With Republican Scott Brown’s earth-shaking victory in Massachusetts, the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority. Though they still maintain a more than healthy 59-41 vote advantage, Brown’s win tonight in liberal Massachusetts should rightly send warning signs to Congressional Democrats and to the White House.
Rationalizations are being offered left and … well, left for Coakley’s defeat and the Democrats’ failure to retain Ted Kennedy’s seat. It’s obvious that Coakley was a bad candidate, and it’s fair to point that out as a reason for the loss, but not the main one, as a state as deep blue as the Bay State has had no compunction voting for bad candidates with a D behind their name, particularly in Senate races that Republicans haven’t won since 1978 when Edward Brooke went down in defeat.
Some are chalking the loss to a generalized anti-incumbent feeling that shouldn’t be ascribed to one particular party’s shortcomings – never mind that one particular party holds majorities in the House and Senate and controls the Presidency. In a bizarre twist of logic, some are blaming a Republican victory on Republican shortcomings – Howard Dean on MSNBC says dissatisfaction with “George Bush’s unemployment” drove the Coakley loss, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says that it’s voter anger at GOP obstructionism that, um … caused the GOP candidate to win.
As much as some would like the election in Massachusetts to not be a referendum on the national Democratic agenda, it’s a simple fact that Scott Brown campaigned specifically on voting against the current health care reform effort. President Obama, in robocalls and at the Sunday rally he held for Coakley, said that health care reform depended on a Coakley victory. Massachusetts voters were told from both sides that they were voting to save or reject the Democrats’ health care efforts and by extension, the rest of their agenda.
In response, a state with a 3-1 Democrat to Republican ratio, a state that had not elected a Republican Senator in 30 years, a state that had not gone for a Republican Presidential candidate in 26 years, indeed, one of the bluest states in America – elected Scott Brown to the United State Senate.
Now the push is on for Democrats and liberals to simply ignore what happened today on their home turf and continue business as usual with health care reform and the rest of their agenda items. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi assured the nation that “one way or another” her party would get a victory on health care, and it appears that President Obama will adopt “a combative response” to the Brown victory.
Translation: Screw you, voters. This is history and we know better than you.
Smart and pragmatic politicians would take the Massachusetts result as a sign that if they’ve lost a reliably Democratic state, red and purple states probably aren’t going to be too happy either. Smart and pragmatic politicians would dial it all down a bit and tack toward the center, rolling in more Republican ideas and input and taking a moderate approach to governance – you know, what Bill Clinton did successfully after 1994. No, you probably won’t get Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn aboard, but you could absolutely get the likes of Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, hell, even John McCain on board with moderate legislation that didn’t promise to break the bank. Contrary to the spin, there are many moderate Republicans, particularly in the Senate, that are happy to cross the aisle to the chagrin of conservatives. That not even they have been won over isn’t a reflection of “unified GOP obstructionism” (particularly on an issue as historic as health care on which more than a few wouldn’t mind inking their names to such an effort), but it does speak volumes about how hard left the agenda has skewed.
Here’s the problem – the current Congressional leadership doesn’t appear to be composed of smart and pragmatic politicians so much as ideology-driven holy warriors in pursuit of a Holy Grail. Health care reform, you see, is so important that we should ignore what voters are telling us and ram it through in a historic kamikaze mission that, don’t worry, people will love us for later. It’s just that the bill’s too complex, you see, and voters are easily fooled by those evil Republicans, and don’t worry, it’s a fantastic bill, you’ll see! You’ll all see!
What I would like to see is a clear-headed Bill Clinton sit down with Barack Obama and explain to him the cold political reality. Doubling down on an unpopular bill and a liberal agenda may fulfill an ideological wish list, but it won’t reflect the growing unease of the electorate and it won’t help America or the Democratic party. What I fear is that the current leadership is composed of true-believer ideologues that think that the American people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand what Congress is trying to do to them, so the best option is to ram through as much of their righteous agenda as possible before the rest of us can – foolishly in their minds – do anything about it.
That doesn’t sound like democracy in action – that sounds like an elitist aristocracy dictating from on high what we ought to do. I have a bad feeling that the Democratic leadership will shrug off their own hemorrhaging members and go full speed ahead with their agenda.
After all, they know better and we don’t. But more clearly, it’s more important to make history than to govern responsibly.