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Why Kerry?

[ 144 ] November 14, 2012 |

Ezra asks a question I think of a lot of Democrats are asking now and were asking in early 2009–Does Barack Obama want Mitch McConnell to be Majority Leader? Obama has always had a political blind spot when it comes to cabinet appointments. He has tended toward well-known political leaders for important positions, even if that means pulling them out of their states where they could extend the Democratic advantage and do more good. Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sebelius were major political leaders in difficult states for Democrats. It’s completely unclear whether their ability as administrators in a cabinet position proved to me more valuable than running for the Senate in their respective states, but I am doubtful. Democrats managed to hold onto Hillary Clinton’s and Ken Salazar’s seats in the Senate, but with the latter it was only because the Tea Party took over the Colorado Republican Party and ran an insane person.

And now Obama is doing it again by floating John Kerry’s name out for Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State. The upshot of this is that Scott Brown will probably return to the Senate. With 2014 looking like a tough year for Democrats in the Senate (hard races to win combined with expected lower turnout among Democratic base voters), why make it easier for Republicans to control the Senate?

I’m a bit more understanding of why you would do this for John Kerry than I would be for others. He is an old liberal lion who was the presidential candidate in 2004. If he wants the job that bad, maybe he has the right to demand it. Certainly he’s well-qualified. But he can probably do more good in his existing role in the Senate than in the Cabinet.

Comments (144)

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  1. rea says:

    Senators are easier to confirm.

  2. mpowell says:

    Of all the Senate seats in the country, isn’t a MA seat relatively safe as long as the Democrats run a decent candidate? I think this issue may be Obama’s biggest liability as a president, since the 2010 midterms/redistricting were a bloodbath and some of that can be traced back to this tendency of his, but why does this give a seat to Brown exactly?

  3. Warren Terra says:

    I’ve read elsewhere that the most obvious other candidate would be UN ambassador Susan Rice, and the Senate Republicans would try to connect her to every dark fantasy going back to the Rosicrucians. Bring it on, I’d say, but that’s not Obama’s style.

    I also have to wonder whether Obama might be interested in clearing a path for his great friend Deval Patrick.

    • mark f says:

      Patrick and his wife dined at the White House on Wednesday or Thursday, as a matter of fact.

    • Joe says:

      There are two cabinet heads for Kerry — Defense and State, so he has a shot even with Rice being nominated. A few might be confused and think Condi is back!

      Kathleen Sebelius was a bit more understandable given problems with HHS (Tom Daschle). And, Kerry might be felt due, but the others, including in effect helping to bring about “papers please” in Arizona is a bit more questionable.

      Still, I question if ’14 is going to come down to one vote. Who knows.

  4. Scott de B. says:

    So Obama shouldn’t pick Democrats from red states, because they will be replaced by Republicans. He shouldn’t pick conservative Democrats from liberal states because we don’t want blue dogs in the administration. And he shouldn’t pick liberal Democrats from blue states because they will be replaced by Republicans. Maybe he can hold every office himself.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Don’t pick elected politicians. There are lots of other qualified people.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        Even more specifically, don’t pick elected politicians when you know there’s a very popular replacement from the other party who already won one special election (when his party tends to turn out more than your party), and did very well in the general.

        Jesus, this isn’t rocket science.

        • Scott de B. says:

          It’s fun how the popular view of Scott Brown has shifted from generic Republican who managed to win a fill-in election to some kind of unbeatable juggernaut. Maybe the Republicans should run him in 2016 if he can win Massachusetts. He’d win 400 electoral votes!

          • Craigo says:

            Scott Brown has an approval rating of about 55-57%, and special elections turn out fewer Democratic voters. As many a Republican discovered last week, being a smartass when the numbers aren’t in your favor doesn’t change the math.

          • mark f says:

            Seriously. The guy harnessed a unique political moment and rode some good luck past an unprepared opponent. He did everything about as right as he could’ve to ensure his re-election as a Republican in Massachusetts, remained personally popular, and had the good luck to draw an electoral novice as his opponent.

