Mass. Hysteria

Scenes from the revolutionary takeover of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat

It was only 11 a.m. on Sunday, two days before Massachusetts voters were scheduled to choose Ted Kennedy’s successor in the Senate, and the bartender at 99 Restaurant in Charlestown was already imposing Belfast pub rules. “There will be no discussion of politics in here today,” the squat barmaid grumbled toward a knot of debaters at the end of the bar. “Not until this goddamn election ends.” The politically engaged customers—all male and, by the looks of it, all Irish-American—offered a collective shrug and went back to arguing over the race for what one of them called “Teddy’s seat.” 

The bartender’s concern was understandable, for the people of Charlestown have been known to be a bit excitable politically. Around the corner from here, back in 1976, a disagreement over the wisdom of using court-ordered busing to desegregate public schools ended in a stone-throwing riot. In 1995, at this very bar, a “mob-related” dispute culminated in the shooting deaths of five people. Now a droopy-faced local with a Lech Walesa mustache—four beers deep before noon, dressed head-to-toe in New England Patriots–branded clothes—announced calmly that Tuesday would be the most important moment in modern Massachusetts history.

In this bluest of blue states, I had been following Republican state legislator Scott Brown and Democratic gaffe master and Attorney General Martha Coakley as they weaved their way toward Tuesday’s finish line in Boston. I had spent hours talking to union members, former Democrats, current Democrats, Kennedy voters, and gay rights campaigners who were—as almost all of them said—Scott Brown supporters worried about the “explosive growth of government.” All natives of the Commonwealth and reflexively Democratic, they kvetched about what they viewed as reckless government spending, rising taxes, and a risky overhaul of a health care system that treats them rather well. As one member of a pipefitters union told me, “None of the guys in my union trust that Obama won’t hit us with that 40 percent health care tax.”

When I was a college student in this state, before the days when you could get any book overnighted from, I had to special-order Road to Serfdom at a local bookstore. Two days before the election, at a rally in front of Northeastern University, I chatted with a Massachusetts native with a Boston accent as broad as the Shannon who was carrying a hand-lettered sign that alluded to F.A. Hayek’s classic 1944 defense of the market order. The following day, at a Republican rally in the tiny town of Littleton (Obama, 58; McCain, 41), almost every car that drove by honked in support of Scott Brown. A surprising number of Brown sign holders said they had always voted for Teddy Kennedy but insisted they pledged no allegiance to the Democratic Party.

On Tuesday, January 19, they backed up that talk with shocking action. Brown upset Coakley and the entire Massachusetts political establishment, taking 51.9 percent of the vote in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1. By the end of the week, Congressional Democrats’ plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system was falling apart. If an unknown Republican can singlehandedly shatter hopes for a health care bill by winning the Kennedy family seat, anything in American politics is now possible.

Nigerian Zionists for Coakley, Irish Republicans for Brown

No one in state politics expected anything like this. For Brown to lose by 15 points would have, in December, been considered a respectable result. To win was inconceivable.

Everywhere I turned I found r-dropping Bostonians complaining about government, insisting that Americans need to “take their country back.” One woman, who seemed overly familiar with all of my childhood neighbors—the Flynns, the McBreens—compared herself to a passenger on Flight 93 who wants to yell “let’s roll” and regain control of our hijacked nation. Or perhaps she was suggesting that President Obama is a Muslim. It was, like many of the arguments I heard, not completely clear. But the anger was palpable. 

Those dismissing the foot soldiers who came out in the bitter and wet cold to hoot and holler for Scott Brown as both “teabaggers” and carpetbaggers are engaged in wishful thinking. I came across a man from Michigan selling “second American revolution” flags; an Atlanta native who, veins popping on his neck, told me that the government was run by “thieves”; a woman from Pittsburgh who “blogs on Facebook” (whatever that means); and a handful of people from New Hampshire who, according to their license plates, would rather die than not live free. But most of the Brown backers I met were like Nick Redmond, a native of Dorchester—the neighborhood famous outside Massachusetts for bequeathing New Kids on the Block and Donna Summer to American culture—who was voting for Scott Brown because, under the current administration, “the middle class is getting screwed.” Or John Camuso, a gay man from Boston who said he was “proud to give [Brown] my vote,” despite thinking that Coakley, whom he knew from his neighborhood, was a “nice lady.”

