This Hardball segment is a prime example of why cable talk shows and cable news generally are such useless venues for discussing politics. In the segment, Howard Dean refers to data from the Research 2000 Massachusetts post-election survey and makes an argument that a huge proportion of Obama voters who also voted for Brown were hostile to the current health care bill because they wanted a more progressive version of health care legislation. Matthews is left sputtering in disbelief, because the survey data would seem to show that Matthews and practically every other talking head and pundit in the land has missed what a significant number of independent Obama voters in Massachusetts were actually trying to accomplish by voting for Brown. Tom Bevan thinks this is one of Matthews’ great moments on televison. In fact, it is a display of how insipid and shallow so much political commentary can be, especially when it is reduced to the format of cable talk shows.
At one point, Matthews asked, “Are voters crazy?” The right answer is that voters know what they want, but sometimes have an odd way of expressing this when they vote. An overwhelming majority of Obama/Brown voters and Obama voters who did not vote on Tuesday favor a public option, a large plurality of both groups opposes the current bill, and most also oppose the mandate. Brown vowed to kill the current bill, and this is something that almost half of Obama/Brown voters wanted. These voters apparently wanted to kill it because they believed it was too compromised. Another 32% of them support the bill Brown has vowed to kill, which tells us that their votes were probably cast primarily as protests against Democratic establishments in Boston and Washington, but they were also among the 82% of Obama/Brown voters who favor a public option. Of Obama/Brown voters, just 14% oppose a public option. If the first priority of many of these voters is to scrap the current bill, and if voters are angry with the majority party because it crafted a compromised bill, there is an odd way in which a vote for Brown makes sense. It will certainly not get them what they ultimately want (i.e., the public option), but it may achieve the immediate goal of killing a bill they oppose or only support grudgingly.
The damning thing about this segment for Matthews is that he did not even attempt to consider the evidence being presented. All that he needed to know was that Brown won, Brown opposes this particular health care bill, and therefore it is obviously an endorsement of policy views on the national level that even Scott Brown doesn’t hold. The conventional wisdom has already become entrenched that Massachusetts independent voters recoiled from “statism” or “big government,” when the survey data indicate that the independent voters who backed both Obama and Brown expected much more from Obama than the shabby corporatist compromise in the Senate, and they were angry enough about his underwhelming performance to go so far as to elect a Republican to demonstrate the depth of their dissatisfaction. As Matthews’ and Bevan’s reactions show, their protest message is one that virtually no one is going to hear or understand.