Congratulations, Mr. Brown

I’m hearing a lot of talk on the radio this morning about how “stunned” Democrats are at Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election. Count me out of that category, and-if you’re among those feeling “stunned”-you might want to keep it to yourself. It just proves you haven’t been reading the newspaper (or, more importantly for matters related to political polling, FiveThirtyEight.com). The polling has been pretty clear for a couple of weeks now.

So, how did a little-known former nude model win Teddy Kennedy’s seat for the GOP?

Because he ran like he wanted it, and the Democrat didn’t. (I mean, no tracking polls?)

It’s that simple. And I suspect old Ted would be the first to appreciate the ironies in the situation. One begins to understand the malice lurking in the allegedly Chinese alleged curse “may you live in interesting times.”[1]

There are some other factors. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the economy sucks right now, and that’s never going to help a party retain power.

I also think that the excitement felt by so many Brown supporters has something to tell us about most people’s relationship to politics: with the exception of residents of just a handful of states (and while I’m no expert, I don’t think Massachusetts is one of them), most people feel as if their votes don’t matter much. So when an election comes along that feels like it can turn things upside down, or when the kind of candidate who never usually wins is suddenly within spitting distance of the victor’s crown, people get energized. (I think this was a factor in Obama’s victory, too.)

But I don’t want to make excuses. One side considered this election a must-win, and the other didn’t. As usual, the game goes to the one with more heart.

Speaking of games, I hope the blame game that seems to be consuming various factions of the left lasts about five more seconds, and that then they just get back to work. There is still an opportunity to pass health-insurance reform,[2] and the election of a man who only opposes national health-insurance reform because Massachusetts already has its own similar system is no reason to back down now.

What the situation needs is not more bipartisanship or moderation: Obama ran on reforming health care and won-by a lot-and he has yet to see the first hand extended in true fellowship from the right side of the aisle. (He didn’t even get a single vote in favor of continuing the Bush stimulus program, mere days after being inaugurated.) After the election of 2006, widely seen as a denunciation of Bush’s Iraq war, what did Bush decide to do? Reach across the aisle? Listen to criticism? No: he “dramatically expanded the US troop commitment in Iraq.”

The GOP has said it wants to scuttle health-insurance reform in order to cripple Obama’s presidency. If he and the Democrats do not have the mettle and discipline to pass this bill, that outcome will be nothing less than what they deserve. They will have demonstrated that they are not fit to lead, and I’ll be the first to admit it.

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1. Speaking of “interesting,” the Wikipedia entry on this “curse” is worth a read. No one can prove it’s actually Chinese (of course; I suspected that would be the case before I looked it up). But I enjoyed learning about two other curses that are supposed to be related to this one. The “interesting times” curse is lowest in curse intensity, followed in ascending order by:

  • May you come to the attention of those in authority (sometimes rendered May the government be aware of you).
  • May you find what you are looking for.

Scary stuff!

2. The safest[3] course of action is for the House to simply pass the Senate bill, because there is no telling how soon Brown will be sworn into the Senate, probably dooming to death-by-filibuster any effort to pass changes to the bill there. Don’t be deceived: the official rule is that the Senate doesn’t have to swear him until Massachusetts certifies him the victor. Massachusetts doesn’t do that until all the votes are in, and in Massachusetts absentee and military ballots aren’t due on election day. But even if this process takes weeks and weeks, do you really want to give Democrats at least two additional opportunities (one vote in the House, to approve changes to the Senate bill, and then one vote in the Senate-which will take at least five days, because of the inevitability of a filibuster) to prove how disorganized and feckless they can be?

Ironically, though, there is a precedent for swearing him in right away: an exception to the certification requirement was made for Teddy Kennedy himself back in 1962. Woops! The world really is wild at heart and weird on top!

3. Depends what you mean by “safest,” of course. My usage encompasses all of those congressmembers representatives who are aware that they are in Washington to do the people’s business, and that the people really, really need this bill. On the other hand, it seems possible that many vulnerable House members will see Brown’s victory as reason to retract their support for the bill, lest their own seats not remain “safe.” Obama once said he was willing to be a one-term president if that’s what it took to pass health-insurance reform. Here’s hoping that enough potentially wayward House members will follow this example.

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