            And he got his ass kicked.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              In a presidential election year, against a Dem candidate who generated a lot of base enthusiasm and raised shitloads of money. I agree that Random Generic Democrat would be favored in any future special election against Brown, but to suggest there’s no chance of him winning an off-year election is obviously wrong.

              • mark f says:

                Of course. I’m not suggesting that he couldn’t win. But Tom Menino’s evaluation that he’s unbeatable has been destroyed.

                Besides, everyone seems to think Brown actually has his eye on the governor’s chair. (Which is amusing to me since he’s clearly not only a moron but also pretty rudderless; might as well elect Bob DeLeo).

            • Njorl says:

              Seriously. The guy harnessed a unique political moment and rode some good luck past an unprepared opponent.

              That’s a good reason not to give him another unique political moment and another unprepared opponent.

              • mpowell says:

                The political moment referred to is when the Democratic party was suffering substantially in popularity due to the debates over the ACA. 2009-2010 are not going to be like 2013.

            • Quercus says:

              Warren was a novice, but that was actually a huge advantage — Brown basically won election in the first place because he was able to cast Coakley as an out-of-touch insider Democratic Party Machine Hack (I’m not saying the characterization is fair, but it’s a narrative that can resonate in Mass.) In fact, Warren was just about the perfect anti-Brown candidate — one who had zero connections to insider Democratic party hackery yet was already well-known, had a history of making the perfect argument against Brown’s economic platform, and was able to mobilize a huge volunteer effort (in large part thanks to Obama coattails)– yet Brown still came within shouting distance of pulling it off.

              Sure, he’s now got a bit of loser stink on him — which is more deadly with his base than with Democrats — but he’d still be a scary candidate against Generic Mass Democratic Party Machine Candidate. Which, except for Deval Patrick, just about anyone would be.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            I don’t know what the “popular view” is. My view is that Republicans turn out in special elections. Scott Brown managed to get 46% of the vote against a very strong Dem candidate in Massachusetts in a general election, I don’t think there’s an obvious strong Dem candidate on the horizon (who was there before Warren threw her hat into the ring?) and WHY ON EARTH WOULD WE GIVE HIM ANOTHER SHOT?

            • Eliizabeth Warren was not a very strong candidate. She has an almost Kerry-esque ability to come across as likable on television. Like Kerry, she’s going to be a great senator and a mixed-bag campaigner.

              An actual, professional politician who can shake hands and slap backs would outperform her.

              • mds says:

                So, as long as Massachusetts Dems pick someone unlike Coakley, Warren, or Kerry, we’re safe. Unless the Republican candidate is a personable glad-hander with, purely hypothetically, a pickup truck and a barn coat. And here I was, worried for a moment.

                • Unless the Republican candidate is a personable glad-hander with, purely hypothetically, a pickup truck and a barn coat.

                  When did Scott Brown ever run against someone unlike Warren or Coakley?

                • mds says:

                  When did Scott Brown ever run against someone unlike Warren or Coakley?

                  He didn’t. Precisely because, as you yourself indicate, MA Democrats apparently have a hard time nominating “an actual, professional politician who can shake hands and slap backs” for Senate races. Yet Scott Brown could be the (nude?) poster boy for “an actual, professional politician who can shake hands and slap backs.” So which candidate for a special election do you think is likelier to fit that description?

                • He didn’t.

                  So, therefore, your argument:

                  So, as long as Massachusetts Dems pick someone unlike Coakley, Warren, or Kerry, we’re safe. Unless the Republican candidate is a personable glad-hander with, purely hypothetically, a pickup truck and a barn coat.

                  makes no sense.

                  There is absolutely nothing – nothing in my comment (which makes you “so” a bit odd), and nothing in the actual history – to indicate that the Massachusetts Democrats would be in trouble against a Scott Brown type if thy nominated a hand-shaking, back-slapping Republican.

                  Precisely because, as you yourself indicate, MA Democrats apparently have a hard time nominating “an actual, professional politician who can shake hands and slap backs” for Senate races.

                  Have you, by any chance, ever heard of a gentleman named Ted Kennedy? As it turns out, Massachusetts political history didn’t begin in 2009.

