Showman Mike Todd was famous for saying, "Never take the audience backstage." I now violate that normally worthy guideline.
This column is written before the voting in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat held by Teddy Kennedy. And I'm writing it as though the winner is Republican Scott Brown. Why do I do anything that risky and stupid? In this case, and maybe in this case only, there's a legitimate answer.
From the viewpoint of one who favors Brown, the worst that can happen Tuesday, Jan. 19, is a close victory for Democrat Martha Coakley. That closeness is, by itself, a monumental setback for President Obama, the Obama agenda, the Democrats – that crowd. A narrow win by Coakley puts her in the position of the corporation president in the hospital who gets a note from the chairman of the board stating, "I have been authorized by the board of directors to wish you a speedy recovery – by vote of five to four." So, although a close win by Coakley would deny me and my political fellows the huge boxcar jammed with joy that a Brown victory would provide, it would nonetheless provide more political joy than two burly arms could ever carry. So, here goes …
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A mid-20th century comedian named Fred Allen once defined a pollster as somebody who could tell you how much sand was in the Sahara Desert by counting the grains on the bottom of a birdcage. The science of political polling has taken huge strides since then. And the polls just three days before the election range from a toss-up to a 4-point lead for Brown. Anonymous Democrats are telling journalists that Coakley's own internal polls show her 5 points behind Brown. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank is publicly saying Coakley should have campaigned harder, and the Democrats' effort now seems to be to try to keep Coakley's defeat perceived as entirely her fault, with zero blame falling upon President Obama. That effort is as likely to succeed as an effort to keep a white dinner jacket unstained when hit by a flying bowl of pickled beets.
The voting takes place just one day shy of the first anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration. Who could have believed one year ago, with Republicans and conservatives amalgamated into a single smoking crater, that a virtually unknown Republican could win Ted Kennedy's Senate seat from the Democratic Party's handpicked successor? Rep. Frank says, "If Brown wins, it's the end of the Obamacare health bill." That's true, but merely consequence-A in a triple-alphabet of rotten news for the administration and the Democratic Party.
Imagine you're a Democratic member of Congress from the Carolinas, the Dakotas or literally anywhere else. Up to now you've managed to keep your dismay at Obama's leftist lunges to yourself or in low-volume mutterings to your spouse. And now here come the headlines this very day hailing a Republican triumph (or near-miss) in the most liberal state of all. And you've got to run for re-election. If you're a House member you've got to start running immediately. Which way do you run? Do you preach, "Obama, we love you anyhow!" or "We've got to recapture the soul of our great Democratic Party!"
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Imagine you're a political donor. Do you change the address on the envelope containing your next check? Or forget the whole thing? Imagine you're a former Bush supporter, or at least a proud Republican hounded into shame by media unanimity and hostile landslides in 2008. Do you continue to slink and hide, or do you accept Brown's victory as a pardon for your political sins and come charging out of your shame, energized and re-motivated? Imagine you're a power in the media. Do you continue your traditional target practice against the right, or do you try to weasel your way toward more neutral ground without being too obvious about it? Imagine you're a dictator and terrorist-supporter and overt hater of the only real democracy between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean (yes, Israel!), and you see the man you thought had made the world safe for the likes of you and he's fizzing away like an Alka-Seltzer tablet under Niagara Falls. Do you continue your open and confident moves to communize and jihadify the world, or do you prepare for a reversal to a sane and just American foreign policy?
President Obama and former President Bill Clinton hastened to Massachusetts in the precious hours before the voting to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and open-heart massage to Coakley's flagging campaign.
Anonymous Dems aren't the only ones allowed to whisper now to journalists. I kind of like the anonymous Republican who said, "At this point, Obama and Clinton dashing breathlessly to Massachusetts for Coakley is a little like pouring the finest French perfume over a healthy skunk.
"You may achieve a certain momentarily pleasing fragrance, but it's a losing battle!"