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.” (

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

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.

Showing 3 comments
  • Disillusioned Dixie Nurse

    Suzanne, I wrote a Facebook note months ago on the problems with the Health Care Reform bill when it was being debated in the House. People are disillusioned. Conservatives and Liberals alike are disenchanted with what we have on the table at present. Obama’s biggest mistake with health care reform was to start compromising as soon as he got out of the gate – before anyone voiced real opposition. I do not feel that the insurance companies deserve a seat at this table at all. I agree that all the concessions made to Big Insurance and Big Pharma served only to further alienate people from both sides of the fence. Many of my co-workers are expressing alarm at what “Obamacare” will mean in terms of their workload and their paychecks. We already have so much useless and pointless charting to contend with. I have heard nothing about how reform will affect my profession. I have written to the President specifically about this issue. But I suppose individual nurses just aren’t worthy of a reply. I refuse to support ANYTHING that makes members of my profession poorer and more overworked than we already are. I am an advocate of single payer or Medicare for all. It seems to be the fairest of the scenarios and would do the greatest good for the greatest number. Apparently, this country is not ready for that. I also laugh when people express fear about “government-run health care” – especially my colleagues! Who do they think controls Medicare and Medicaid funding now? By the way, I think the Joint Commission should be done completely away with. Let CMS survey hospitals. JCAHO is a private company that hospitals have to pay to survey and accredit them – in order to get Medicare funding? It reeks of conflict of interest. Why is a private company allowed to tie up government funding? There are so many many things that make no sense in our country’s broken health care system. And nurses and their patients are paying the price.

    • Suzanne

      I agree with much that you are saying. What is really tragic is that nurses have not played a greater role in the health care debate. With the exception of organizations like the Mass Nurses and California Nurses Associations, nurses have not raised the issue of how Obama/care or any other care for that matter will impact nurses and patients. Thank you so much for your comments. Please keep posting.

  • Disillusioned Dixie Nurse

    Suzanne, I really have to wonder if other nurses have written their legislators and the President and their concerns are simply falling on deaf ears. As individuals, we don’t wield much influence. I think it is very important for non-unionized nurses to align themselves with a PAC that reflects their belief systems and use that PAC to help move things along in the direction they desire. PACs have much more strength than individuals. I belong to two PACs right now. Health Care Justice is strongly behind a single payer system. Progressive Democrats of America has voiced opinions in favor of single payer, but will accept a strong public option. Unfortunately, neither of these PACs seem to be getting anywhere. But that does not excuse me from persisting. I’m not saying nurses need to join the democratic party. I’m using my memberships to illustrate a point. We are all responsible. I am detecting a certain level of resignation from the nurses in my state right now. I think many of them don’t feel they have any power; and they are simply too tired to do anything more than log their hours and go home to family obligations. We learn early here not to voice too many objections to anything or we will be labeled “complainers” and “troublemakers”. Nobody wants to carry those labels. So the consensus has been to keep our mouths shut. I am one of the more outspoken nurses in my workplace; and even I have learned to keep certain things to myself. Never underestimate the power of horizontal violence in this profession – or management’s ability to use that horizontal violence to their advantage. Nurses, like abused women and children, seem to be conditioned to try to curry favor with the abuser. And that would include ostracizing those among them who would object too loudly to unfair policies and unrealistic demands. It can also include reporting a co-worker who becomes a little too outspoken. I don’t know how it is in other states, but that has definitely been my experience in this one.

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