                • mds says:

                  Have you, by any chance, ever heard of a gentleman named Ted Kennedy?

                  Yes. His vacated Senate seat went to a Republican supported by the Tea Party in a special election.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  While Ted Kennedy was many good things, someone who won elections by shaking hands and slapping backs is not something that comes to mind.

                • rea says:

                  “There is absolutely nothing . . . to indicate that the Massachusetts Democrats would be in trouble against a Scott Brown type if th[e]y nominated a hand-shaking, back-slapping Republican[emphasis added].”

                  Well, there’s your problem right there.

                • His vacated Senate seat

                  You mean the one that he won, and then held over and over again, by running as a populist pol with a common touch in Irish-Catholic neighborhoods?

                  Thanks for the assist.

                  went to a Republican supported by the Tea Party in a special election.

                  …against Martha Coakley. Just to get you back on track, you were trying to make a point about how Republicans are like to fare against candidates who are not like Martha Coakley.

                • Mal,

                  I don’t know why you say that. That style of politics is exactly what that generation of Kennedys built their Congressional careers on, and Teddy was better at it than his older brothers.

                • rea,

                  Heh. “…backslapping Democrat,” obviously.

                  Whoops.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Maybe it is a factor of my moving to MA relatively late in Teddy’s career. The times I saw him, while he gave great, populist speeches, there was no mingling at all with the crowd. Not blaming him for that – shit, I’m all for Kennedy’s having good security – but he was not a back-slapper in that sense.

                • Mal,

                  Yeah, by his last decade, he was well-ensconced.

                  If you read about the old days, though, he was a terrific retail politician.

                  mds,

                  Might I point out that your concern about the Democrats being able to nominate a candidate who can beat a Republican in a race for a Congressional seat is based upon a record of better than 90-1, going back to 1996?

                • Malaclypse says:

                  If you read about the old days, though, he was a terrific retail politician.

                  Fair enough. But even assuming that he was like this as late as 1988, that means nobody younger than 35 has any real chance of remembering.

                • The Lorax says:

                  Barney Frank!

              • zolltan says:

                I know that senators’ most important function is as votes for the party they caucus with. I also know that all other things being equal, being a good retail politician is a great asset. But still, the senate seat from Mass. is relatively safe, and whoever is elected has a chance of staying there for a long time besides. I’d rather see someone with some expertise to bring to the table (for instance I’m quite happy that the seat is Warren’s rather than belonging to “generic democrat A”) rather than someone marginally more likely to get elected…

  5. timb says:

    I’m telling you, Janet Napolitano was quid pro quo for something with McCain….at least I always believed that.

    Would Kerry’s appointment result in the Governor appointing his replacement or would they need a special election

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Special election a la Scott Brown vs. Martha Coakley (whose name has actually appeared as a possible Democratic candidate to replace Kerry, I shit you not!).

    • Holden Pattern says:

      MA holds special elections. That’s how we got Scott Brown last time.

    • mark f says:

      The Massachusetts state legislature covered itself in all kinds of glory on this matter between 2004-2010.

      Yay! Our guy John Kerry might get elected president! But wait! That means Gov. Mitt Romney would get to appoint his replacement. So a law providing for special elections in the event of a vacancy.

      FFW to 2010. Ted Kennedy was ill and obviously nearing death. But PPACA hasn’t passed yet! In fact, Republicans might be able to stifle the president’s whole agenda with a vacancy. But wait! We have a Democrat for governor now. So a law was passed allowing the governor to appoint a replacement to serve in the interim period between the vacancy and the special election. Gov. Patrick even signed it on an emergency basis so the standard 30-day (or whatever) waiting period wouldn’t apply. Look at the early-2010 Senate roll calls. I bet you don’t remember Sen. Kirk (D-MA) at all!

      For nakedly political reasons we actually ended up with a fairly resonable democratic solution.

      • mpowell says:

        If you have a sufficiently strong party majority in a state that you can play these kinds of legislative games, I don’t see the problem with doing so to insure fill-in candidates are from that party. You can reasonably infer that it would be according to the state voters’ preferences.

