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.