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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bad News, But Don’t Make It Worse

The only thing that made Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race a matter of great suspense was the high turnout today. It appears he will win by somewhere between 3 and 6 percent, riding a very good showing in the Boston suburbs.
There’s no suspense at all, of course, about the apocalyptic spin that Republicans will give this special election, because they’ve already been at it for the last week. Aside from the rather premature implications they are drawing for the elections this November, there’s massive talk about the need for President Obama to, well, surrender on his entire policy agenda, and focus, I suppose, on doing a lot of nothing, since that is the preferred conservative path at present.
On one issue, health care reform, the Brown victory will obviously create an immediate problem in the Senate. But the idea that the Massachusetts results represent some sort of nationally-significant referendum on the pending bill in Congress is ludicrous, given Scott Brown’s own argument that federal reform is unnecessary because the state has already enacted pretty much the same reforms.
In any event, Democrats should make a real effort not to exploit the results to grind intra-party axes. Yes, it’s obvious that both the Democratic message and the party’s voter mobilization efforts need to be ramped up significantly. The same is true of efforts to explain to voters exactly what sort of craziness they are asking for if Republicans actually win back either branch of Congress in November. But those Democrats who are tempted to demand that the Obama administration make a dramatic turn to the Left or Center in response to tonight’s results would be better advised to turn to their intra-party adversaries and express some solidarity. We are going to need it going forward, and the alternative could prove to be a national turn to the Right that the public shows no real signs, in Massachusetts or elsewhere, of wanting. We lost a single special election under very difficult circumstances. It’s only a harbinger of very bad things to come if we let it become one.
UPDATE: Jonathan Chait uses a very apt metaphor in urging Democrats not to over-react to electoral setbacks like the one tonight:

Remember the classic scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? Facing a run on his building and loan, George Bailey tries to explain to his frantic customers how to look after their self-interest. “Don’t you see what’s happening?” he pleads, “Potter isn’t selling. Potter’s buying! And why? Because we’re panicking and he’s not.” President Obama’s great challenge right now is to be his party’s George Bailey.

And the President could use some help, beginning with Democrats who understand this is absolutely the worst time to give up on health care reform.

2 comments on “Bad News, But Don’t Make It Worse

  1. George Ortega on

    Parable: Boy gets horse; townspeople ask wise man – “This is good, right?” Wiseman says – “Wait and see.” Boy falls off horse and breaks arm; townspeople return to wise man – “So it was bad, right?” Wiseman says – “Wait and see.” War erupts, boys are sent off to fight, except boy with horse and broken arm. Townspeople return to wise man – “So it was good, right?” Wiseman says – “Wait and see.”…..
    Politics is like an iceberg; the greater part is unseen. Obama, Axelrod, and Emanuel are shrewd politicians. The case can be made that they preferred, and even orchestrated, the Brown victory. Here are a few reasons why the Mass. battle may prove a pyrrhic victory for Republicans, who are now better set up to lose the war.
    1) Having 59 rather than 60 Senate seats is a better position from which to blame Republicans for their upcoming obstructionism. As Lawrence O’Donnell, writing for Huffington Post on 1-17-10, explains, obstruction does not require filibustering;
    “The way you “filibuster” a bill that you want to kill is offer an endless stream of reasonable sounding amendments that have to be debated and voted on. It’s easy to come up with one amendment per page of legislation. That’s why the Republicans offered hundreds of amendments during the Senate committees’ debates on the bill. When the majority leader brings up a two thousand page bill, the minority would normally come up with at least five hundred amendments that could drag out the debate for several months. That’s what the Republicans did in 1994 when they killed the Clinton health care reform bill on the Senate floor. No filibuster, no forcing the Democrats to clear 60-vote procedural hurdles, no forcing a reading to the bill, just an endless stream of reasonable sounding amendments — so reasonable that some of them passed with votes of 100 to 0. And the Democrats, seeing this could go on forever, surrendered. Fifty-seven Democrats were defeated by forty-three determined Republicans.”
    2) Having 59 rather than 60 Senate seats provides a goal around which to rally the base for November’s mid-terms. The message would be that with 60 seats Obama was able to pass historic health care reform. With 59, Republicans will prevent him from passing as much great legislation in 2010. We need those 60 seats again.
    3) Having 59 rather than 60 Senate seats and being prevented by Republicans from passing a strong jobs bill creates a very strong reason for killing or changing the filibuster rule, which would nullify Brown’s victory and set the stage for passing much more progressive legislation during 2010 and beyond.


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