        Gerrymandering is a different story however…

  6. Jon H says:

    How about Huntsman? He was already an ambassador for Obama, after all, and he’s a Republican, so presumably easy to confirm.

    • Joe says:

      I heard his name put out there. Very West Wing.

      • mds says:

        Hell, why not go all in, and name everyone who ran for the Republican nomination to the Cabinet?

        • NonyNony says:

          Hm, let’s see. We could put:

          Gingrich in as Secretary of Windbaggery
          Ron Paul in as Secretary of Goldbuggery
          Bachman in as Secretary of Nutbaggery
          Romney in as Secretary of Robber-banditry
          Cain in as Secretary of Poor Pizza-stry
          Pawlenty in as Secretary of Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
          and Santorum in as Secretary of [CENSORED]

          7 new cabinet positions for the 7 dwarves. Each of them fighting over who gets to be Dopey.

          • spencer says:

            and Santorum in as Secretary of [CENSORED]

            Skullduggery?

            (To explain: I know someone who worked behind the camera in the porn industry, and he told me that more than one director used the word “skullduggery” as a euphemism for anal sex. So maybe it’s more appropriate than it may first appear.)

        • RedSquareBear says:

          Calling it now:

          Santorum for Helpless Hopeless and Stupid

        • Joe says:

          It is somewhat generous to say Huntsman “ran” given his pathetic effort & unlike the others, with the possible exception of Gary Johnson (Fred Karger?), he actually has some actual skills.

  7. mark f says:

    The upshot of this is that Scott Brown will probably return to the Senate.

    I think people are overstating this. By a lot. It’s true that there are no obvious Democratic candidates, but it’s not like Elizabeth Warren was a guaranteed winner. Democrats who might want to take a run but took a pass in 2012 are going to look at Warren’s success and be a lot less intimidated of the once-popular Brown. Besides which, the insurgent anti-Obamacare magic of the 2010 special election isn’t going to for a second time coincide with a candidate who took the general election no more seriously than Tommy Carcetti did after beating Clarence Royce in the primary. Lastly, the Kerry seat is due up in 2014; would Brown really want to risk being the Half-Term Himbo twice?

    Why Kerry? For the reasons you stated, plus in the sense that he’s “earned” it by being an early endorser of and an effective surrogate for Barack Obama. As a Massachusetts resident, I’d hate to have two freshmen senators at the time. On the other hand I wouldn’t mind seeing Kerry have his career capped with a nice retirement prize (I never thought of DoD before this week, but it would be a hilarious stick in the wingnut’s eye).

    • Holden Pattern says:

      You know, I am not interested in capping John Kerry’s career — he’s been amply rewarded by, y’know, being a goddamn Senator for 20 years.

      I AM interested in not replacing him with Scott Brown, again. Kennedy died; these things happen. Let’s not CHOOSE to give Brown another shot.

      Special elections are not like general elections (much like mid-terms are not like presidential elections.) Republicans turn out in special elections.

      • mark f says:

        As far as Kerry goes it’s no skin of mine if he doesn’t get it. But I’m not in a position to feel those sorts of obligations; I’m just saying that it’s understandable if Obama thinks he owes it to him.

        And if he does get it, I’m confident that the potential Democratic candidates and the state party structure have learned the lesson provided by Martha Coakley.

      • somethingblue says:

        You know, I am not interested in capping John Kerry’s career — he’s been amply rewarded by, y’know, being a goddamn Senator for 20 years.

        That. “Honorific capstone to a distinguished career” is a good reason to make someone Ambassador to the Bahamas, or even France. It doesn’t entitle you to be Secretary of Defense or State. I’m perfectly prepared to accept that Kerry might be the best person for the job, but as Chair Guy once said, “Deserve”‘s got nothing to do with it.

    • Anon21 says:

      I agree with you. 2010 was a perfect storm. I am not worried about throwing this particular seat to the GOP. If Obama thinks Kerry’s the guy, he should appoint him.

  8. Warren Terra says:

    The answer is obvious: Bill Clinton.

