The Democrats Who Deserve Blame for Their Loss in Massachusetts

Charles Krupa / AP
Brown supporters celebrating in Boston, Jan. 19.

Blame is more fun than praise. Yes, Scott Brown was a seemingly anodyne, handsome, smiling, and at least superficially reasonable Republican who was in the right place at the right time: appearing out of nowhere in the midst of a nagging recession at a time of continued voter alienation with the powers that be—who happen to be Democrats. Congrats to him.

But I've been listening all day, on the phone and in e-mails, to people distributing blame on the Democratic side. The circular firing squad is blasting away. Here is my neutral assessment of who among the Dems deserves to be criticized for the Boston Massacre. Here they are in approximate descending order of blameworthiness:

1. Martha Coakley. Wooden, oblivious, haughty, inept, and ill prepared. She won the nomination because she was a woman and not part of the Washington scene or the party establishment. But she didn't realize she needed a plan to be an outsider, and an empathetic one.

2. Barack Obama. No, this wasn't a referendum on him or his presidency. Nor is it a flat-out rejection of the health-care bill per se. People still like him and wish him well. But his twin decision to put all his chips on health care and to let Congress take the lead made him seem unfocused on what people care about, which is the economy and jobs.

3. Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Jim Messina, and Patrick Gaspard (the White House political brain trust). This crew wants to blame the Coakley campaign and her consultants and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and—who knows?—maybe the Boston Celtics. But national politics today is a centralized operation, and it is centered in this White House. They should have made sure that the Coakley campaign was up to speed and had a real message. It was also their advice and counsel that led Obama to put the fate of his health-care bill in the hands of the hapless and ineffectual Sen. Max Baucus. The result: there's still no bill.

4. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). The DSCC under Menendez seems not to be the fearsome machine it was under Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

5. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. He blazed a trail for Obama in 2006—an Ivy League African-American with good political and oratorical gifts. But the Democrat has become an unpopular figure, and is surrounded by other Democrats who have dragged him down by their own misbehavior. Some of the vote for Republican Scott Brown was blowback against Patrick.

6. Organizing for America (OFA). The Obama campaign left an e-mail list of 13 million supporters, and the organization that came out of it, OFA, was supposed to use it to “promote the president’s agenda.” But it has been a nonfactor in policymaking or off-year elections to date, and the president’s agenda may suffer for it.

7. "Progressive" blogs. I'm sure I missed some of the early posts, but I didn't hear much of a firestorm early on about what an evil dude Brown is. That is now orthodoxy on the left, but whatever dirt there is was dug up only in the last days, or so it seemed to the mainstream junkies.

8. The Massachusetts congressional delegation. Out of jealousy or obliviousness, this group of 13—all Democrats—sounded no alarm bells and didn't pay much attention until it was way too late. They were all in the state last weekend—again, too late to do much good.

So that's the rundown, at least for now. It will surely get uglier and more specific. And that's what we're here for!