Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts shrugged?

For Scott Brown, a Massachusetts lawyer and state senator - and Republican - to take the Senate seat of Massachusetts that was vacated when Ted Kennedy finally went into oblivion, is quite something. With 52% against the Democrat candidate Martha Coakley on 47%, it is a clear mandate.

You see in 2006 Ted Kennedy won the seat with a healthy 69% majority. For the Democrats to bleed almost a third of that support in such a short time will be a shock. However, what does it reflect on?

Did Brown campaign better than Coakley and was clearly the better candidate?

Probably yes, but not by THAT much. He travelled by pick up truck, painted himself as the outsider who was fiscally conservative and opposed to Obama's health reforms. Coakley by contrast seemed to assume she'd inherit the seat from Kennedy. His social views put him more in the middle of the Republican Party. He supports civil unions, but opposes gay marriage. She was far more socially "liberal", moreso than Obama. She wants US withdrawal from Afghanistan, supports heathcare reform, but has also been involved in a number of controversies as state attorney general. She played a negative campaign against Brown claiming he wanted hospitals to turn away rape victims, misconstruing his belief that religious hospitals can choose not to offer emergency contraception if they so wish. Coakley was close to trade unions, but they were clearly not decisive in Massachusetts.

However, whilst she wasn't much of a candidate, that shouldn't have meant she would get defeated on that alone. Surely Ted Kennedy personally wouldn't command an extra 20% of votes?

Was there a poor turnout, as Democrat supporters stayed home?

Apparently not. The total vote turnout in 2006 was 2,165, 490 votes. This time it is 2,249,026, a slight increase. It could be argued Republicans turned out this time because they knew they'd have a better chance, but then Ted Kennedy was a polarising figure. It is quite likely many Republicans would have wanted to vote against him on principle, even though the odds of removing him were not high.

Is this an endorsement for the Republican Party?

Well not really. After all, there is no effective Republican leadership at the moment. Mitch McConnell as Senate Minority Leader, and John Boehner as House Minority Leader are hardly household names. Sarah Palin remains one of the highest profile Republicans, but she wasn't seen (thankfully) on this campaign. The Republicans are a rallying point for opposition to the Obama Administration, but really that's about it. It is still a party pulled in different directions by evangelicals (who can't win an election), conservatives and small government liberals (in the classical liberal not US leftwing liberal) sense. Scott Brown is a blend of the last two.

Is this a rebuke of Barack Obama?

Perhaps a little. Obama won Massachusetts by 62% to 36% to McCain, so you'd think most of his supporters would vote for the woman he endorsed. Clearly not all is well with independent ly minded voters.

However, it's worth noting that neither Obama nor McCain won their party's primaries here. Hilary Clinton beat Obama 56% to 41% for the Democrat nomination. Mitt Romney beat McCain 51% to 41% for the Republican nomination. So Massachusetts is a little different from other states. It may well be that the Presidential elections reflected more disenchantment with McCain than Obama as second choice.

Obama's health care reforms have clearly rattled many voters. Given the vast majority of Americans have health care coverage, and see the looming budget deficits under the Obama Administration, there is some serious fear that they may have to pay more and get less because of it. Brown has campaigned clearly on the fact that a win for him would enable the Republicans to filibuster bills in the Senate, including health care. In other words, this very election means that Obama's health reforms will at least be delayed, at most could be seriously compromised. Brown campaigned that the Democrats wont consider tort reform to reduce healthcare costs because they are beholden to the legal fraternity, this perhaps struck a chord.

Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear that the grand promises of "change", and taking a different approach to government, have proven rather feeble. Yes, Bush is gone, but Obama has become beholden to the vast range of special interests and lobby groups that Democrats are in the pay of. It's just a change of personnel, not a change of technique. Pork barrel politics remain as much as they ever were. The hype has not met expectations. Obama is simply another politician.

Is this a rejection of big government?

I'd like to think it is, of course, and it would seem, in part that this is what it is about. Evangelical Republicans may want to pay special attention, as it is NOT social issues that have motivated the change, but it is money.

The amounts of money the Obama Administration is looking to pour into subsidising compulsory health insurance are substantial. Indeed, the Obama Administration has shown virtually no real appetite for fiscal conservatism, with the so-called "stimulus" package often going into consumption and poorly planned projects.

American taxpayers see the bailouts, see the willingness to engage in all sorts of new government projects as an unwillingness to face up to the need to cut spending. In the US, there is a particular degree of wariness about how well government can spend your own money. This is something the Obama Administration doesn't even start to understand, and it is a movement that has been catalysed by the proposals on health care. Bear in mind that nothing in the health care package would cut the burgeoning costs of Medicare and Medicaid, both of which comprise half of all US health spending. Yes - the government's health care plans have poor cost control, so why wouldn't Americans fear state run health care?

Massachusetts interesting has a public health care plan run by the state, which effectively subsidises health insurance for those on low incomes and penalises, through the tax system, those who don't have health insurance schemes. It means 4.1% of people don't have health insurance, which represents those preferring to pay the tax penalty and those who are still unwilling to buy insurance with low incomes. So do the people of Massachusetts simply not want an additional federal healthcare plan, or is it simpler than that?


Coakley might not have been the best candidate for the Democrats, but she didn't lose because of that. Brown might have been quite a good candidate, but he didn't win just because of that. The election was a judgment on the growth of government by the Obama Administration, particular fear of what health care reforms could mean for individual health insurance schemes and for taxation.

Ed Rollins, former political director for Ronald Reagan said on CNN:

Mr. President, don't run away from or misinterpret Tuesday's results. Don't let the Chicago sycophants surrounding you in the White House tell you this defeat had nothing to do with you or your health care legislation or your style of governing. It did big time, and every poll said it did.

You have three more years before the next inaugural. It may be yours or it maybe someone else's. But don't let your team convince you that this loss was only about Martha Coakley being a lousy candidate. (She was.) But she was good enough to win the state attorney general's job three years ago with 73 percent of the vote. She was good enough to trounce three other candidates, including a sitting congressman to win the primary a few weeks ago.

By contrast, House of Representatives lead Marxist with a silver spoon Nancy Pelosi couldn't have lied better than what she said: "We heard, we will heed, we will move forward with their considerations in mind, but we will move forward".

No Nancy, you heard, you're ignoring. This year there are mid-term elections. After two years of Bill Clinton and Hilary trying to introduce more government healthcare, Americans voted in droves to turn both houses of Congress Republican. The Republicans are not consistently small government fiscal hawks, and they are by no means great believers in slashing the size of the state, but if Massachusetts is a sign of wider discontent, the mid-term elections could cauterise Obama's plans on health care and his budgetary ambitions over the next three years.


Oswald Bastable said...

How would that state compare with an NZ electorate?- as in what safe labor seat?

Libertyscott said...

Oswald: Manukau East, which is the safest Labour seat at present. Frankly, if Labour lost that on a general swing it would hold no electorate seats. I'm sure you'd be shedding as many tears as I would be if that happened.

Though I tend to think of Nelson as a Labour seat as well, and increasingly Clutha-Southland as well.