster at Universal Hub says the calls are connected to Americans in Contact PAC, a right-wing group.

Still more: Just saw a link on Twitter about push-polling linking Brown to “hate groups.” This is really getting ugly.

Polling the Senate race

Good luck making sense out of polls about the Massachusetts Senate race.

Following Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s even-bigger-than-expected victory in the Dec. 8 primary, most political observers had assumed she would cruise in the final. That assumption has been looking questionable since last week, when a Rasmussen poll showed Coakley with just a nine-point margin over her Republican challenger, Scott Brown.

Then, last night, Public Policy Polling released the results of a survey showing Brown actually leading Coakley by a margin of 48 percent to 47 percent. Let the tea party begin!

A few hours later, the Boston Globe published a story about its own poll, in which Coakley is maintaining a comfortable 15-point lead.

So what’s going on here? Who knows?

Frankly, I would start by throwing out the Public Policy Polling survey — it’s a robocall. (“If Scott Brown, press 1. If Martha Coakley, press 2.”) Would you hang on the line? I wouldn’t.

I’ll also point out that the Globe’s poll was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a highly respected operation. I’m no polling expert, but I do know that Rasmussen gets mixed reviews.

Also, as best as I can tell from diving into the fine print, it looks like the Globe/UNH poll was the only one of the three in which respondents were specifically asked about the third candidate in the race, libertarian independent Joe Kennedy, who receives a not-insignificant 5 percent. Indeed, given the vagaries of polling, that alone could explain the difference between Rasmussen’s nine-point margin and the Globe’s 15-point spread.

What’s making everyone hypercautious is that we have absolutely no idea who’s going to turn out in the Jan. 19 special election. And what if there’s a blizzard?

My guess, though, is that Coakley’s right where you’d expect her to be with a little more than a week to go.

Analyzing the Senate debate — and iMovie ’09

Following last night’s Massachusetts Senate debate on and, I sat down with the moderator, political analyst Jon Keller, to get his thoughts on the debate and on the fine art of keeping such events on track.

My purpose, which Keller was generous enough to indulge, was to get some good news footage for my first experiment with iMovie ’09.

The basics are ridiculously easy. Inserting B-roll via iMovie’s cutaway command almost feels like cheating — you just drag and drop, and the software takes care of the rest. I had gotten to be relatively facile with iMovie 6, but B-roll on ’09 is much simpler and faster.

After separating the audio from the video, I was also able to start with Keller talking during the opening screen. But because iMovie ’09 lacks the precision timing of iMovie 6, I had to guess where to cut the video. It’s sheer luck that the audio and video are in reasonably good sync at the beginning of the piece.

Another annoyance: there doesn’t seem to be any way to add titles to B-roll photos and video. I tried to drop them in where they would make the most sense and where people’s identities would be obvious from the context. But that’s not always going to be good enough. Unless there’s a way to do it that I haven’t discovered, it’s a step down from iMovie 6.

The new iMovie really shines when it comes to uploading to YouTube — it handles the process automatically. No more futzing around with settings to see what looks best.

Overall, iMovie ’09 is a quantum leap over the wretched iMovie ’08, and I’m looking forward to working with it with my students next semester. I still like iMovie 6. But since it’s no longer available, I’m glad Apple has finally beaten its successor into reasonably good shape.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Keller’s characteristically sharp analysis.

Live-blogging the Mass. Senate debate

I’m heading in to Boston in a bit to cover the first televised Massachusetts Senate debate, which will be moderated by political analyst Jon Keller. I’ll be posting a few observations here during the debate.

6:48 p.m. The media are set up in a second-floor conference room. There’s a flat-panel TV at one end of the room, which presumably will come on in a few minutes.

6:55 p.m. Moderator Jon Keller pops up five minutes early, then stops. The debate will be shown at 7 p.m. at and

7 p.m. The music is coming on.

7:03 p.m. Here we go. The debate is being broadcast on C-SPAN as well.

7:09 p.m. Good first question from a viewer — Massachusetts health-care reform has cost more than expected. What lessons can we learn? The Republican candidate, state Sen. Scott Brown, sort of deflects the question and says he would vote against the federal health-care-reform bill.

The Democrat, Attorney General Martha Coakley, explains why she’ll vote yes. “I think the plan will be good for Massachusetts.” The independent, Joe Kennedy, criticizes the Massachusetts system as being the most expensive in the country. “We should have addressed costs first,” Kennedy says.

Brown: “My role … is to look out for the interests of this state.” Coakley: “”They’re complementary plans. They don’t compete with each other.”

Kennedy: One of the premises of the Massachusetts plan was to control costs, and it hasn’t worked. “We’re going to end up bankrupting the country,” he says.

7:10 p.m. A weird question from a female viewer, who compares abortion coverage to Viagra coverage. Are those really analogous?

Brown claims Coakley has flip-flipped on her promise to vote against health-care reform if it restricts abortion rights. (She now says she’ll vote for the bill.) Coakley calls it “a compromise process,” but doesn’t really address abortion rights.

7:14 p.m. In response to a question on cash-for-clunkers, Kennedy says taxpayers spent $24,000 for every $8,000 that went  into buying cars — then says he has no idea if those numbers are correct. Thanks for sharing, Joe. (Note: Media Nation commenter @Harrybosch finds that Kennedy got it right.)

