19 January 2010

So what does Massachusetts mean?

There seems to be a growing narrative much like the one that took place in 2006 that the election was about a single issue. In 2006, the election was supposedly about Iraq. Meanwhile, it was obvious to any sane observer that Iraq, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans controlled Congress, wasn't going anywhere. It's still here in fact. So supposedly this is a referendum on health care now. There's a ton of problems with that narrative.

First, it's not like Republican alternative plans have panned well with the public or that if nothing is passed by a Democratic majority, through whatever means they could use to do so, that the health care problem such as it is will go away on its own. Public intervention is necessary, even if the ideal public intervention (from my perspective) is largely to get the public out of the way, it is still necessary to go in and remove the interventions that already exist, perhaps replacing them with things that might make more sense, or perhaps simply putting more market into the market failure. Republicans, in general and for reasons that seem either deeply cynical or emerging from a bizarro worldview, have taken a position that includes defending public medical care (medicare) from spending cuts, despite this being one of those most obvious things that needs to happen and despite this being a calling card of conservatism, namely the notion that opposing, or at least trimming, big government programs is a good and noble thing. More bizarre still, the GOP candidate in Massachusetts already favored a plan in Massachusetts that many commentators (I think somewhat incorrectly) rate as very similar to the national/federal bill. It seems rather silly to make an election a referendum on this single issue when both candidates involved basically and philosophically, if not in stated positions, are in favor of it.

The main reason that emerges to explain this strange set of factors is the support for Martha Coakley. Basically I have seen no one defend her candidacy on any grounds other than to maintain a 60 vote majority for the purpose of passing health care. That's it? She has no other redeeming qualities? Yep. Pretty much that's it. Every libertarian site I've seen has thoroughly torched her record as a DA as being reason enough to vote against her before even attempting to oppose her on the health care issue. Given that yes, her seat is only for a 2 year period, this might be logical enough to support her for only that two year period and then find someone more qualified later on. Except they already had the opportunity to do this with the primary and didn't. I suppose they ran out of Kennedys to throw at the seat and apparently there aren't any other good Democrats available in Massachusetts?

This seems to be what the most logical explanation is: Coakley is a terrible candidate with only one reason to vote for her, and that reason is insufficient for most Massachusetts residents. Brown is exploiting this gap and drumming up support to do... nothing. The underlying "issue" on which this is supposed to be a referendum will still get something passed anyway because it has already been passed by both houses of Congress and all they are doing is combining the bills. For what little it is worth, the Senate bill is far better than the House bill and they should have just passed that as is if they intend to pass something. That doesn't resolve the issue to my satisfaction, and probably not to a big cross section of Americans at this point, but it does get it out of the way (for now) and moves along the agenda. Because the point of this issue is that it's not going away. Nothing that big, with trillions of dollars at stake both immediately and in future costs, is going to stop mattering politically. The narrative involved that this will kill health care is false. Just as the narrative that 2006 was a referendum on Bush/Iraq was false.

A final note: I do think the optics would have been improved if they (Democrats) had focused on financial regulation first instead of this. "Fixing" the banks is far more popular than "fixing" health care, even though it's rather less necessary to the long-term economics of the state of our union. I'd rather they fixed the schools first personally.

PPS: I also don't get the trope that Coakley is being sandbagged by a good-ole-boy network in Massachusetts. Yes, MA hasn't had a woman elected into the Senate ever. And yes, much of the bad batch of apples that Coakley is serving up (from her career as a prosecutor) is no different than a lot of other wackos who get elected. That doesn't mean you have to vote for her because she has no Y chromosome. Same reasons applied to HRC when she was running for President. She wasn't the best candidate out there so why bother? If you want the public to vote for a woman, find a good one. I do agree there's a problem in that there's plenty of lame white old guys who get elected to public office without much difficulty. That doesn't mean we should start electing lame women or minorities to take their place to make up for it.
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