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US Politics by New Jersey's Most Savvy Journalist
Mr Brown Goes to Washington
How The Bluest State Threw Up The Red Stop Light On Health Care
Politics, like comedy, need not apologize. It just is. The victor has his story and the loser, the excuses. It is the way of The Vote. This has never been more evident than what transpired in Massachusetts over the nine days from mid-January to this past Tuesday in a Special Election to replace a senate seat someone with the name Kennedy had owned since 1952.
The general consensus among pundits and reactionaries is that The Cradle of Liberty spoke loudly against the current atmosphere in Washington DC, including whatever incoherent monstrosity now stands as a Health Care Bill in the House. The election results, as abruptly surprising as they were, while always being a referendum on national politics by rule, is never as clear a national message as advertised. But, just as what you find funny does not make it comedy, does it fail to be comedy when you do not laugh.
It just is.
Before those crucial nine days unfolded you couldn't have picked the victor, Scott Philip Brown, a little known and relatively benign anti-tax, fairly socially liberal Republican state senator out of a line-up. By around January 13, Brown trailed his opponent, the state's attorney general, Martha Coakley by a respectable but hardly noteworthy 15 to 18 points. In a solidly Blue State boasting its own progressive health care system, where people for decades voted overwhelmingly for a Liberal Lion of dubious moral construct that also happened to be a particularly staunch proponent of a national health care system, the idea that a populist anti-Democrat uprising was a-comin' is a myth.
After all the Right Wing chest-pumping and end-zone dances subsided, the exit polls clearly showed an alarming exodus of Independents, 60 percent of which make up the true Massachusetts electorate, a majority of whom before some major gaffs and haughty rhetoric from Brown's opponent were hardly galvanized by his truck-driving, regular-guy approach. The best you can say for the decisive Independent vote was much of it may have emerged from boredom after their beloved Patriots were unexpectedly booted from NFL play-off contention.
In those vital days between the Shoo-in and Toss-out, the Democratic candidate treated the campaign as everyone else beyond her opponent did, as if the election was an irritating weigh station to her seat. It apparently did not matter to Ms. Coakley or her staff that openly mocking the Red Sox, which comes in slightly ahead of Catholicism in religious fervor up there, or publicly complaining that it was too chilly to campaign was bad mojo in a hyper-provincial state loaded with insecure pride-mongers. Ted Kennedy, despite his shenanigans, knew how to make Bostonians and beyond feel like they were running the federal government. There is a reason why a drunken lout with a sense of familial entitlement won every election every time, whether drowning a woman or with a Republican in the governor's chair.
In her last televised debate performance, Coakley sounded like a grim mutation of Caroline Kennedy and Sarah Palin when she seemed unsure if the United States had a continued military presence in Afghanistan. Then as the national spotlight began to shine on her shrinking lead, with millions of dollars pouring in from a suddenly giddy Republican National Committee and the president's last-minute doomed-on-arrival rescue mission, she desperately went Dukakis in the saddest attempt to appear like she wasn't a detached intellectual snob.
Only then did the prospect begin to take hold that National Health Care was in jeopardy. Brown and his staff, who had primarily run an Independent campaign, steering clear of the still-damaged Republican brand, smartly rammed home a populace message, taking the Ted Kennedy formula of reminding the otherwise apathetic voter that the world would be glued to and changed by the results, giving them succor for their hometown penis-envy by becoming The Story. Evidence of this is that not since 1990 had such an election drawn as many participants, and just like the record numbers that put Barack Obama in office in 2008 was later championed by Democrats, so did the Republicans rightfully paint their enthusiasm with an ideological brush.
But let's face it, no one saw this coming, nor did anyone have any idea less than two weeks prior that it would be a national story, never mind a referendum or uprising. Anyone who said they did lies. When most of the country was caught up in the human and political implications of the Haiti earthquake or whether the House Majority leader was a racist, dummy or an old, inarticulate coot, the rumblings in what is generally considered the most liberal of states, was ignored.
The fact is the Democrats were hot and heavy on this Health Care thing from the get-go, even before Arlen Specter and Al Franken gave them a "Filibuster Proof" majority, just as the Democrats were hot and heavy on ending the Iraq occupation in '06. That a one-state special election can crush federal legislation is media-generated, political party pabulum. If you cannot pass a bill with 59 Senators, a stranglehold on the House and a sitting president after one solid year of The Push, you either don't want to or have no capacity to do so. Many exit polls revealed that it was the stagnation and incompetence of government not National Health Care that drove the Brown vote. What a truck-driving nudist and a half-baked lawyer do in Beantown should have no bearing.
Shame on the losers -- and to the winners goes the bending of truths.
Irony of ironies, the Democrats brought this on themselves long before Teddy went belly-up. Thinking John Kerry, another gangbuster lifer senator from the state, was about to take the White House in 2004 and Republican governor Mitt Romney would appoint his replacement; they pushed hard for a "Special Election" to decide the post. And now, before his body is cold and a lifetime memory of fighting for national health care dwindles, a Republican newbie rides south to the nation's capitol to warm the Kennedy seat.
Thus, what was at best the longest shot in federal legislation since the privatization of Social Security now appears to be what this space long predicted -- dead. The Democrats Dog & Pony Show on Health Care, which as stated here and among friends and colleagues for years was always a pipe dream worthy of Lewis Carroll but made manifestly impossible in the feeble hands of self-flagellating procrastinators, is now fading fast. No one really wanted a national Health Care bill in Washington. If they did, if this president did, they would have used the most dominant congressional majority in a century to do it.
That's either hilarious or tragic.
Or it just is.
© James Campion Jan 23rd 2010
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