The cartoon to the right, by Ted McCagg, is the best summary I've seen so far of the recent senatorial election in Massachusetts, my home state.
It helps explain what Scott Brown's victory really means and, by implication, why it happened.
Brown didn't win because voters are suddenly abandoning the Democratic party to become Republicans. While "Democratic leaning" voters have a 30-point advantage over those leaning Republican, the majority are in fact registered as Independents or in the state's parlance "unenrolled." Indeed, Brown did not run as a Republican. The closest he came to referencing his party affiliation was to point out that he would be the "41st vote" in the Senate against a Democratic steamroller.
Brown didn't win because his opponent ran a bad campaign, because Bay State voters oppose universal healthcare, or because they are souring on Obama. There are elements of truth to all those assertions, but what put Brown in the Senate runs deeper and has more of an emotional cast, than rational. He won because voters want to send a message to Washington.
Their message is one of deep dissatisfaction, bordering on cynicism, with Washington's partisan ways. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll uncovered this change in public attitude last November.The poll asked people how much of the time they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing; 65% said "only some of the time" and a stunning 11% said "never."
The Journal points out that pollsters have been asking that question for decades, but "the last time the numbers were even comparable was in the midst of the last great recession, in 1982."
The Journal's Gerry Seib has a theory about all this. "Americans certainly want their politicians to debate strenuously about important issues," he writes, "but they also want them, at the end of the day, to figure out a way to compromise, come together and solve problems. That's particularly so in times of crisis."
I think Seib is right. That's where politicians have let us all down. And Bay State voters understandably -- and appropriately -- have given Washington the finger for it.