I didn’t see Redmond on election eve at Dorchester’s Eire Bar, a redoubt of working-class, union-affiliated Irish Catholics, where Coakley made one of her final campaign appearances. The crowd was surprisingly small and unsurprisingly sedate. The candidate gave no speech, was surrounded by union heavies and representatives of local media outlets, and quietly sipped a pint of Guinness. Across the bar, a boisterous Belfast native named Larry was holding a Brown sign and telling the sign-hoisting Coakley people surrounding him to “fuck off.”

When we spoke, Larry identified himself as a conservative, a union member, a supporter of Sinn Fein, and a Scott Brown voter. “Obama has demonized every facet of the private sector, [and his policies] have given us huge unemployment,” he told me. When I slipped outside for a cigarette, a Nigerian man wearing a red, white, and blue vest and holding a Coakley sign patiently explained to me that Israel was his “favorite country in the world,” that African Americans need lessons in entrepreneurship from Nigerians, and that because of a Muslim student in the chemistry department at his local university, he received an unfair C+ on a recent exam. “I am the American dream,” he proclaimed. When I told him his politics sounded rather conservative, he nods. “Yes they are, but Coakley is my candidate.”

Nigerian Zionists for Coakley. Irish Republicans for Brown. It was becoming increasingly difficult to make sense of any of this.

Massachusetts: Not As Liberal As You Think

This much is, and has always been, clear: The working-class Massachusetts Democrat isn’t so hip to, say, gay rights or political correctness and cannot be counted on as a natural liberal. One registered Democrat I spoke to launched into an incoherent rant about a friend who has a “faggot purple phone.” These guys support labor unions, not civil unions. And if they can ignore the social stuff that makes them uncomfortable and pull the lever for a Democrat, what’s to stop them from rolling the dice on Brown, whom the Coakley campaign accused of being a mustache-twisting free trader who would ship Massachusetts jobs to “India and China”? 

Outsiders who see Massachusetts as a contiguous bloc of blue electoral districts assume the state is reliably liberal, when in fact it is has been semi-reliably Democratic. Yes, Massachusetts voted for George McGovern. It also voted twice for Ronald Reagan, elected the Mormon Republican Mitt Romney as governor, and has city governments long honeycombed with conservative Democrats. It was two Democrats, Louise Day Hicks and Billy Bulger, who led the charge against forced busing in the 1970s. It was Boston Democratic City Councilman Dapper O’Neil who, in the words of his Boston Globe obituarist, “railed against feminists, gays, and immigrants.” Tom Finneran, speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1996 to 2004, is pro-life, anti–gay marriage, and famous for attacking the fiscal profligacy of his fellow Democrats.

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  • ¢||

    I don't see the word "truck" anywhere in this.

  • ed||

    That's certainly an under-reported story. The hard left cannot and will not acknowledge that amongst the Rabid Nazi Teabaggers there are ordinary, middle-of-the-road Democrats who are genuinely concerned about America's future. For them to surrender at this point to that certainty is akin to mixing matter with antimatter.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Brown is a RINO.

  • ||

    "Brown is a RINO."

    Right. Anyone who doesn't agree 100% with the Ideological Purity Police is a 'RINO'. They should all be excommunicated if they don't adhere to the loyalty oath they signed in blood.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||


  • Tony||


    I'm glad you showed up, I was afraid the conservative freakout over his vote for the jobs bill had passed, and you guys were back to cynical party hackery.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Um, Tony... you're not one to talk about "cynical party hackery".

  • JohnD||

    Did you think a hard core conservitive could win in Mass?? He has to walk a pretty fine line to stay in office.

  • Rich Vail||

    A conservative in New England is what would be a RINO in "flyover country". But they are conservatives there...imagine that.

  • ||

    Of course he's a RINO, and I'm just fine with that. In order for Republicans to win in Liberal states, they have to have pretty Centrist positions. Conservatives need to accept the "big tent" theory and be willing to compromise with RINOs. We need RINOs if we're to take back congress and eject this radical Left congressional leadership that's obsessed with exponentially growing the size of govt (through mind boggling debt and soon-to-come massive tax hikes).

