My Thoughts on the Recent Mass Election
On Tuesday January 19, a mini-earthquake occurred in my home state of Massachusetts that will have a significant impact on the chances for health care reform in the United States.
For the first time in decades, the voters of Massachusetts elected a Republican as their Senator. For nearly five decades, Senator Edward Kennedy –Democrat (Teddy, President John F. Kennedy’s brother), represented the state in the Senate. After his death in August months before he could cast his vote for health care reform, the state was forced to hold a special election to find someone to fill out the last few years of his term. If that seat is not filled by a Democrat, the majority Democratic party lacks the 60 votes needed to stop a Senate filibuster that could derail health care reform.
In the case of health care, because some moderate and conservative Democrats have joined the Republicans in their opposition to the Obama plan, the Democrats cannot muster the 60 votes necessary to end Republican obstruction of the bill.
Massachusetts is supposed to be a blue state – i.e. a safe Democratic state. In fact, the state has a history of electing affable, semi-conservative Republicans as Governor. On Tuesday, Scott Brown, a handsome (he used to be a male model), affable state senator, who was unknown on the national stage ran against the Democratic state attorney general Martha Coakley. He won by 100,000 votes. Because Brown vowed to oppose health care reform as conceived by Obama, (and to support waterboarding) conservative pundits have conveniently interpreted his election as a state referendum on genuine health care reform. In fact, the voters of Massachusetts were not registering their disaffection with genuine health care reform but rather with the Obama health care plan. They were also registering their disaffection with political arrogance and the failure of the Obama administration, and the state and national Democratic party to deal with a floundering economy and its human consequences.
Let’s take arrogance first. Instead of aggressively campaigning for office, Attorney General Martha Coakley, insisted she didn’t need to campaign assertively or even debate Brown in public because the seat she was running for was “Kennedy’s seat” and thus somehow belonged to the Democrats. Massachusetts voters were really turned off by this ploy and rallied behind Scott Brown when he announced that the Senate seat doesn’t belong to the Democrats but rather to the people of Massachusetts. Although I am no fan of Brown, I heartily agree.
When it comes to health care, a lot of people in Massachusetts are unhappy with a national bill that mimics the plan we have in Massachusetts. The Obama/ moderate Democratic plan offers only tinkering with noxious health care insurance practices, forces people to buy for-profit insurance thus strengthening the insurance industry’s grip on America, does little to curb pharmaceutical costs and profits, and does not even fully cover the 47 million (and climbing) uninsured. As political commentator Robert Kuttner expressed it in the Huffington Post, “Cutting a deal with the insurers and drug companies,who are not exactly candidates to win popularity contests, associated Obama with profoundly resented interest groups. This was exactly the wrong framing.Thiås battle should have been the president and the people versus the interests. Instead more and more
voters concluded that it was the president and theinterests versus the people.
As policy, the interest-group strategy made it impossible to put on the table more fundamental and popular reforms, such as using Federal bargaining power to negotiate cheaper drug prices, or having a true public option like Medicare-for-all. Instead, a bill that served the drug and insurance industries was almost guaranteed to have unpopular core elements.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/a-wake-up-call_b_426467.html).
More importantly, Obama has failed to address the twin problems of loss of jobs and loss of housing that resulted from what is now referred to as the Great Recession but which is for some people seems more like a Great Depression. Unemployment remains in the doublt digits with six people chasing every one job. People have lost their homes and can’t get work.(see my daughter Alexandra Early’s blog on what it’s like to be a young and unemployed http://www.helpwantedrecovery.blogspot.com/)
Voters also watch as government bails out big business but does little to help them. The health care bill seems to mirror this dynamic with Big Pharma and big insurance making out like bandits while the public as well as patients and their families get band aids.
As I write this, I have to admit that it’s tempting to give way to despair about the political situation in the United States. The Supreme Court has just ruled against limits on the influence of money in politics. The Democrats have been justifiably punished in my home state and conservative commentators draw all the wrong lessons about the future prospects of any health care reform. The real meaning of this election is that health care reform will only be possible when it really reforms the health care system not when it rewards the very players that have created the health care crisis in the first place. So while we may despair this week, we need to start fighting next week and in the weeks and years to come.