As I’m sure everyone (at least in the US) is well aware, Scott Brown just became the newest Senator from Massachusetts. His seat was opened when Sen. Ted Kennedy (who lead much of the push for the healthcare bill, and was a political mentor to Obama) died. His death increased the demand for a comprehensive healthcare plan. What a difference a few months make!
The Democrats currently hold the presidency and have substantial majorities in both the House and the Senate. In the Senate, until yesterday, they had a super-majority: that is, the Republicans weren’t even capable of filibustering, since the Dems had enough votes to get cloture. All of this meant that if the Democrats agreed on some basic agenda items, they could pass them quickly.
Think about it: Congress was intended to be a deliberative body with a willingness to compromise on issues which can afford compromise (and even those which can’t: this is, after all, the same Constitution which compromised on how much of a person black slaves were, for census purposes). Democrats had the better part of a year with unfettered control. They had all the freedom to work across the aisle that they’ve always had, plus the freedom to take their ball and go home if they didn’t like the direction the negotiations were going. Even if every Republican opposed every bill, the Democrats had the votes to pass whatever they wanted.
A year in, they should be parading their lengthy accomplishments. A moderate platform could have easily held the Democratic coalition together, even picking up moderate Republicans (like Snowe and Collins). They should be able to rattle off dozens of problems they’d finally fixed, should be able to parade how this Congress was a cohesive and bipartisan Congress, and how all of this showed how capable Democratic leadership was.
But instead, they got greedy. This greed became all consuming, and devoured their agenda. The party as a whole was greedy in pushing for radical overhaul in an area (healthcare) in which the US system is unlike any other system on Earth, and the waters are almost totally unchartered, in pushing for abortion everywhere they could get it, in passing lots of anti-business and pro-tax legislation which infuriated Middle America, and so on. And this greed begat more greed: having isolated all the Republicans, including the moderates, individual senators like Lieberman, Landrieu, and Nelson found themselves able to demand just about anything they wanted (other than, of course, no abortion coverage), and get it. These senators got greedy.
The resulting healthcare bill is a total embarassment. As it is, virtually everyone agrees the healthcare system in the US needs improvements, but it’s hard to find two people who see eye-to-eye on what the improvement looks like. Think about it in the context of dinner. Everybody’s hungry, everybody thinks food is good, but people have different ideas as to what would make an appetizing meal. Rather than serve up something basic, and capable of meeting most people’s cravings, the Democrats had 60 cooks in the kitchen introducing some crazy ingredients. Throw in some chili pepper here, a cheeseburger there, maybe blend the whole thing into a fruit smoothie: you get the idea. Trying to craft a single working healthcare system is hard to do. Trying to merge 60 senator’s half-cocked ideas of what an ideal healthcare system ought to look like just produced a Frankenbill. And then it got worse. As it became obvious that they’d need all 60 Democratic votes to pass the Frankenbill, they had to bribe Senator Nelson by throwing in some corn husks, had to bribe Sen. Landrieu by putting in some Creole spices, and the whole dish got heavier and more disgusting.
The resulting concoction was anathema to Americans of all stripes. Nearly half (46%) now think this overhaul is a bad idea, compared to only 33% supporting it. Nothing showed this as well as last night’s special election. Here, there was only one race on the ballot: no excessive, confusing variables. Normally, politicans can ride the coattails of a popular member of the party: people are eager enough to get out and vote for Senator x, and go ahead and punch the ticket for Rep. y of the same party. Here, there was only one reason to brave the snow in Boston, no distracting sideshows at all. And here, a state which had brought exactly zero Republicans to Congress since 1972, a state considered the most liberal in the union (only 22% of voters are registered Republicans), a state with a massive state healthcare bill, and a state replacing a senator they knew and loved who’d championed the earlier form of this bill… a majority of voters in that state, over a million people in all, came out in an off-season season election to vote for a Republican running against the healthcare bill. He wasn’t a popular Republican who happened to have an unfortunate opposition to the bill. He was an otherwise unknown Republican whose campaign was largely centered on being “number 41,” the vote which ended the Democrat’s supermajority and thwarted the healthcare bill.
No matter how much spin there is, about how this is about Coakley’s badly-run campaign or disturbing prosecutorial record, or Brown’s well-run campaign or good looks, or anything else, Brown’s victory was a warning shot to Democrats up for re-election everywhere (which is a third of the Senate and the entire House, this fall). If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere, and a rising tide of Americans, Democrats as well as Republicans and Independents, are fed up with both the process (bribing politicans with huge amounts of pork) and the agenda.
There may well be some light at the end of this tunnel, as we may see the pro-abortion parts of this health care bill shrivel and die. Certainly, Rep. Stupak, the most vocal pro-life Democrat in the House, has some of the most clear-headed and sensible analysis of the future of the healthcare bill in light of yesterday’s election. This should serve as a wakeup call to all of us, really, about the folly of greed.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that Scott Brown isn’t some Catholic hero. He’s not even Catholic, and it’s a sad reflection on the state of Catholicism in Boston that the “most Catholic” candidate in this race wasn’t the self-avowed Catholic — who, incidentally, claimed Catholics shouldn’t work in emergency rooms if they weren’t comfortable giving out abortificants. The trouble with Brown is that he’s basically pro-choice: he’s just libertarian enough to not think taxpayers should have to pay for other women’s abortions. Outside of Massachusetts, he’s the kind of politician we’d be glad lost.
But the perfect shouldn’t be made the enemy of the good. This axiom, frequently abused, was applicable yesterday. There was a discreet issue: taxpayer subsidization of abortions – which would be directly controlled by the outcome of the election. Writing in the perfect pro-lifer’s name would be throwing a ballot away in a close election. A politically conservative Catholic blogger wrote of Brown, “As a movement, conservatives need to support the most conservative electable candidate, and in a state like Massachusetts that man was Scott Brown.” Replace “conservative” with “Catholic,” and I agree exactly. There’s a lot of work which needs to be done to rebuild the moral cultural fabric of America, and we shouldn’t pretend it’ll happen overnight or at the hands of a single man.