    (j/k)

  9. Richard says:

    Feinstein is 79 years old and just reelected to a new term as Senator. I doubt very much she would give up her Senate seat and want to relocate to DC. Other than Erik’s musings, has her name come up as a possible Defense Secretary nominee?

  10. Malaclypse says:

    Anyone who thinks MA is reliably Democratic might want to look at/remember MA6, where Tierney only won reelection because of a Libertarian spoiler.

    • PJK says:

      1) MA-6 is centered on arguably the most Republican-leaning part of the Commonwealth;

      2) Tierney was widely (and not without some good reason, as I understand it) considered a bit of a crook and a lot of Democrats I know were holding their nose whilst voting for him or thanking Jah they live in a different district;

      3) Tisei, while definitely a conservative, is hardly a model of a modern major Tea Partier, and his campaign was happy to emphasize the “independent-minded social-moderate” and “can an openly gay GOP congressman change the GOP” narratives that emergedin the media;

      4) Tierney still won.

    • John Tierney’s wife went to prison for helping run an illegal gambling operation.

      A more plausible description of the Massachusetts 6th district race would be, “It is so Democratic that John Tierney won despite a scandal that would have killed a candidate is a district that wasn’t so lopsidedly Democratic.”

      Obama won that district 58-41 in both 2008 and 2012, and that is the least Democratic district in the state. Massachusetts is quite reliably Democratic.

      • mark f says:

        That was my thinking too.

      • mds says:

        Obama won that district 58-41 in both 2008 and 2012, and that is the least Democratic district in the state. Massachusetts is quite reliably Democratic.

        Or, to put it another way, Elizabeth Warren beat phony-baloney independent Republican Scott Brown 54 – 46 overall. Which is weaker than Obama managed in even the least Democratic congressional district in the state. So another Senate race should probably not automatically be considered reliably Democratic.

        • Elizabeth Warren is not a very good candidate. All your comment tells me is that the Democrats need a good candidate, but will win with even a so-so one.

          • mark f says:

            And are we really pretending to be surprised that the personally popular moderate incumbent ran ahead of the national party’s presidential nominee?

            • NonyNony says:

              A personally popular “moderate” incumbent running ahead of the national nominee who was the former governor of the same state and who had low approval ratings when he left office.

              Yeah … the idea that Scott Brown would outperform Mitt Romney in Massachusetts is not the least bit surprising to me at all.

              • Warren Terra says:

                Other things that might outperform Romney for popularity in Massachusetts include chlamidia, the Yankees, the Jets, and disrespect for Dunkin Donuts Coffee. Romney spent two years as governor travelling the country and badmouthing Massachusetts to everything vaguely resembling a microphone.

  11. david mizner says:

    Wow the bar for becoming a liberal lion is low these days. Pro-war, pro-unfair trade: Roar!

  12. J.W. Hamner says:

    If he doesn’t run for a vacated Senate seat I bet he runs for governor in 2014, so I doubt our state has seen the last of Scott Brown.

    I would have thought that Patrick would be a good candidate, but he has apparently denied that he would appoint himself and/or run for the seat.

    US Attorney Carmen Ortiz is kind of an interesting name that is being floated, but she has no electoral experience and I kind of wonder if it wouldn’t be better to get her as a judge.

  13. The upshot of this is that Scott Brown will probably return to the Senate.

    This grossly overstates the threat. Brown’s 2010 win was a fluke, and he did quite a bit of damage to his reputation over the course of this last campaign. The shine is definitely off that guy. There’s no way he beats, for instance, Deval Patrick if he runs in 2014.

    • actor212 says:

      Correct. In 2010, Brown benefitted from gobs of Teabagger money and still ran up big debts against Coakley.

      After serving two years and proving he’s not Teabagger mainline, he can’t count on that money again in a challenge.

  14. Oh, btw: Nobody could have predicted that John Kerry would be in the running for Secretary of Defense.

  15. actor212 says:

    Scott Brown is not running again.

    He’s still paying debt off from the race to replace Kennedy and that’s before anyone considers this last run when he embarrassed himself miserably.

    He’s done.

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