Posted on 17-01-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

How did it come to this?  Health care reform hands by a slender thread based on the results of the Senate special election in Massachusetts to replace the Senator most associated with health care reform.  The election is a toss up with much of the energy in favor of Republican Scott Brown who could take down gaffe prone State Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Martha Coakley actively sought the Senate nomination after Ted Kennedy died, but having taken the nomination ran a curiously passive campaign.  This gave the opening to Scott Brown to define himself in positive terms and harness the resentment building up towards a self-entitled establishment politician.  Republicans winning statewide is not unknown in Massachusetts.  Deval Patrick’s election as governor in 2006, ended 16 years of Republican control of the office.  But since then, elected Republicans in Massachusetts have been fairly non-existent.

Health Care reform is the other 800 lb gorilla in the room.  Even though broad majorities of public opinion and a majority of the House and Senate support the public option (See link), the procedural rules of the Senate have ensured that it will not pass.  The resulting compromise pleases neither the left nor the right.  The question is whether the left will hold their noses and support this bill hoping to fix it down the road, just like the racial disparities in the original Social Security Act were corrected later.  Unhappiness at the existing bill likely drives some of the support for Brown.

Brown is an odd candidate for teabagger support. As a New England Republican he is a liberal by the standards of the national Republican rump.  The right wing which spurned a similar Republican in NY-23 (See link for previous posts) has embraced the opportunity to hand Barack Obama (as Senator DeMint of South Carolina put it) his Waterloo.  Given that he seems to back the universal health care plan in Massachusetts signed into law by Mitt Romney in 2006, his opposition to the national bill is somewhat puzzling and seems based on electoral calculations.

As Andrew Sullivan notes,  Democrats have to essentially hold their noses and vote for the rather unimpressive Coakley if they do not want the best chance for health care reform in a generation to slip through their fingers.  See Jonathan Chait’s review of the Democrats options in such an eventuality.  Another option the Democrats have is to force an up down vote on some of the more popular parts of the bill like prohibiting the use of pre-existing conditions to avoid issuing insurance policies, regulating the percentage of premiums that must be used for health care, etc.  Given the Republican strategy of filibustering everything, even items that later pass unanimously, it could give the Democrats talking points to carry into the fall against the party of No.

The biggest impact of a Brown win would be psychological.  Even though the number of Republican Congressmen retiring is still much higher than the number of retiring Democrats, the main stream media has already embraced the theme of Democrats abandoning a sinking ship.  A Brown win will raise that meme to a crescendo and by further depressing  Democratic turnout in November 2010 could make it a self fulfilling prophecy.

However, I am still not sold on Republican embrace of the tea baggers as a long term viable strategy.  Even though Brown has had some of these tendencies in in the past (like questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s birth) he has generally projected a moderate image in his campaign.  This was the strategy embraced by the successful Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey.  The fire and brimstone true believers who pejoratively refer to Republican moderates as RINOs (Republicans in name  only) have had a hard time winning outside the deep south.  Add to that the continuing Republican problem attracting minority voters.

Ultimately the Democratic Party brought this on themselves.  The foot dragging on the bill, corrupt bargains with grasping  Senators that had incredibly bad optics combined with the incredible incompetence of the Massachusetts Democrats have brought about the previously unthinkable possibility of Ted Kennedy’s successor being a Republican.  It further confirms this blogger’s belief in the ability of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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