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Democrats look to regroup, cast blame

By Ben Pershing
President Obama awoke on the first anniversary of his inauguration to a capital much less hospitable than it was a year -- even a day -- earlier, after the GOP's upset win in Massachusetts robbed Democrats of a supermajority in the Senate and any semblance of momentum for their agenda.

"Republican Scott P. Brown pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Massachusetts political history last night, defeating Democrat Martha Coakley to become the state's next US senator and potentially derailing President Obama's hopes for a health care overhaul," the Boston Globe ledes. The Boston Herald deploys a full arsenal of metaphors: "Scott Brown rocketed to victory in the race to the U.S. Senate yesterday, steamrolling Attorney General Martha Coakley's layabout campaign in an against-all-odds triumph that sent shock waves from the Heartland to the White House." Brown took 52 percent to Coakley's 47 percent, slightly closer than Pollster.com's final survey average of 51-44. "Barack Obama and his Democratic allies are suddenly scrambling to save his signature health care overhaul and somehow rediscover their political magic after an epic loss in the Massachusetts Senate race," the Associated Press writes.

It will take at least a day or two two to sort through the data and figure out why this happened, right? Nah. Jill Lawrence writes: "How did it happen? The same way Massachusetts nominees lost the presidency for Democrats in 1988 and 2004, and the same way Democrats in Congress lost health reform and their majorities in 1994. They think they have all the time in the world to define themselves, to sell themselves and their policies, to respond to attacks, to dicker over bills, to win elections. And then it turns out they don't." Dan Balz notes that populist anger helped put Obama in the White House, and now "in a dramatic reversal of fortunes, populist anger has turned sharply against the president and his party." Marc Ambinder reminds: "By the way: the state legislature is very unpopular in Mass. and run by Democrats. The governor is unpopular and is a Democrat. Like many other states, Massachusetts is struggling with enormous budgetary problems; taxes are being raised and spending are being cut. It's not a good time to be a Democrat."

National Democrats and the Coakley campaign started trading blame for the loss well before the polls closed. So whose fault was it? Was it Obama and his health care bill, or Coakley's campaign or just the particular circumstances in Massachusetts? The answer, as usual, is all of the above. The Fix says "the simple fact ... is that everyone from the White House to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to the Coakley campaign deserves their share of blame." Nate Silver looks at the 31-point swing, from Obama's 26-point win in 2008 to Coakley's 5-point loss Tuesday, and divvies it up: "That would make the final score: national environment 13, Coakley 14, special circumstances 4." Howard Fineman also blames everyone but gives Coakley herself the number one slot. Media Matters uses Election Night polling to argue that the result wasn't really a referendum on Obama or a "rejection" of health-care reform.

Whoever or whatever was at fault, Brown's win means the reform movement could collapse "unless Democrats can thread a very narrow legislative needle," the Washington Post writes. For the record, Democrats never really contemplated rushing a bill through the Senate before Brown is seated. So the most likely path is for the House to simply take up the Senate bill, with or without a later reconciliation measure that would address the changes the House wants made. "But several House members said last night they're not prepared to pass the Senate bill alone - even if it means health care reform would die," Politico reports. (Do those members mean it, or are they still angling for a better deal? The only way to find out might be to put the Senate bill on the floor and roll the dice, something Nancy Pelosi hasn't assented to doing.) Roll Call writes that Joe Courtney, the leader of the House's anti-Cadillac tax movement, "said he would keep an open mind about the dual-track approach -- provided leaders could offer solid assurances that reconciliation would hew closely to the compromise the two chambers have already forged to scale back the tax." The Boston Globe looks at the "sad irony" that this was Kennedy's seat, and "while the late senator's long legislative record remains intact, advocates for a health care overhaul wonder whether the dream of achieving their goal died with the Massachusetts senator."

As for the White House, Adam Nagourney wonders, "will Mr. Obama now make further accommodations to Republicans in an effort to move legislation through Congress with more bipartisanship, even at the cost of further alienating liberals annoyed at what they see as his ideological malleability? Or will he seek to rally his party's base through confrontation, even if it means giving up on getting much done this year?" David Axelrod tells Playbook, "The lesson is to focus very clearly on the concerns -- particularly the economic concerns -- of everyday people. And those concerns go to jobs. Those concerns go to retirement security. They go to the cost of education kids. And, yes, they go to the cost of health care, too. ... I think that it would a terrible mistake to walk away now. If we don't pass the bill, all we have is the stigma of a caricature that was put on it. That would be the worst result for everybody who has supported this bill." The Wall Street Journal editorial page says Tuesday's result "ought to force Democrats to rethink their entire agenda." Joe Conason recalls that similarly premature obituaries were written for the Clinton presidency in 1994.

