Written by Sultan Knish
It's natural for there to be Republican euphoria over Scott Brown's victory, which is both a reproach and a setback to Obama and the Democrats. It's been a long year and we could use the good feelings. Particularly when they come backed by real results. Brown's victory didn't just give Massachusetts its first Republican Class I Senator in 57 years, it also torpedoed the current version of the national health care plan and has severely rattled the confidence of the governing Democrats in D.C. But while an early battle has been won, the war goes on.
While the media and the White House are still trotting out the usual excuses, the same ones that were made when Creigh Deeds lost in Virginia (he was a bad candidate, he didn't listen to the White House), the message this time has reached Democrats who were willing to ignore setbacks in New Jersey and Virginia, all the way up to Obama. The question now is what are they going to do about it?
For the first time the media and the Democratic party are acknowledging that there is a backlash underway against them. That's a big step from just a few months ago, when they were busy claiming that their only opposition comes from right wing extremists and corporate plants. Some of the MSNBC crowd are still trying to push that line, notably Olbermann and Matthews, but Democratic politicians who actually have to run for office are now trying to make some concessions to the backlash, in the hopes of pacifying it.
Whether it's CNN's Jack Cafferty who's suddenly trying to play Glenn Beck, or Obama and his media lapdogs claiming that he and Brown are both products of public frustration over 8 years of the Bush Administration, the Democrats are trying to repackage and co-opt that frustration and that backlash. They want to pat the voters on the head, tell them they've been heard and then go back to doing what they were doing before. They won't succeed, because they wanted the job and they got it. You can't both be the boss and lead the griping against the boss. It doesn't work, and Democrats still don't understand why. But they have woken up to the reality that there is a backlash, and that changes the nature of the game.
In response to Brown's victory, the White House and Congress could have gone one of two ways. They could have decided to go on ramming health care through no matter what. It's what the nutroots have been calling on them to do. It's what their big donors from New York and LA wanted. But Massachusetts made the White House and Capitol Hill realize that doing so would win them a few cheers from the left, but would end up being their Waterloo with mainstream America. And with the nutroots already abandoning them, they instead decided to go another way.
Brown's victory gave both conservative and left wing Democrats the chance to torpedo the current version of their health care plan, a plan that had become highly unpopular with the left for its compromises, with Democrats in conservative districts for its potential to dynamite their reelection bids, and with the general public for its health insurance taxation and the corrupt pork fed process that got it through the Senate. Before Brown, too much work had been put into the bill to just kill it. Obama, Pelosi and Reid needed an achievement, and health care was supposed to be the grand conclusion to the Year of Obama. But with opposition from state lawmakers and the public mounting, with low polls running for the Democratic incumbents, Brown's victory gave them a chance to opt out of what looked like the Battle of Little Bighorn.
That doesn't mean health care won't be back, and probably the public option too. It just means that Obama's people understand now that winning the congressional elections in 2010 is vital to maintaining any kind of liberal legislative program, and that a health care push now, along with cap and trade, might kill his ability to get anything at all done after the midterm elections. When health care makes a comeback, it will be more aggressively repackaged and rebranded, and there will be more attempts to keep the details of the bargaining out of the public eye. The Democrats are corrupt, greedy and arrogant-- and those qualities can blind them badly enough to make them seem stupid, but wake up calls do eventually phone home, and it would have been far better if their wake up call in 2010 had been the midterm elections, not Scott Brown's victory.
The message that the Democrats got out of Massachusetts is that it's time to start paying attention to independent voters and working class white people by getting on the populist bandwagon. Soros may be crying out for cap and trade, but Obama isn't likely to answer. Delivering that kind of body blow to pickup truck drivers seemed like a no-brainer back last January,but it's a lot riskier now. Expect more White House fluff about job creation and job programs, perhaps ones that this time around won't bypass construction workers. Expect more talk about the deficit and whatever their pollsters are identifying as red meat issues. And also expect Obama to begin spending less time in Turkey and Europe, and a little more time in the rust belt, even as a lot of conservative Democrats will ask him to stay home. But most of all expect an attempt by Obama and his party to try and reinvent themselves once again.
For the Republican party, Scott Brown's victory is an important early boost in 2010, that should also help generate donor dollars for candidates in multiple races. This is the first time since 2006, that Republican candidates no longer carry the instaloser tag that the media had successfully applied to them. That newfound confidence is important, but it also needs balance and a reality check.
In particular Republicans should beware of making too much of Scott Brown, too soon. Yes Brown successfully harnessed populist energy in a come from behind victory. The camera likes him and he plays well to both local and national audiences. That said there could be nothing worse for him than to be treated as a potential Presidential candidate before he has even reached the Senate floor. Palin's example should remind us of what happens when a candidate is blown up too early and too fast. If Brown can compete in 2012, he'll have the chance to prove it over the next year. It's too early now to make him the party mascot or to treat his victory as a death blow to Democratic rule. And while Obama is cautious and wary of the populist energy that Brown harnessed, that just makes him a bigger target.
Another lesson to be learned from Brown's victory is just how local it was. All politics are local, and while Brown's victory certainly took a lot from public resentment toward D.C., it was very much a Massachusetts victory won in terms of local politics. NY-23 was the product of a failure to understand local issues and the local terrain. Brown's victory in Massachusetts on the other hand would not have been possible if Brown had not better reflected local tensions and emotions, than the tone deaf Coakley did. Winning elections will require more than just banking on a national backlash, it will require thinking and acting locally.
Last night the Democrats were hurt. Hurt badly enough to wake them up. And that makes them more of a threat than ever. Because the goal isn't simply a few seats in 2010, but retaking America in 2010 and 2012. Their own arrogance and miscalculations made them into easy targets for a public backlash, and we have yet to see how much of an impact Scott Brown's victory will have on them, but the odds are that the road ahead has gotten harder, even as we can see the daylight ahead.
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