  • ||

    What enviros don't want you to know:

  • President Bill & Ted Obama||

    A revolution in the sense that there was glass in the bottle of Diet Coke, so I drank a Diet Pepsi.

  • ||

    I still chuckle over Michael Graham's (IIRC) description of the Coakley campaign: it wasn't the Hindenburg or the Titanic, it was the Hindenburg crashing into the Titanic.

  • ||

    We need RINOs if we're to take back congress and eject this radical Left congressional leadership that's obsessed with exponentially growing the size of govt (through mind boggling debt and soon-to-come massive tax hikes). download flipped | download takers

  • LibertyGal||

    "But he isn’t a small-government Liberty Caucus Republican either."

    Correct and too bad, as evidenced by his jobs 'stimulus' vote and his recent support of war-mongerer, liberty-taker McCain.

  • JohnD||

    LGal - were you born stupid or did you study for that?

  • ||

    She studied hard for it, to learn your language.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    All that matters to me was that Brown killed the idea of the 'Kennedy Seat' forever. Thank goodness.

  • Bruce Majors||


    The tea party movement is showing itself very willing to support candidates who are not consistent anti-statists when their election will knife the Obama-Pelosi-Kennedy-Reid statists in the sides.

  • ||

    This is a good point. There are different types of RINOs. The Tea Party should be just fine with RINOs as long as the RINO is a fiscal conservative (and obviously more of a Liberal on the social issues). The Tea Party is primarily about reducing the power/size of govt and getting our insanse spending/debt under control. The Tea Party is NOT about the social issues.

  • ||

    I think this describes a lot of the Perot voters in '92 (?);

  • jacob||

    The Tea Party is NOT about the social issues.

    Clearly you don't know any Tea Party from Ohio.

  • Hobo Chang Ba||

    Scott Brown's a total hack, as is Mitt Romney. How can they look in the mirror with any self-respect after bashing the Democrats' health care reform bill after voting for (Brown) and signing (Romney) a virtually identical health care plan in Massachussetts? I have zero respect for either of these hypocrites and the fact that Republicans think one of them is the next great hope for conservatism proves that party's hackery and illegitimacy. This is the same party heralding Reagan as a beacon of limited government and Marco Rubio (who voted for numerous tax increases and government incursions as FL Speaker of the House) as their own Obama. Seriously?

  • Bruce Majors||

    But they are pretty. And one could make a case that the candidate with the most sex appeal usually wins. Which is bad news for the Demwits, what with Frank, Waxman, Schumer, Pelosi, Reid etc vs Palin, Bachman, Brown, Romney, Flake, Thune etc.

  • ||

    Yeah ... politicians are hacks....

    Yes, Massachusetts "reform" was ushered in with Brown's vote and Romney's signature. Seemed like a good idea at the time, huh?! Now it's a prime example of why extending insurance just makes thing worse.

    The "problem" with health care IS insurance, mostly. Insure chewing gum and watch consumption soar. The answer is catastrophic/HSA coverage, which Obama wants to kill.

    Another "reform" would be to end the contractual price discrimination and insurers basically brokering their discounts. This is simple -- providers should be required to pick their prices, and publish them.

    I had a recently EOB where the lab billed $107 ... and got paid $2.02. And probably make $1.50.

    Incentives and transparency. Insurance for things people DON'T WANT works. Palliative health care is, after all, really just another consumer good....

  • LibertyBill||

    Voting for a state socialist isnt much better over a national socialist.

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    " ... the Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank–hating Tea Party crowd, people who previously thought of Massachusetts as a state that would vote an Alger Hiss/Owen Lattimore ticket if given the chance."

    I've got the odds at 15 to 1 that the average TEA Party supporter has zero clue as to who Alger Hiss and Owen Lattimore are.

  • JohnD||

    To Theothersomeguy, you are a condesending a_hole. Don't make stupid comments and people won't think you are stupid.

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    Ahhhh... You're one of those who don't know who Alger Hiss and Owen Lattimore are.

    Thanks for proving my point.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||


    Yeah, you are one bright light. Thanks for your input.

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    I'm not a bright light. I'm just willing to admit that the average TEA Party supporter/NASCAR fan isn't familiar with Owen Lattimore.

