Thursday, January 21, 2010

Voters Are Becoming More Conservative, But They're Not Losing Their Minds

Voters in Massachusetts were given two unappealing choices on Tuesday: A Democratic hack and a Republican chameleon who was for health-care reform before he was against it. It is not surprising that Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley, and I'm not sure if even the ghost of Ted Kennedy could have prevailed in the face of such populist outrage had it been on the ballot.

That noted, herewith a few predictions that seem rash on their face but are not:

* While pundits view the Democratic loss in a long reliably blue state in apocalyptic terms and Republicans lick their chops in anticipation of major gains in November's midterm elections, this is just another iteration of the ebb and flow of American politics.

* Politicians read too much into a single election result in a single state at their own peril. Yes, Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof Senate majority, but that majority has been frail from the outset and could have dissolved on numerous occasions before Brown's victory and even if Coakley had prevailed.

* This was a special election, as was the election in NY-23 last November where Tea Party fave Doug Hoffman got whupped by Democrat Bill Owens in a strongly Republican district. The outcomes were similar in that the losers ran I-don't-give-a-crap campaigns while the victors put local interests first.

* Democracy worked, but the Democrats' loss is Massachusetts' loss as well. Brown will have no power, no influence and will not be able to scuttle health-care reform on his own even if a majority of Bay Staters want that to happen. Which they don't.

* So whither health-care reform? I suppose Democrats should have opted for the reconciliation process from the get go, but they didn't. The big question now is whether they have the spine to enact this flawed but nevertheless vital legislation with one fewer senator. The status quo is not acceptable.

* As counter intuitive as it seems, big-picture Republicans should be the most concerned. This is because Brown is no more a Tea Partier than Mitt Romney and is not the kind of conservative that the people who have hijacked the GOP will be able to stomach in the long run.

* While the worry, frustration and anger of many voters and notably swing-voting Independents was obvious in the Massachusetts result, those hijackers will further marginalize the Republican Party with ideologically "pure" candidates in November who will scare off more voters than they will attract. Opposing everything the Democrats propose but not offering freaked out voters alternatives is not a recipe for success.

Yes, voters are becoming more conservative, but they're not losing their minds. Most of them, anyway.

Photograph by Matthew Healey/Newscom-UPI

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