Politics & Policy

Could Obey Be Coakley’d?

Welcome to a new, real political world.

Goliath has been known to win, or he wouldn’t be Goliath. But he didn’t win this time. And that could significantly affect what happens in November.

Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election for the seat formerly considered by too many to be Ted Kennedy’s seat, is many varieties of good news. It’s especially good news for the Davids around the country who have their sights set on Washington. The “Yes, He Can” line emblazoned across the photo of Marco Rubio on NR’s cover a few months ago has just gotten a big momentum boost.

Among the beneficiaries of this invigorated sense that no seat belongs to an individual or his party, regardless of rank, tenure, or his family’s place in the American imagination, is Sean Duffy, a Republican running for Congress in Wisconsin. This 38-year-old father of five, currently serving his fourth term as Ashland County district attorney, is effectively reminding Democrat David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1969, before Duffy was born), that his congressional seat is not his, but the people’s. This former reality-TV star — Duffy and his wife, Rachel, were both cast members of The Real World — may benefit from the new real political world created by the election of Scott Brown.

Duffy talked with National Review Online about the Brown win.

Q: How surprised are you about Scott Brown’s win?

A: I’m ecstatic, but I’m not surprised. The same energy and enthusiasm for representative government you see in Massachusetts is exactly what we’re experiencing in Wisconsin. Whether they be loggers, farmers, union workers, or business leaders, they believe Washington is tone deaf and, worse yet, arrogant and self-serving.

Q: What does it mean? Is it nebulous political anger or something else?

A: Certainly, people are angry. People rightly get a little mad when 787 billion of their tax dollars are wasted on a so-called jobs-stimulus bill that hasn’t created jobs. But it’s much more than that. Voters now realize they were sold a bill of goods in 2008. Many of Washington’s power elite have been in government jobs their entire lives — Dave Obey has been in office 40 years — and have no idea what it takes for a Main Street business to create jobs. Incumbents like Obey are simply out of touch. Voters feel this disconnect on a variety of issues: the national debt, high unemployment and a sagging economy, and a health-care bill that won’t increase access or decrease costs.

Q: Is this Brown win in any way a repudiation of the Kennedy model — the idea that Democrats have a monopoly on social-justice issues?

A: I am married into a Hispanic family (my wife, Rachel, is of Mexican-American descent), and among her family, it’s commonly accepted that the Kennedy/Obama/Obey idea of social justice has been an abject failure. Minorities and the economically disadvantaged desire economic opportunity, not handouts. The challenge for conservatives is to boldly and proudly present our philosophy of personal responsibility and economic empowerment to minorities and remind voters of the Democrats’ miserable record on these issues. 

Q: What does Senator-elect Brown mean for your race?

A: If Scott Brown can win in a state that President Obama won by 26 points, I can win in a district that Obey won by just 20 points against an unknown, underfunded challenger in the Democratic landslide of 2008. It means there is not a single Democrat in the country who is safe. And, as the author of the failed stimulus bill, David Obey will be at the forefront of the debate about jobs, the economy, and wasteful government spending. If he continues to tax and spend our country into bankruptcy, he’s going to get Coakley’d.

Q: What are you hearing most on the trail?

A: People want a job and a paycheck. People want real answers, not more political spin and inaction. They want government to live within its means and to stop intruding into their daily lives. Voters want to remain in control of their lives and health-care decisions, and they want a congressman who will bring common-sense Wisconsin values to Washington — not the other way around. Unfortunately, Dave Obey represents all that is wrong with Washington.

Q: What’s the most important lesson of this race?

A: Presented with a clear choice, Americans reject the fiscally irresponsible agenda of Obama and Obey.

Q: What are you offering the voters instead?

A: We are running on a message of free enterprise, job creation, and fiscal responsibility. My philosophy is resonating with Wisconsin voters.

– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of NRO.

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