    Heck, most Americans aren't familiar with their own Congressman's name, why would you think they'd know anything at all about Owen Lattimore?

  • jacob||


  • ||

    I'll give you 15:1 odds that the average Liberal...or the average american...doesn't know who they are either.

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    Thank you! That's exactly my point!

  • ||

    I am very committed to the Tea party ... and I just bought a first edition copy of the Witness by Whitaker Chambers. I know who Alger Hiss is.

  • ||

    Politicians of either party really understands what is happening in American!

    For years we have watched our jobs being outsourced & in-sourced, aided and abide by the ruling Political elite!

    On the low end Politicians have allowed the largest invasion of any Nation, at any time, by any means, as millions of Uneducated, Illegal Aliens pour across our borders in direct volition of our Constitution Article IV Section IV against invasion, the Rule of Law & their Oath of office.

    The Democrat support the massive invasion because a large Uneducated, Prolific breeding, dependent welfare class translates into Democrat votes!

    The Republicans because their paymaster in the Chamber of Commerce & Business love slave labor with the benefits like Medical, Schooling, Welfare & Incarceration, Section 8 housing etc. are passed on to the tax payers!

    On the high end H1b program to take the engineering, software jobs etc. at low wages to increase business profits & the insane salaries & bonuses of the CEO,s & their cronies etc.

    After years of seeing their jobs disappear & standard of living deteriorate people are frustrated & angry that no one in Washington really cares about working Americans or the future of this Nation! Meantime both parties spent and borrowed money like dunk sailors on shore leave sinking this Nation in debt beyond our ability to pay!

    Obama promised Hope & Change so the voters kicked out a Elitist, Arrogant, Spendthrift Republican party that was wading in the swamp of corruption!

    Now after one year of Democrat rule and total control most are realizing Obama sold them a bill of goods and the Democrats are even more Elitist, Arrogant, Big spending and the swamp of corruption & debt has now turned into a sea of debt & corruption with Acorn , Unions, Seiu, Wall street , Big banks & the tax funded Racist hate organization La Raza!

    Both parties when they get total control & power get more corrupt, arrogant & worse than the British & King George that resulted in the American revolution and the shot heard around the world!

    Now the good people of Mass. have fired another shot. If the Politicians of both parties still refuse to change and keep thinking they are Kings & we are their Serfs & they & the special interest they serve, know what is best, the next shots they hear may not be as peaceful.

    It is way pass time the Politicians realize they are the servants & not our rulers and they exist to serve the American citizens & this Nation, not the special interest, not Mexico, not Latin American and every country in the world while ignoring and punishing Citizens by taxes, jobs and debt to support the rest of the world!

  • hmrhonda||

    America's job is not done. Now for a Republican to win Obama's seat.

  • kaikunane||

    That's true ?

  • Don Khoury||

    Scott Brown was able to create a Reagan/Clinton/Obama type image that Martha Coakley could not compete with. If she had hidden in a closet for the campaign she would have probably won the election. From your article it sounds like she knew that to be the case. Had Vicki Kennedy been the candidate I believe she would have won.

  • Joan Chevalier||

    God, this is a great piece. Great writing, spot on. I loved it! As soon as I am done here, I will subsribe to Reason. The astounding disconnect between the liberal "establishment" and working class (middle class) Americans pisses me off. Raised by a Pennsylvania coalminer-union leader, I attended Sarah Lawrence College on scholarship. I remember the other students entirely befuddled by my "blue collar sensibilities." I continue to describe myself as "liberal" though I have ceased to recognize anything "liberal" in today's sneering, condescending, we know better than rest, liberalism. The persistent contempt for other points of view and for fellow Americans (the "ignorant mob" according to the DNC!!!) -- what on earth is that? I have written a tad on this (I am a speechwriter on Wall Street) at the Globe, Washington Times, and a feminist site (with a very interesting editorial slant), Femisex, as well as some others. This author might like my most recent blog at Femisex -- not for me per se -- but primarily for the YouTube clip that a ranch friend sent to me of a lecture by Dirty Jobs guy Mike Rowe. And perhaps some colorful references to my own Irish Catholic grandmother who was no fan of the Kennedys. Naturally, I can't remember what it's called, something like On Marriage and Other Dirty Jobs. Googling Joan Chevalier speechwriter usually pulls up most of this stuff.

