Sometimes people really do get what they deserve in this world, and make no mistake about it, the Democrats deserved to lose the special election for that U.S. Senate seat -- and yes, the stupidity of calling it "Ted Kennedy's seat" was one of the many reasons they deserved to lose -- in Massachusetts. They deserved to lose because Martha Coakley was the latest in a series of lackluster political hacks or, in her case, zombies that the Democrats have tried to foist on the public lately, mistakenly assuming after their victories in 2006 and 2008 that the letter "D" was worth its weight in gold.
But they also served to lose because of some pretty rank incompetence at the top, from President Obama and the people who've been poorly advising him. For starters, as badly as America needs substantial health care reform, it was just as daring a gamble for Obama to decide to push health care reform in 2009 as it was for George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003. There are huge differences, of course -- one was immoral, while the other is not -- but politically both gambled their entire presidency on risky moves that other presidents would not have done; Bush failed, and Obama certainly appears to have failed as well.
But the worst part for Obama is that if you're going to make a gamble like that, you better be prepared to back it up -- and he clearly was not. Ironically, insuring all Americans -- as noble and desirable a goal as that is -- probably isn't the biggest reason for overhauling healthcare; that would be reducing the costs and also making the system more fair for everybody. Health care reform has features aimed to do exactly that, yet the majority of Americans opposing reform cite its cost. Indeed, the Obama administration allowed this bill to be defined by its "cost" ($848 billion) but not by the amount that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said it would reduce the deficit ($130 billion). That is the worst sales job I've ever seen.
Beyond that, Obama failed to provide the broad moral leadership needed to convince Americans -- who've long supported measures like a public insurance option -- that it was his unwavering belief that this was the right thing to do. Successful presidents from FDR to LBJ to Reagan have rallied support and won passage of programs that in some cases were even more controversial than health care reform -- not so much through reason but through emotion, selling tough decisions on the courage of their convictions. To say that type of leadership did not come from the White House would be an understatement.
Today, everyone's trying to figure out what the Democrats are going to do next. I think it's like those pre-Oscar stories where a film critic has his "should win" and "will win."
Should do: As others have suggested, the House Democrats should approve the health care bill that was approved by 60 senators in December and send it to President Obama for his signature. Having done that, the Democrats can -- and should -- amend certain aspects of the health plan in the fall under the so-called reconciliation process, which would require only 51 votes. However, the Dems should be scrupulous about only using reconciliation for its intended purpose, which is to deal with aspects of the bill that affect the federal deficit.
I know, I know -- many people think it would be political suicide for the Democrats to enact a health care reform bill after the Massachusetts Senate race, since unrest over the issue was clearly a key reason the party lost its 60th Senate vote. In the real world, it's political suicide for them not to enact the bill. There are two reasons why. No. 1, they already either a) never had or b) lost at least this November the votes from people who don't like health care reform, and who would be outraged if the bill is passed and enacted now. But if they do nothing, they will also devastate core Democrats, who will stay home or vote for the Green Party or do anything besides getting fooled again by their now former party. No. 2, remember what we were saying above about the courage of convictions? These Democrats told voters they would fight for they believe in, and the voters responded by electing them to Congress. So now they won't fight...because of a special election in one state? If that's their courage-of-conviction level, then they deserve to lose just like Martha Coakley did.
Will do: Will the Democrats actually do this? Of course not. We are talking about the 300 least courageous people in America here. It seems like the current plan is to make Olympia Snowe the de facto president of the United States. (Hey, finally a woman president!) I predict Obama and the Dems will push for tiny things that Snowe might find acceptable -- presumably the universally loved ban on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and little else. They may even get Obama's likely successor in 2013, Scott Brown, to go along with that -- but it won't prevent a Democratic bloodbath in the fall.
Which they deserve, if they do nothing.
There's a lot more to be said about the future of progressive ideas and the future of America -- but one more thing worth mentioning under the heading of Massachusetts. The Democrats need to think long and hard about the kind of candidates they put up and the kind of campaigns that they run. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see weeks ago that Scott Brown was going to win this election. Despite some neanderthal political ideas that the Dems never exploited, Brown had an amazing ability to connect with real people. The Democrats, meanwhile, continue to find the only people in all of New England who know nothing about the Boston Red Sox (remember John Kerry's "Manny Ortiz" gaffe?) Martha Coakley may be a very able attorney general, for all I know, but I also know she came across as aloof, arogrant, elitist -- all the worst stereotypes about modern Democrats that, at least on a candidate level, seem too often to be real. It doesn't matter if the Democrats have policy ideas to help real people if they don't have real people to sell them. If the Democrats really can't find candidates who drive a pickup truck and can talk to regular folks, then it's time to blow their party up.