The Democrats’ tragedy of Greek proportions

Liberal pundits are proclaiming doom and apocalypse at the prospect of Kennedy’s seat in the Senate going to a Massachusetts Republican, even before the election and the bitter news. So reports POLITICO.com:

For the pundits on MSNBC and the liberal blogosphere, the prospect of a Scott Brown victory in the Massachusetts Senate race has provoked the kind of doomsday rhetoric not heard since a certain Texan was president.

Liberal talker Ed Schultz recently told radio listeners that if he lived in Massachusetts he’d try to vote 10 times, claiming that he’d “cheat to keep these bastards out.”

Conservatives howled that the MSNBC host was inciting voter fraud, so Schultz apologized on the air Monday — well, sort of.

“I misspoke on Friday. I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” Schultz said. “I meant to say, if I could vote 20 times, that's what I'd do.”

“Let me be very clear,” Schultz said a few minutes later. “I'm not advocating voter fraud, I'm just telling you what I would do. That's how bad I want Scott Brown to lose!”

Atlantic senior editor Andrew Sullivan described the election on his blog as “a nihilist moment, built from a nihilist strategy in order to regain power … to do nothing but wage war against enemies at home and abroad.”

Sullivan, a longtime conservative who announced he was leaving “the right” last month, concluded Monday that “Democrats can stop hoping at this point” and predicted a double-digit victory for Brown.

“What comes next will be a real test for [President Barack] Obama,” Sullivan continued. “I suspect serious health insurance reform is over for yet another generation.”

Other pundits have had their own grand pronouncements on the possibility of Democrat Martha Coakley losing the seat once held by Ted Kennedy: “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos —who once worked for someone dubbed the “Comeback Kid” — wrote on his blog Tuesday that a Brown victory “would certainly be the biggest political upset I have seen in my career.” PBS’s Judy Woodruff, quoting someone from the White House, described the situation on ABC’s “This Week” as “a tragedy of Greek proportions if Ted Kennedy's successor is the one … who was responsible for the death of health care.”

If it’s a Greek tragedy (as my former students should know), it involves a hero with a tragic flaw, generally a type of pride known as hubris, which brings his catastrophe upon himself. Who would be the tragic hero here, what is the tragic flaw, and how was he responsible for the catastrophe?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Tragic hero = Teddy Kennedy. Tragic flaw = (take your pick) fondness for strong drink, fondness for over-arching government, a large integrity-deficiency albatross in his past, and – perhaps most poignantly – birth into a clan with a penchant for untimely death. His responsibility for the catastrophe was that the Massachoosians, a bit slow on the uptake (say, 60 years) finally figured it out that it really wasn’t Teddy Kennedy’s seat and presumably understood the unlikelihood of government making health care either better or less expensive. Or more accessible, for that matter.

  • Pete

    Tragic hero = Teddy Kennedy. Tragic flaw = (take your pick) fondness for strong drink, fondness for over-arching government, a large integrity-deficiency albatross in his past, and – perhaps most poignantly – birth into a clan with a penchant for untimely death. His responsibility for the catastrophe was that the Massachoosians, a bit slow on the uptake (say, 60 years) finally figured it out that it really wasn’t Teddy Kennedy’s seat and presumably understood the unlikelihood of government making health care either better or less expensive. Or more accessible, for that matter.

  • S. Bauer

    Tragic Hero = the America people

    Fatal flaw = blind self-interest

    Responsibility = continuing to elect politicians of both parties who tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth

  • S. Bauer

    Tragic Hero = the America people

    Fatal flaw = blind self-interest

    Responsibility = continuing to elect politicians of both parties who tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth

  • http://www.utah-Lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Peter, I might agree with you, but I can’t make myself think that fondness for strong drink as a Character flaw…
    I don’t know if Hubris is the tpical charachter flaw, then well there is plenty of that in the senate, among the democrats, and it exposed itself in Kennedy, but given time will probably rear its ugly head with Brown too. Right now though, the democrats are licking wounds.