    Anyway, thank you!!! You made my day. The piece captures an engaged America (granted with its share of whackiness on left and right), but an engaged, colorful, feisty America that I adore. Where is that America in today's editorial pages???? And why is it absent? I loved this.
    Joan Chevalier

  • ||

    I met so many previously reliable Democratic voters who were now supporting Scott Brown. Our decision had everything to do with Congress' reckless determination to push through a health care package that has no hope of controlling costs.

  • ||

    I've been a registered Democrat from Boston for sixty years, and I voted for JFK, LBJ, McGovern, McCarthy, Carter, Mondale and Dukakis. But I found that as my party became more and more the party of organizations like NARAL that those running the party took long time Democrats like me for granted.

    The watershed event for me was the treatment Bob Casey of Pennsylvania received at the 1992 Convention. Because he was barred from speaking at the Convention I did not vote for Clinton and I haven't cast a vote for a Democratic presidential candidate fo since then. My alienation from the party increased when the Democrats by and large endorsed the production of human beings to be destroyed to obtain stem cells for research purposes. Somethings are just wrong and shouldn't be done even if they hold out the promise of a longer and more comfortable life And my alienation has increased still further since the Massachusetts SJC Goodridge decision, and the unwillingness of most elected Massachusetts Democratic office holders to support natural marriage by allowing the people to vote on marriage in the wake of Goodridge.

    I came out early and actively in support of Brown. My support had nothing to do with his views on taxes and economics. The fact is that I am distinctly unimpressed with his grasp of economics, and I have never regarded my personal tax burden as excessive.

    I voted for Brown because I believed he was a better choice than Coakley on marriage and abortion. In fact, for me, the early support Coakley received from Emily's List took her off my dance card. Despite identifying himself as pro-choice Brown was willing to support those reasonable restrictions on abortion that are compatible with Roe v. Wade jurisprudence/ And since Brown was opposed in his two elections for the Massachusetts Senate by Mass Equality I concluded he was more likely to be a supporter of traditional marriage than Martha Coakley.

    It is rare that a Massachusetts voter like me gets the opportunity to vote for a candidate for public office who doesn't march in lockstep with groups such as NARAL. We have to seize the opportunity to do so when it presents itself. Brown presented one of those rar opportunities.

  • ||

    National conservatives keep reporting that Ted's voting place of Hyannis was somehow a Kennedy redoubt. Actually, it is semi-reliably Republican. Ted "lived" there (he really lived in DC, but that was his voting residence) but it wasn't a Kennedy "stronghold" by any measure.

  • ||

    Thanks for a colorful look inside the revolution. The descriptions of Boston left me homesick. "Heathen" magazine left me laughing out loud.

  • philip||

    Ignoring the hidden costs of Obamacare won't make the proposed bill pay for itself now or in the future. We hope more than half of all the House Representatives (from Massachusetts and elsewhere) will have the courage to vote NO again and again to the Obamacare bill lest they help toss the country even deeper into debts and taxes the people can't afford.

    Pls. read Wall Street Journal "Cost Control Illusion" to learn more about the concealed cost Sen. Scott Brown spoke of -

    Thank you, Sen. Scott Brown for stating the points clearly and courteously. May you lead another Massachesetts Miracle for the country with this address - one that results in TRUE health care reform for the people, of the people, by the people.

  • rctl||

    Do you mean the same Sen. Scott Brown who voted for Massachusetts health care?

  • PL||

    Ignoring the hidden costs of Obamacare won't make the proposed bill pay for itself now or in the future. We hope all the House Representatives from Massachusetts and most from the other state will have the courage to vote NO again and again to the Obamacare bill lest they help toss the country even deeper into debts and taxes the people can't afford.

    Pls. read Wall Street Journal "Cost Control Illusion" to learn more about the concealed cost Sen. Scott Brown spoke of in the GOP weekly address -

    Thank you, Sen. Scott Brown for stating the points clearly and courteously.

    May you be part of another Massachesetts Miracle for the country with this statement - one that results in TRUE health care reform for the people, of the people, by the people.

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