7:20 p.m. We seem to be on to Keller’s questions rather than those submitted by viewers. Good. In response to a question about taxes, Brown says, “I’m in favor of lowering taxes and creating jobs … and putting more money in people’s pockets.”

Coakley responds by saying most tax cuts in recent years have gone to the top 1 percent to 2 percent of earners — “between the haves and the have-mores.” Kennedy comes out in favor of the income-tax cut that was on the state ballot last year, and says Brown opposed it.

Brown: Coakley is in favor of $2.1 trillion in taxes. Coakley: Brown is talking about investments necessary to come out of an economic recession. Kennedy: “The problem here is spending.”

7:25 p.m. Keller asks Coakley what would be sufficient provocation for war. Coakley essentially responds it would have to be an attack on the U.S., Western Europe or Israel. Kennedy sort of says the same thing. Brown says America is good.

7:28 p.m. Brown goes on to note that he supports President Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, unlike Coakley, who, in turn, says, “I just don’t think we can be successful.” Kennedy adds putting our troops in “harm’s way ought to be done with the utmost thoughtfulness.” Kennedy says the original mission in Afghanistan has been “completed,” and the current mission is “undefined.”

Brown: We need to prevent the Taliban from working with Al Qaeda and to stop nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Brown adds Obama needs the “tools and resources” to carry out his mission.

Kennedy says we can defend Pakistan without having a full-scale occupation of Afghanistan.

7:30 p.m. We’re in another break. My quick impression is that we’re having an intelligent, substantive debate among three politicians with widely differing philosophies. At least in terms of being able to deliver a credible performance, Kennedy has proven he belongs with Coakley and Brown.

7:34 p.m. The candidates are talking about children, who, as we know, are the future. Snarkiness aside, it’s an important issue, and I’m sorry to report I haven’t heard anything worth passing along.

7:37 p.m. Kennedy is really causing Brown some problems, saying that Brown supported former governor Mitt Romney in approving $1 billion in tax increases. Not quite sure what Kennedy means, though when it swings back to him, he talks about penalties that people have to pay if they don’t have health insurance.

7:40 p.m. Keller asks a question from @dankennedy_nu (hey, that’s me) as to whether a senator should reflect the views of his or her constituents or exercise independent judgment. I don’t think I’m being unfair by observing that Brown responds by saying he’ll do both, and that Coakley ignores the question. Kennedy says he’ll listen to his constituents, but he doesn’t really answer the question, either.

Brown: “Martha isn’t running against Bush and Cheney, she’s running against me.”

7:44 p.m. Neither Coakley nor Brown has an iota of charisma. If the polls are to believed, Coakley doesn’t need it, and Brown does. Kennedy actually comes across as a bit more engaging. Kennedy keeps challenging Brown on whether he truly supports spending cuts — just deadly. He’s stealing Brown’s lunch right off his plate. He even challenges Brown to put his voting record online.

7:47 p.m. Oh, this is good — Keller asks what the candidates do when they’re approached by panhandlers. I like Coakley’s answer: no. She says she’d rather they take advantage of the safety net.

Kennedy: “When individuals approach me, I offer to buy them a sandwich.” And he walks with them to make sure they do it.

Brown: I’ve given money, coffee and sandwiches. Gov. Deval Patrick has cut the non-profits that Coakley refers to. They’re hurting because of higher taxes and not enough jobs.

7:49 p.m. Coakley goes after the Boston Herald for a story she says was wrong and that it retracted. I confess I don’t know what she’s referring to. If a Media Nation reader has something on that, please post it in the comments. (Ask and ye shall receive. Commenter @Rich tracks it down.)

7:52 p.m. This is very impressionistic, and maybe it’s just me. But I think Kennedy is coming across a lot better than Brown in terms of stating a clear anti-government, anti-tax, anti-spending philosophy.

7:58 p.m. Keller closes by asking what caused 9/11. I love Kennedy’s answer: The 19 hijackers caused 9/11. (Given the way this live-blog is going, I guess I should remind everyone that Kennedy and I are not related.) Brown takes a shot at Coakley for supporting putting terrorists on trial in New York. Coakley doesn’t say much.

“We should not be providing taxpayer dollars to providing attorneys to represent these people in New York,” Brown says. Has he thought through the implications of what he’s saying? He also claims the money will be spent on those trials instead of the troops, an absurd allegation. Coakley calls him on it.

Coakley: “Protecting civil rights and holding people accountable” is what the Constitution requires.

8:36 p.m. Sorry for the abrupt cutoff. As soon as the debate was over, we all ran downstairs to interview the candidates. Probably the most notable quote was Brown’s saying of Coakley, “Martha’s a very nice lady, and I have great respect for her. But she’s wrong about policy.”

When Coakley was asked about the “nice lady” remark, she deflected any hint that she found it sexist, saying, “I don’t mind. I am a nice lady…. I try to be nice to my colleagues, and I don’t take any umbrage at it.”

Most of the press departed before Kennedy could have his close-up, but Boston Globe reporter Eric Moskowitz and I stuck around. I asked Kennedy if he were concerned that he might be hurting Brown’s chances of making a run at Coakley, given that both of them say they oppose taxes and spending.

“People have to vote their conscience,” he replied. “You have to look at people’s records when there’s nothing else.” He said state spending rose at twice the rate of inflation when Romney was governor, and that Brown never challenged him on that.

“If he hasn’t done it before,” Kennedy said, “I can’t believe he’s going to do it now.”