Massachusetts, the only state that gave George McGovern a majority over Richard Nixon in 1972, kept Ted Kennedy in the Senate for 46 years and gave Barack Obama a 26-point margin in 2008, voted against all that on Tuesday and sent a barely known Scott Brown to Washington to savage the administration on health care, climate change and goodness knows what else.
Tuesday’s strong win for Brown should be taken as a popular revolt against the Democrat’s health care bill — and a call for less spending of borrowed money on any new domestic program.
It also was a demand for federal action on job creation. Aye, and there’s the catch. The Obama administration economic team members include the nation’s most prestigious. They can rightly claim that they stopped the bleeding before the Great Recession became Great Depression II. But the patient is still in intensive care. Unemployment stays stubbornly high. The remedies have been applied. They haven’t worked fast enough for an impatient public.
Fact is, nobody knows how to create jobs quickly in a private enterprise economy. The only proposals to come from the other side of the aisle have depended exclusively on more tax cuts. The biggest tax cuts in U.S. history were made by the Bush administration; they directly caused deeper federal deficits and a much wider gap between rich and poor, and contributed to the current recession.
HOW THE president and his party should react to this loud wail of angry discontent will keep Obama and Democratic leaders awake nights for many a moon.
Should they vote on the health bill tomorrow to try and beat Brown to his seat? Probably not. Pollsters would say, correctly, that the Massachusetts vote represented a majority in the country. (In spite of the fact that voters there had no chips in health care reform because they already had almost universal care, thanks to Republican Mitt Romney, who was governor when their health care bill passed.) In any case, trying an end run against that dramatic show of public opinion wouldn’t be ethical or wise.
The only honest approach is to stay the course. The American people voted for health care reform and the rest of the Obama agenda in 2008. The changes they endorsed then still need making today. It goes without saying that the health care reform bill should be made more attractive to more people. Perhaps Congress can learn from the success Massachusetts has had.
The Obama agenda included fiscal responsibility. Economic recovery, when it arrives, will make that promise possible to keep. Regulation of the nation’s financial industry designed to prevent another meltdown while curbing the huge salaries and bo-nuses that tempt money managers to take enormous risks should have a high priority.
The president and his congressional leaders should also work harder to convince the public of the very real threat that climate change poses and enlist more support for action against it. Better salesmen must also be found to push energy independence and the long-term necessity for renewable energy.
Health care for all; world class public schools; a sustainable world environment; energy independence; a balanced budget. These goals shouldn’t be controversial or partisan. Barack Obama was elected president less than two years ago by saying he would try to achieve those things for America.
Americans still want to go there. President Obama should keep trying to get that job done. And maybe he should try much harder to explain to the people who and what blocks the path to that better future.
Sen. Scott Brown will be a perfect poster boy.
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