- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The gentlemen of the press (and the ladies, too) are mostly a decent sort, often a bit prideful and sometimes with not very much to be prideful about. They’re comfortable only by running in a herd. Trying to think alone gives them a migraine.

A fortnight ago, Scott Brown was merely a footnote to the ritual of selecting a successor to Teddy Kennedy, not worth the attention of respectable reporters, pundits or pollsters. Everyone in the herd was sure that “the Kennedy mystique,” though tattered and frayed, would produce a suitable substitute to fill Teddy’s size twelves. A pundit or pollster who took the trouble to look, to discern the gathering perfect storm, was sneered at as a right-wing nut cake. Yet when Mr. Brown, against all odds, expectations and calculations won, one of the first questions he took on election night was whether he would now run for president of the United States.

He wasn’t even a senator yet, but this is the way a herd thinks, insofar as it thinks. It’s a phenomenon that demolishes the theory, famously enunciated by Hillary Clinton, that there’s a vast conspiracy out there driving the scribblers and blabbers of press and tube. It’s actually worse than that. It’s a mindless consensus, not a vast conspiracy.

Given the shrinking attention span of readers and viewers, there’s a competitive pressure driving the herd to manufacture great, defining moments and lay them out neatly as “the future.” Facts, caution or history need not apply. The institutional memory, once so prized in the newsroom, has withered and died, unmourned.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms were supposed to have dealt a mortal blow to both Republicans and the idea of government restraint, but the era of the New Deal was followed by the conservative renaissance, interrupted when the body politic burped and out popped the Kennedy mystique. When Richard Nixon won 49 states against George McGovern in 1972, the left could only gnash what was left of its teeth as the learned pundits called in the morticians to embalm the Democratic Party. The body politic burped again and out popped Jimmy Carter. Then the Democrats finally, really and truly, died graveyard dead with the arrival of Ronald Reagan. The election of Bill Clinton, the New Democrat who turned out to be only the Nude Democrat, buried the Republicans once more. The party corpses were getting a little weary of the trip to the graveyard and back when Barack Obama finally plowed them under once and for all. “Conservatism is Dead,” headlined Daily Kos, the voice of Democrats who never learn anything, “And It’s Not Coming Back.” Many conservatives, as uninterested as the liberals in learning from history, glumly agreed.

And then came the Massachusetts miracle, sometimes called the Massachusetts massacre. Only it’s neither miracle nor massacre, but the way politics works in an electorate that’s about evenly divided, consistently conservative with a big and compassionate heart, but ever ready to enjoy taking down a politician who grows a little too big for his britches even when the britches are tailored by Armani.

Scott Brown has given the Republicans an opportunity, not a cure - either for his party or the country. He’s showing the Republicans how to get up to fight again. He stopped the rush to destroy American health care (with all its manifold shortcomings still the best place in the world to get sick) and remake America into a European nanny state. Mr. Brown succeeded because he didn’t adopt his party’s usual war cry: “I’m a Republican but I’m not as bad as you think.”

If the Democrats can’t learn the lesson of Massachusetts, there will be other Scott Browns on the way. In many quarters, disappointment and disbelief have yet to turn to determination to get up off the floor. Howard Dean, famous for his scream when voters wised up to him, told Chris Matthews on the rant-and-rave cable-TV program “Hardball” that Democrats actually won because what a lot of Massachusetts voters were really saying was they don’t want health care reform without the public option. The more the cable guy tried to tell him he was nuts, the louder and nuttier Mr. Dean became. He was only slightly nuttier than the Internet bloggerator who urged “someone” to look into the possibility of a rigged count on election night.

All this is what makes politics fun, though more fun for some than for others. Democrats will need some good health care themselves, as Barack Obama decides whether he’s a gifted physician or a clever embalmer.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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