On Tuesday, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley to capture the Senate seat previously held by Senator Ted Kennedy. Ask anyone even remotely related to Massachusetts politics and they will tell you it was a victory of staggering proportions.
First, it could wreak havoc on President Obama's healthcare agenda. Second, it could be a harbinger of bad news for the Dems in November's mid-term elections.
Leading up to this special election, I was particularly struck by the ease with which media folks called the Senate seat at question "Ted Kennedy's Senate seat," as if it belonged to Kennedy himself. They said it over and over again ... "Ted Kennedy's Senate seat."
Granted, the youngest Kennedy brother did occupy the seat for many years -- 47 years to be exact. But that doesn't mean it belonged to him. And no, I am not straining at gnats. The gasps of disbelief and the rolling of the eyes seen and heard from many in the mainstream media gave us all a great deal of insight into what they were thinking. Some of them even said the words.
Unthinkable. Unbelievable. Historic. Unprecedented. The headline anchored at the bottom of the screen during the early morning telling of the election results even states "Dems lose Ted Kennedy's Senate seat." How absurd.
Of course it is unprecedented. Many of those gasping and rolling their eyes weren't even born when Kennedy was elected -- and not too long after the assassinations of brothers John and Robert.
My point is this: The Senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy was no more his than the House seat held by Ike Skelton is his or the Senate seat held by Kit Bond is his. The Senate seat in Massachusetts belongs to the people of the state of Massachusetts. The person elected to fill that seat is there to represent the people of that state. The House seat held by Ike Skelton doesn't belong to him -- it belongs to the people of Missouri, as does the Senate seat currently held by Kit Bond.
But somehow, we just can't keep from saying "Ike Skelton's House seat" or "Christopher Bond's Senate seat" any more than we can keep from saying "Ted Kennedy's Senate seat."
In his victory speech, Brown declared that his campaign had "defied the odds and the pundits," and said he would try to be a "worthy successor" to Kennedy.
"This Senate seat belongs to no one person, no one political party. ... This is the people's seat," Brown said.
And I couldn't agree more.
And as we look toward a mid-term election in November, I believe both parties should be listening to the people of their counties, districts, and states if they are going to continue in the employment of the people who pay their salaries -- the citizens.
As Thomas Jefferson once said: "It is to me a new and consolatory proof that wherever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."
The people are waking up. They are takng notice.
Many people say individual voters can never make a difference; that party politics and machines rule. Well, in Massachusetts this past Tuesday, the people spoke. With nearly all precincts reporting, returns showed Brown leading Coakley 52-47 percent, by a margin of 120,000 votes. And that happened after President Obama and former President Bill Clinton made trips to the Bay State to "seal the deal" for Coakley. Incidentally, there was a Kennedy in the mix: Independent candidate Joseph Kennedy reported garnered 1 percent of the vote.
Leaders in the Democrat party have said this should serve as a warning that elected officials from their party need to get in touch with the people they represent. I would widen that by saying every politician -- no matter what party they represent -- should start listening to the folks back home if they want to return to their posts after November of 2010. I expect Democrats and Republicans alike will be scrambling to "reconnect" with the people they represent. And that's a good thing.
Senator-elect Scott Brown will have to run for re-election in November 2012. I wonder if the pundits and media elite will say things like "Incumbent Massachusetts Senator Brown will campaign to retain the Senate seat he was elected to in a special election in January of 2010." I expect, instead, that they will revert to the same old language and assert that "Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts will be vying to hold on to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat."
Old habits die hard.