Are Democrats Cracking Under the Pressure?

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Let the spinning begin.

"Martha Coakley was a lousy campaigner."

"Massachusetts is a contrary state with lots of contrary voters."

"The Democratic base wasn't energized and never mustered the same sort of intensity demonstrated by out-of-town teabaggers."

Blah, blah, blah.

It may all be true and yet all beside the point. Republicans registered one of their most astounding political victories in memory, walking away with Teddy Kennedy's seat in the bluest of blue states. What's more, they rode to victory on the shoulders of a veritable unknown, who, just a month ago, was trailing the Democratic front-runner in some polls by double digits.

But talk about bad form! Long before the polls had closed, we were treated to the spectacle of shell-shocked Democrats blaming each other for the surprise defeat. One unidentified source even complained to MSNBC that Coakley - bad enough she was an uninspiring candidate - but that she also had gone on vacation in the last month of the campaign and thus bore the responsibility for blowing what should have been a layup . Then there were the dueling leaks: on one side, the White House and the Democratic National Committee, on the other, Coakley's campaign - each side pointing fingers at the other. So much for shared camaraderie in the foxhole.

And all on the eve of Barack Obama's first year in office. Happy anniversary, Mr. President.

A disgusted DNC Chairman Howard Dean went on the air with Keith Olbermann and took the measure of his panicked fellow Democrats.

"We can figure out - there are plenty of things that went wrong, plenty of blame to be spread around but people who blame others are losers. If you want to win elections, you stop blaming and you get to work and that's what's going to have to be done after this election. Whether we win or lose, I think the message has been sent, that if we plan to do better than this in 2010, we better do better for the American people between now and next November."

He has concrete ideas about how this script ought to unfold. But unlike his triangulating brethren at the White House, Dean wants the White House to exercise the Democrats' House and Senate majority more boldly.

"We're going to have to show toughness and we're going to have to show leadership. And leadership is not trying to be centrists and get everybody to work together because it's not going to happen. The Republicans wanted to kill this bill from the beginning, the health care bill, simply to embarrass the president. ...this is an example of what happens if you're not clear about your message. Scott Brown was real clear about his message tonight."

What's still unclear is the lesson of the Massachusetts vote. (Rest assured you'll hear lots of bloviation about that one in coming days.) But will Dean's harder line appeal to the independents who voted against Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia last November? Sounds as if he's washed his hands of trying to lure them into the Democratic tent.

It also was a blunt message to a president who has tried - and failed - to find middle ground with an obstructionist Republican opposition. Now it's Mr. Obama's move. Maybe we'll find out where he wants to take his party when he delivers the State of the Union speech.
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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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