The fate of health care remains uncertain, but at least Democrats will get a debt commission! "White House and congressional leaders reached a tentative deal aimed at establishing a bipartisan commission to tackle the soaring federal budget deficit," the Wall Street Journal reports, while noting "Republican leaders weren't part of the talks, and the panel can work only if GOP leaders select members to serve on it." The Washington Post explains that, according to the deal, Obama "would issue an executive order to create an 18-member panel that would be granted broad authority to propose changes in the tax code and in the massive federal entitlement programs." Hill Democrats, Hill Republicans and Obama would select six members apiece. Looking ahead, The Hill reports "House Democrats are rejecting an idea floated by the Obama administration to freeze or cut discretionary spending in 2011."

By Ben Pershing  |  January 20, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Health Care , The Rundown  
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Next: Brown calls his daughters 'available' after win

Comments

It's unclear whether a "bipartisan" bill will ever be achieved, but what's begun to show is that people are rejecting the health care bill in its current form. While electing Obama was generally a vote in favor of reform, the brand of reform being pushed through Congress was not sitting well with the American public.

Here's hoping that Brown's election in Mass will slow things down a bit; a delayed bill is better than a flawed, partisan bill that pushes the administration's agenda more than it furthers the achievement of good, affordable health care for everyone.

http://ping.fm/X8L90

Posted by: customhealth | January 20, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Another, really - really bad day for the DEMOCRUDS.

Posted by: stephenwhelton | January 20, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

In season this year is the Progressive Radical, much like the Religious Radical, or Islamic Radical, the rules of engagement have changed.
Boston Brown was the latest NY23.

Posted by: RayOne | January 20, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

It wasn't a good time to be on the republican wagon last year. The real picture here... it's all the same kettle of fish and most of them stink. It's not partisan, it's POWER. Let's try new people with ethics,morals and an IQ higher than their shoe size. A tough order but for starters try not to overlook terrorist associations and one that has 35 different backgrounds and make sure he or she can utter more than the one word "CHANGE"!

Posted by: wildernesslight | January 20, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

BLAME LOCAL MASS. DEMS: DIDN'T THEY KNOW COAKLEY WAS A DUD?

All the MA Dems had to do was run a Kennedy, either of Teddy's sons, or Joe, and this seat would have stayed blue. This dynasty deserved to be preserved, and the locals should have known they were getting an aloof, elitist, politically inept candidate in Martha Coakley. Who was running the inside game on the selection process? That's where the finger-pointing should start.

***

OBAMA FIRST YEAR FAILURE: FAITH IN GOV'T, RULE OF LAW UNRESTORED.

• When Will Team Obama Take Down the Nationwide Extrajudicial Gestapo Run by Bush-Cheney "Leave-Behinds?"

• Now It's Obama's "Gestapo USA." And it's targeting his presidency along with thousands of unconstitutionally "targeted" Americans and their families.

See: Poynter.org (Journalism Groups -- Reporting):

• "U.S. Silently Tortures Americans with Cell Tower Microwaves"
• "Gestapo USA: Fed-Funded Vigilante Network Terrorizes America"
• "U.S. Uses CBS News to Cover Up Microwave Cell Tower Torture?"

http://www.poynter.org/subject.asp?id=2 OR:
http://NowPublic.com/scrivener (see "stories" list)

Posted by: scrivener50 | January 20, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Blame is nothing more than the deflection of proper responsibility. The President promised change, including change in politics as usual. His naivete has been exposed, and the people of Mass. got the first chance to do so.

As the owner of a Boston pub commented yesterday, "We just don't like arrogance, and that's what we've gotten." Even liberal Dems have had enough of campaigns like Coakley's treatment of the seat as a coronation and Obama's last minute sweep into the state as if his mere presence alone was enough. When health insurance reform can only be accomplished by political favor, even some Dems have to be pleased today at being let off the hook from a proposal that simply overreached.

Posted by: riskexcellence | January 20, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Parker's got it about right but another factor is crucial: a low turnout at the polls. Historically seen, low turnouts have led to Republican vicories. The NYT's analysis by township shows that the Democrats were not able to "get out the vote" in "their" constituencies.

Another important aspect of this early "mid-term" is that many in the U.S. are feeling disenfranchised. People are either out of work or under pressure to take longer hours and lower pay. Disgruntled voters look for someone to blame and the "incumbent" party is often the one to take the blame. That said not everyone is so short-sighted that they have forgotten how this economic collapse came about. Hence the pretense from Sen. Scott Brown that he is an "independent" even though he is quite obviously a right wing Republican.

Despite what people may think to the contrary, the level of political discourse in the U.S. remains acrimonious and simplistic. The internet has provided more "information" but not the analytic skills to understand it.

It's a long road with a massive tailback. It doesn't help to drive a pickup if you're stuck in the middle of a traffic jam.

CB in Hamburg

Posted by: chrisbrown12 | January 20, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Brown's win is not about thew need for Obama to "adjust" his agenda. It is a sign that the White House and Democrats need to do a better job of defining the GOP and in selling their own message.

A loss by a remarkably bad candidate who received historically bad advice (namely to not campaign for election) must be judged carefully.

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | January 20, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

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