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Massachusetts voters reflect growing national discontent

Published: Thu, January 21, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

The Democratic Party’s euphoria on Jan. 20, 2009, when Barack Obama took the oath of office as the first black president of the United States, was replaced Tuesday by dysphoria when the voters of Massachusetts elected a Republican to fill the U.S. Senate seat occupied for almost a half a century by Ted Kennedy.

The political shock wave created by little known state Sen. Scott Brown’s victory over Attorney General Martha Coakley is an exclamation point to Obama’s first year in office. The vote is a reflection of the anger many Americans feel toward government. It does not matter to them that Obama has had to deal with a whole array of problems stemming from the economic recession he inherited from his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.

Whoever occupies the White House gets most of the blame when times are bad, as they are now, and gets at least some of the credit when times are good.

The postmortems of Tuesday’s vote in the bluest of blue states, Massachusetts, will continue ad nauseam, and Republicans understandably will declare Brown’s victory a repudiation of the Democratic Party’s control of the White House and Congress.

The GOP will also use the special election results to argue that Obama’s signature legislative initiative, reform of the nation’s health-care system, is dead. That’s because Brown ran on the platform of depriving the Democrats the 60 votes they need in the Senate to ensure filibuster-free deliberation.

Both chambers have passed versions of health-care reform and leaders are now trying to work out differences. The president had hoped to sign a bill into law before his State of the Union address, but that does not now appear to be realistic.

No clear road ahead

Indeed, Brown’s election puts the White House in a quandary. There are Democrats who believe that rather than come up with compromise legislation, the House should simply adopt the bill passed by the Senate. That would not require another vote in the Senate.

But given the public opinion polls that show Americans being in favor of reforming health care, but opposing the legislation coming out of the Democratic Congress, it may be advisable for the White House to reassess its strategy.

Republicans have succeeded in demonizing the Democrats on this issue, but they would lose an important political weapon if the president and the Democratic leadership in Congress publicly invited them to offer their version of health-care reform.

There is no danger of the GOP doing anything other than tinkering with the current system because the interest groups committed to preserving the status quo hold sway over the party.

Thus, Democrats would be able to argue that Republicans in Congress early on adopted a strategy of obstructionism with the goal of derailing the president’s legislative agenda.

Looking elsewhere

The congressional battle over health care aside, Obama has compiled a record in his first year of office that, given the collapse of the national and global economies, is to be commended.

While job-creation has lagged, the unemployment rate would have been much worse than the current 10 percent had he not signed the $787 billion stimulus package into law, not pursued the bailout of America’s major financial institutions, and had he not asserted unprecedented government control over the auto industry.

In foreign affairs, the draw down of U.S. troops in Iraq and the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan were designed to meet his goal of extracting the U.S. from military intervention overseas in 18 months.

He also made great progress in rebuilding America’s image abroad, especially in the Islamic world.

But that record has been overshadowed by the unemployment rate and the growth of the budget deficit and national debt.

The American people are justifiably worried, as evidenced by Tuesday’s vote in Massachusetts, and President Obama and the Democrats in Congress would do well to pay attention to the polls that show a drop in the approval rating of the job being done by them.

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