Tectonic political shift, epicenter Massachusetts

Just 14 months ago, Democrat Barack Obama won Massachusetts by a 26-percent margin as he captured the presidency, with a promise to provide universal health care coverage for all at the center of his platform.

Nearly one year to the day of Obama's inauguration, conservative Republican state Sen. Scott Brown handily won a special election in Massachusetts Tuesday to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. The centerpiece of Brown's platform was a pledge to become the 41st, filibuster-blocking Republican vote to kill the health care bill nearly ready for the president's signature.

Only in America.

What happened? A news analysis by Brian C. Mooney of the Boston Globe put it well.

"Voter anxiety and resentment, building for months in a troubled economy, exploded like a match on dry kindling in the final days of the special election for U.S. Senate."

After finishing my blog, you can read Mooney's entire analysis here.

Brown, handsome, likeable, an everyman kind of guy driving around in his GMC pickup with 200,000-plus miles, made the election a referendum on the health care bill. Originally aiming to raise just north of $1 million to run his campaign, Brown ended up with $13 million, much of it pouring into the state through Internet donations. Supporters of the anti-big government Tea Party Movement volunteered to work on the campaign and helped swell the crowds at Brown's rallies.

I had thought Brown's late surge in the polls would awaken the Democratic core and eke out a victory for the Democrat, Attorney General Martha Coakley, despite her listless, unfocused campaign. I was half-right. The turnout was enormous for a special, mid-winter election on a dreary, snowy/rainy day. About 2.2 million of the state's 4 million registered voters went to the polls.

However, more voters eager to send a message to Washington turned out than did liberal Democrats hoping to save the Kennedy legacy and the health care bill.

A conversation I had with a counterworker Tuesday at a Dunkin' Donuts in Montville crystallized for me where the Democrats and the president had gone so wrong. Low paid, and by her own account paying a large premium for health insurance because of her age and prior medical conditions, she should have been the kind of person excited by the health care reform bill. Instead, she told me, she was rooting for a Brown victory in Massachusetts to kill it. She did not trust the Democratic promises that it would make her life better.

That is what it came down to, a lack of trust. The bill was so big, so complex, its promise to provide affordable coverage so opaque that it was feared, not embraced. No one believed the Congressional Budget Office analysis that it would shrink, not grow the federal deficit. And the fact that the Democrats were using their political muscle to force it into law without any Republican support, making deals to buy the necessary votes in the process, was anathema to the American propensity for political moderation.

And so health care reform, just short of the finish line, is dead. Within moments of Brown's victory, moderate Democrats in the Senate were abandoning it. House Democrats, who could theoretically adopt the Senate bill and pass it, would be foolish to do so given the anger about it manifested in Massachusetts.

It would be nice to think Senator-elect Brown and his fellow Republicans would be willing to work with the president and the Democrats to pass a health reform bill more palatable to the American people. However, I'm afraid the Republican strategy will be to deny the president any significant legislative victories, with an eye toward winning back many seats in November 2010.

With Mr. 41 heading to Washington, a year of gridlock looms.

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