  • http://www.utah-Lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Peter, I might agree with you, but I can’t make myself think that fondness for strong drink as a Character flaw…
    I don’t know if Hubris is the tpical charachter flaw, then well there is plenty of that in the senate, among the democrats, and it exposed itself in Kennedy, but given time will probably rear its ugly head with Brown too. Right now though, the democrats are licking wounds.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Since neither Ted Kennedy nor Barack Obama would be a hero of exceptional courage, strength, and nobility, this situation lacks a tragically flawed hero. Pathos perhaps or stupitity but not tragedy.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Since neither Ted Kennedy nor Barack Obama would be a hero of exceptional courage, strength, and nobility, this situation lacks a tragically flawed hero. Pathos perhaps or stupitity but not tragedy.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Pardon the above misspelling of “stupidity.”

  • Peter Leavitt

    Pardon the above misspelling of “stupidity.”

  • Husker Fan

    My vote would be for Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. His arrogance led him to be the 60th vote, and what he got in return was the Cornhusker Kickback. Coakley’s internal memos suggest that the Nelson backroom deal was what started the decline in her poll numbers.

  • Husker Fan

    My vote would be for Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. His arrogance led him to be the 60th vote, and what he got in return was the Cornhusker Kickback. Coakley’s internal memos suggest that the Nelson backroom deal was what started the decline in her poll numbers.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m not sure I could pick any single person to serve as “hero” here, though I don’t think any of the foregoing comments’ suggestions really work, either.

    But ignoring that, there is a heaping dose of Grecian-formula irony here. I mean, consider that the Democrats in Massachusetts changed the law for filling vacant Senate seats. It used to be filled by appointment from the governor. But back in 2004, Dems were sure Senator Kerry would soon be President Kerry, and then Governor Romney would appoint some Republican senator, which would be crazy in Massachusetts!

    So they did away with gubernatorial appointment and provided for a special election. And then Senator Kerry remained Senator Kerry and Governor Romney went away, to be replaced by Democratic Governor Patrick. And when the other Democratic senator from Massachusetts died, rather than have his seat filled by appointment from the Democratic governor, it was filled in a special election, such that there was a Republican senator in Massachusetts.

    Given that the Democrats shot themselves in the foot in this case, that definitely earns them the title, in general, of Oedipus (ha! I made a joke based on Greek etymology which I had to look up!).

    But then, consider also that the Republicans — the party of life and values, etc. — are now celebrating the election of a pro-choice man who formerly posed nude in Cosmopolitan and who chose to use his victory speech to announce that his two daughters are “available”. Classy guy to add to the Republican fold. And while he’ll no doubt have an effect on the health-care debate, as hoped for, I wonder if his election will end up seeming as short-sighted as was the Dem’s changing the Mass. election law? Because, outside of the immediate context, this is not normally the guy that Republicans would be championing. And if he had a D after his name, they’d be frothing at the mouth right now.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m not sure I could pick any single person to serve as “hero” here, though I don’t think any of the foregoing comments’ suggestions really work, either.

    But ignoring that, there is a heaping dose of Grecian-formula irony here. I mean, consider that the Democrats in Massachusetts changed the law for filling vacant Senate seats. It used to be filled by appointment from the governor. But back in 2004, Dems were sure Senator Kerry would soon be President Kerry, and then Governor Romney would appoint some Republican senator, which would be crazy in Massachusetts!

    So they did away with gubernatorial appointment and provided for a special election. And then Senator Kerry remained Senator Kerry and Governor Romney went away, to be replaced by Democratic Governor Patrick. And when the other Democratic senator from Massachusetts died, rather than have his seat filled by appointment from the Democratic governor, it was filled in a special election, such that there was a Republican senator in Massachusetts.

    Given that the Democrats shot themselves in the foot in this case, that definitely earns them the title, in general, of Oedipus (ha! I made a joke based on Greek etymology which I had to look up!).

