Congratulations to Scott Brown and his campaign team for a very impressive win last night. They ran a fantastic campaign and, quite frankly, deserved to win. A few take-aways and thoughts after a very disappointing evening in Massachusetts.
1. Healthcare is not dead – Despite what you may have heard/read today, the fight to fix our healthcare system is far from over. I would expect that, in the next few days, the House will take up the Senate bill and will pass it with no changes, thus negating the need for another Senate vote. Failing that, they will be forced to chop up the bill into smaller parts (something the American people seem to want anyway) and pass what they can. This allows them to claim some level of victory and move on to other issues voters seem to care more about right now. It would be a huge mistake on their part for them to try to force through a bill before Scott Brown is seated – it would send a terrible message to the country and would be political suicide.
2. 41st vote – I don’t think there are words sufficient for me to describe my frustration over the perception out there that, because the Republicans now have 41 votes, the Democrats can’t do anything despite still holding 59 of 100 seats in the Senate. As Ann Woolner notes, in her fabulous piece in Business Week, “These days political parties are so polarized, so short on ideological moderates and so bent on each other’s demise that compromise on hot-button issues is the rarity.” With one party being hell-bent on destroying the President, no matter the cost to ordinary Americans, and using filibusters at every turn, 60 seats has become critical to accomplishing almost anything. The Founding Fathers intended a simple majority to be needed to pass legislation and, as Woolner points out, “If the Founders wanted a supermajority for everything, they would have said so.” The fact that it is a well-accepted conclusion that, because Brown won, the President’s agenda is dead, is a sad comment about the state of this country.
3. The President – Make no mistake about it. This was a loss for President Obama and is another reminder that the American public is extremely anxious and impatient. Obama has only been in office for a year – not nearly enough time to fix the problems he inherited – but people are hurting and they want and need real results. In some ways this loss is a good thing for him. It drives home the challenges the administration is facing and gives them 11 months to right the ship before the all-important mid-term elections. They must find a way to make people feel better about the direction of the country and focus on important issues like job creation. In a recent poll, 75% of Americans said that they like Obama personally. That provides an exceptional opportunity for him to get out there and rebuild public confidence in his administration.
4. 2010 and beyond – In Massachusetts, the Democrats lost the mantle of the being the party of the people. Scott Brown was engaging and convinced people he was an everyman who would look out for their interests. On the other hand, Martha Coakley, until the end, came off as aloof and entitled. There is a lesson here about how to run campaigns, even if you are the front-runner. Going forward, Democrats have to get back to the populist message that made them so successful in 2006 and 2008 and remind voters of who got us into the mess we are in now. All is not lost – far from it – but there are important lessons to be learned from Massachusetts (and VA and NJ) and how well those lessons are learned will affect what happens later this year. It remains to be seen if MA, VA and NJ are accurate measurements of the mood of the country or it is simply an example of less than stellar candidates running poor campaigns.
5. Remember who elected you – I would encourage Senator-elect Brown to remember that it was largely on the backs of independent voters that he sailed into office. You can bet the people of Massachusetts will be watching very closely and, in 2012, will not think twice about casting him aside should he prove to be more focused on the President failing than on making the country better.