Thursday, January 21, 2010

Steam ahead, Mr President

The election of Mr Brown to fill the late Senator Ted Kennedy's means nothing, and the Democrats should not read too much into it. A big deal has been made of then-Candidate Brown saying he would be the forty-first vote against health care reform if he were sent to Washington, but there's no indication that that is the primary (or even secondary or tertiary) reason that Massachusetts voters narrowly picked him. Let's look at the facts on the ground.

Mr Brown was narrowly elected. 
While that is significant in such a dark blue state as the People's Republic of Massachusetts, it's not as if there was some landslide victory against Obama's or the Democrats' policies. This is no reason whatsoever not to keep moving forward.

Brown's opponent was a poor campaigner.
Ms Coakley's slogans amounted to little more than "If it's Brown, flush it down." She insulted Red Sox fans — apparently even greater sacrilege as campaigning in Orange County and referring to the "Los Angeles Angels" — and she did so twice. It's like there was some sort of death wish. Sure, you'd like to think that voters wouldn't make a decision about which person to elect for structuring national policy based on such things, but this is one of those "which one is more like me?" kind of issues.

Mr Brown's election did not create a 51-49 divide in the Senate.
It's still 59-41. With Mr Brown going to Washington, the Republicans now have a mere forty-one votes, while the Democrats still have fifty-eight or fifty-nine, depending on whether Senator Joe Lieberman dresses left or dresses right that day. Read another way, there are still 41% or 44% more Democratic votes in the Senate than there are Republicans. All that was lost was the supermajority. There is still a whoppin' effin' regular majority.

Mr Brown's election was not about dissatisfaction over health care reform.
News flash: Massachusetts residents already have universal health care in some form — even if Massachusetts Republicans pooh-pooh it on the national stage when they want to run for president. Around the country, Republicans and conservatives have been whipped up into a frenzy about Obamacare because they think there will be Death Panels™ and Soviet-esque six-month waits to get aspirin. From Provincetown to Pittsfield, they know it's not that way. Ditto with places like here in Hawaii, where we also have mandated universal health care and we are actually healthy. If there was any disgruntlement related to health care among those who voted on Tuesday, it's that they might have to spend money for other Americans to get what they already have. In other words, a totally different situation from most other states: This was not a referendum on health care.

Health Care reform has already passed the Senate and the House.
Obama and the Congress should work with what they have. Whether that's getting the House to support the Senate bill and avoiding a filibuster or tweaking joint legislation in a way that will bring on a Republican vote or two in order to end a filibuster, they should work with what they already have passed. The political capital to pass health care reform has already been spent and there's no reason to throw it away. Indeed, a finalized bill will ultimately be an asset to Obama and the Democrats in future elections.

A finalized bill dissipates anxiety and anger over health care reform.
The health care debate is the gift that keeps on giving for Obama's opponents. The nebula of allegations about what a future health care plan might hold is something that can be all things to all conservative politicos. They can whip up people about what might be in a finalized bill, but when the legislation is actually passed and signed, they have far fewer targets and almost no question marks. Before the legislative process ends, the rustling under the bed could be the bogeyman, a giant squid, a land shark, a hairy mutant Elmo, or a ghost, but once the legislative process ends, you finally find out exactly what that rustling is, and it's probably a Roomba or a Republican legislator tossing things under your bed (excuse the lame analogy, but I have young nephews and nieces). Get the whole thing over with and then talk about its strengths and protections.

Much of the disgruntlement in Massachusetts (and around the country) is something you can't do anything about anyway.
People are angry that there is still 10% unemployment, jobs haven't magically materialized, and they are mad as hell. They are going to be mad at the people in power, which happens to be a bunch of Democrats who had little to do with causing the problems that led to the current economic crisis or failing to do something about it earlier. Yeah, it's kinda stupid that people will have such knee-jerk anger that they will elect into office the party that was stewards over the White House and (mostly) Congress while this whole problem was brewing, but that's the nature of democratic (small D) politics.

So steam ahead, Mr President (and Mr Senate Majority Leader and Madame Speaker). Get done what you set out to do. This is a blow, but not a fatal one by any means, and it's no time to cower in the corner. Medicare was also controversial when it was before the Congress, but it eventually was passed and now it's something we see we can't do without.

Jon Stewart, it appears, has been thinking along similar lines as yours truly:
Because if Coakley loses, Democrats will only then have an eighteen-vote majority in the Senate. Which is more than George Bush ever had in the Senate when he did... whatever the fu¢k he wanted to do. In fact the Democrats have a greater majority than Republicans have had since 1923.


  1. I really liked the following comment at the LAT website:

    I think this election is evidence that the American electorate has become unmoored, we are a thundering herd of idiots crashing into one fence then the other, led by our noses by stupifyingly reckless blowhards in the media, susceptible to spurious breaches of elementary logic, and unable to focus long enough to allow a difficult correction to run its course. God help us, but Jefferson warned us, an uninformed electorate cannot defend a Democracy. We are cast into the currents of a corporate plutocracy that continues to ever more brazenly steal our productivity and deny us the most elementary rights, such as a chance to learn and remain healthy, choosing instead to cast this inequity as a failure of the character of those left behind. Shame on us for not even trying to be half loyal to the president we just elected. Oh well.

  2. kushibo,

    You need to sharpen your research skills.

    "Mr Brown was narrowly elected."

    With all precincts counted, Mr. Brown had 52 percent of the vote to Ms. Coakley’s 47 percent.

    What was the margin that got Obama elected? 90%-10%, 80%-20%, 70%-30%, 60%-40%? His 53% to 46% victory isn't what most mathematicians would label a landslide. It was just slightly less narrow.

    What doomed the party in this instance was not having that special election right after the seat became available. The way that was handled led to a lot of ill-will itself.

    Also in your comment you quoted, the beyond reproach, L.A. Times, “Shame on us for not even trying to be half loyal to the president we just elected.” What a load of crap, they were tearing into Bush left and right right before 9/11 had that galvanizing effect of at least uniting the media against terrorism for a while. And they didn’t do their own research either. Throughout the history of the United States of America, politics has always been one of the nastiest and finger-pointing of all professions. Take a look at the great HBO mini-series, John Adams, if you need a refresher on the subject. Personally, I think today’s political climate is tame compared to what transpired in the 1800’s—they just didn’t have the 24/7 media coverage on hundreds of channels back in those days.

  3. John from Taejŏn wrote:
    With all precincts counted, Mr. Brown had 52 percent of the vote to Ms. Coakley’s 47 percent.

    Yes, which means a very divided electorate.

    What was the margin that got Obama elected? 90%-10%, 80%-20%, 70%-30%, 60%-40%? His 53% to 46% victory isn't what most mathematicians would label a landslide. It was just slightly less narrow.

    You're preaching to the choir, John. See here.

    I think I've been fairly consistent on this.

    At any rate, a national election of all Americans is a bit of an apple-and-oranges comparison with a special election in a single state. Nevertheless, I think I was right when I said this (from the link above):

    The five or six points Obama came out ahead is a clear win but it is not a "landslide."

    Though the head of Republicans Abroad Korea saying something similar might sound like sour grapes, I am not saying this to distract from this important victory at all. Rather, I mean to point out that there is a lot of work to do in order to achieve those very things Obama has promised us.

    Reaching across the aisle will win the day, not gloating about an imaginary "landslide" or "mandate" like some Republicans did in 2000 and 2004 (believe it or not, I heard Bush's margin in the Florida recount called a landslide; Bush himself said he believed his triumph in 2000 was a mandate).


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