    But then, consider also that the Republicans — the party of life and values, etc. — are now celebrating the election of a pro-choice man who formerly posed nude in Cosmopolitan and who chose to use his victory speech to announce that his two daughters are “available”. Classy guy to add to the Republican fold. And while he’ll no doubt have an effect on the health-care debate, as hoped for, I wonder if his election will end up seeming as short-sighted as was the Dem’s changing the Mass. election law? Because, outside of the immediate context, this is not normally the guy that Republicans would be championing. And if he had a D after his name, they’d be frothing at the mouth right now.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, how humorless and reeking of sour grapes. Brown was joshing about his daughters availability. He posed for that Cosmopolitan semi-nude photo in a youthful indiscretion when he was a young model trying to pay his way through Tufts.

    For a Massachusetts politician, he is a moderate on the issue of abortion. He introduced a bill that would have exempted doctors and nurses from a legal obligation to provide emergency contraceptives if doing so would violate a sincerely held religious belief. The Mass. Pro-Life Council supported him in the recent election.

    Brown is a personable, gracious, and bright guy who carefully analyzes complex issues and is able to articulate his views in plain, coherent English. He has done what amounts to the impossible in Massachusetts by winning a seat held by liberal Democrats for fifty-seven years, doing so by taking reasoned positions on the issues.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, how humorless and reeking of sour grapes. Brown was joshing about his daughters availability. He posed for that Cosmopolitan semi-nude photo in a youthful indiscretion when he was a young model trying to pay his way through Tufts.

    For a Massachusetts politician, he is a moderate on the issue of abortion. He introduced a bill that would have exempted doctors and nurses from a legal obligation to provide emergency contraceptives if doing so would violate a sincerely held religious belief. The Mass. Pro-Life Council supported him in the recent election.

    Brown is a personable, gracious, and bright guy who carefully analyzes complex issues and is able to articulate his views in plain, coherent English. He has done what amounts to the impossible in Massachusetts by winning a seat held by liberal Democrats for fifty-seven years, doing so by taking reasoned positions on the issues.

  • Heidi

    I do not think that any of the democrats mentioned are tragic heroes because, as I distinctly remember from World Literature, in order to be a tragic hero must realize his mistake. I think the phrasing was a person in high power who falls due to his own actions and realizes it. The democrats have not appeared to have done so.

  • Heidi

    I do not think that any of the democrats mentioned are tragic heroes because, as I distinctly remember from World Literature, in order to be a tragic hero must realize his mistake. I think the phrasing was a person in high power who falls due to his own actions and realizes it. The democrats have not appeared to have done so.

  • Carl Vehse

    Powerlineblog’s article, “More historical perspective on the Massachusetts miracle “ proclaims, “Scott Brown’s Massachusetts miracle is the biggest upset in a Senate race in the past 50 years.”

    The article goes on to note other monumental senatorial defeats in the past, including former JFK Press Secretary Pierre Salinger’s loss to Hollywood actor George Murphy, despite the 1964 LBJ landslide and even after Salinger had been named to fill the Senate vacancy of Clair Engle who died in office in July.

  • Carl Vehse

    Powerlineblog’s article, “More historical perspective on the Massachusetts miracle “ proclaims, “Scott Brown’s Massachusetts miracle is the biggest upset in a Senate race in the past 50 years.”

    The article goes on to note other monumental senatorial defeats in the past, including former JFK Press Secretary Pierre Salinger’s loss to Hollywood actor George Murphy, despite the 1964 LBJ landslide and even after Salinger had been named to fill the Senate vacancy of Clair Engle who died in office in July.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy R.

    Switching from Greek mythology to Norse mythology…where’s the blog post on Brett Favre as tragic hero?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy R.

    Switching from Greek mythology to Norse mythology…where’s the blog post on Brett Favre as tragic hero?


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