It’s not the anniversary present that Barack Obama was hoping for. One year after his inauguration, his party has lost what was once considered the safest seat in the Union for a Democrat. School children may not have watched Republican Scott Brown defeat Democrat Martha Coakley to represent Massachusetts in the Senate, but one day they may read about it.
I’m not sure at this point that I can fully comprehend the historical significance of Brown’s win. Not only is this a case of Obama’s magic failing to be enough to lift Coakley to victory, this is a seat the Democrats have held since a young man named John Fitzgerald Kennedy won it over Henry Cabot Lodge Jr back in 1953. To put that in perspective, the last time Republicans held this seat, Elizabeth was still a princess, John Edwards was in diapers and I Like Ike was something people still said, not a pop culture reference. It is a victory The Boston Herald called the “Massachusetts Miracle” and The Drudge Report dubbed “The Boston Tea Party.”
The historic meaning of Brown’s victory is one thing, but in Washington today it will be the future impact being studied; the possible end of President Obama’s healthcare bill. Scott Brown, once sworn into office, will be the 41st Republican Senator, which under Senate rules means the GOP can filibuster, or stall, the healthcare bill indefinitely. Before the votes were even counted, Democrats in Washington and Boston were trading barbs and laying the blame at each other’s feet.
While some Democrats were calling for a quick vote on the health bill before Brown could be seated, that plan was put to rest by a statement put out by Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat, and backer of the president’s health reform package.
In many ways, the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform, but also on the openness and integrity of our government process. It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.
Something in Webb’s statement was echoed in what voters were telling reporters as they cast their ballot. Robert Rivard, a 67 year-old retiree and political independent, told The New York Times, “I don’t like that the health care bill is being ramrodded through, and I am incensed that a senator was able to have his state exempted from the cost.”
Rivard is referring to a special deal, cut for the state of Nebraska, in order to obtain the vote of Senator Ben Nelson. The deal exempts Nebraska from what some estimates say could be $100 million in costs to the State treasury over the next ten years. Backroom dealings have been central to getting President Obama’s health reform package this far and they may be part of the package’s undoing.
As much as the post-election punditry will focus on the health care issue, it is important to remember that health insurance is not as big an issue in Massachusetts as in other states because they already have a near universal plan brought in by former Republican Governor Mitt Romney. The vote on Tuesday spells trouble not just for Obama’s health plan but also for his whole agenda in the coming year. Brown alone will not derail it but the ride is about the get bumpier. The victory of a red senator in a state thought to be pure Democrat blue is a strong signal to the White House and Congress that the people are not happy. The screaming headline on The Huffington Post as I write this is “WAKE UP CALL.”
In Massachusetts, voters cast ballots on jobs, on the record of the president and they cast their ballot, whether for Democrat or Republican, in the hope of a better future. Now for the first time since 1953, voters in Massachusetts believe a Republican is the best man to deliver that better future and a seat that seemed to belong to one family has gone to Scott Brown. The people have given Ted’s seat to the man in the pickup truck.
Brian Lilley is a political journalist and the Ottawa Bureau Chief for radio stations Newstalk 1010 Toronto and CJAD 800 Montreal. He is also the Associate Editor of Mercatornet. Follow Brian on Twitter.