16 January 2010

The Massachusetts nail-biter

We have a problem, and it's partly of our own making, or more exactly, of the Massachusetts Democratic party's own making.

This coming Tuesday is the date of the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. In Massachusetts, one of the bluest states in the country, the result should be a foregone conclusion. It's not.

The Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, is a poor campaigner with a dubious-at-best track record. The Republican candidate, Scott Brown, is a moderate on many issues (such as abortion), with little to hide; though this may come back to haunt him, and (most important at the moment) he intends to vote against the health-reform bill. If the bill fails now, we will eventually get a reform much less progressive and more skewed toward the right than the current compromise (to accommodate a Senate with 41 rather than 40 Republicans) or, more likely, no reform at all.

The Republicans are in a strong position because they nominated a moderate and, unlike in NY-23, the radical right did not jump in to support a hard-line challenger. The Democrats apparently thought the race was such an easy win that they could get away with nominating a weak candidate. How we got into this mess, however, is less important than how we're going to get out of it.

The polls have been all over the map, but most suggest a close race. In reality, Coakley will probably win. Bill Clinton has been campaigning for her, and Obama himself is now on the way to Massachusetts to do the same (more on that here). But the state Democratic party should not have put the President and the country in such a precarious position.

If I'm interpreting this correctly, the House and Senate have achieved a breakthrough in negotiating a final version of the health bill which will allow a final vote within ten days -- that is, before the winner of Tuesday's election is seated. If so, they can save the bill. But if Brown wins, any future legislation will be subject to even more obstruction and compromise in the Senate than health reform was.

If Brown wins, as I see it, the Senate will have no option but to confront the real issue in all this -- the Senate filibuster rules which require a de-facto 60-vote super-majority to pass anything. It's those rules that forced the Democrats to cave to Lieberman and strip the bill of the public option and Medicare expansion which clear majorities of the people support; it's those rules which may yet defeat a reform favored by clear majorities in both Houses. This un-democratic anachronism needs to be swept away.

But most immediately, we need to keep the opposition from getting its hands on that crucial 41st seat. Health reform is too important to risk; there are lives at stake, tens of thousands of them. It's going to be a tense Tuesday night.


Blogger TomCat said...

I led with this one today, my friend. Brown is no moderate, though. He's a goose-stepping extremist and has the record to prove it.

16 January, 2010 11:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Hi TomCat! I linked to your posting in my fifth paragraph, partly to give another point of view. How moderate Brown is probably depends on which issues one thinks are most salient. I think we can all agree, though, on the need to stop him from winning.

16 January, 2010 16:57  

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