Barack Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

Why Scott Brown’s Election is Good for the Nation and the Democratic Party

[digg-reddit-me]I would have written this post on Tuesday night (before seeing what had become the inevitable results) – but I was busy. And I would have written this post on Wednesday, except my blog had some issues once again, and I was left blog-less.

Now, having the advantage of reading the many responses to Scott Brown’s upset victory from around the opinionshere, let me venture mine:

Brown’s election is a good thing for the Democrats politically. (On a policy level, it makes it less likely a health care bill will pass at all, certainly undermines the chances of a better health care bill, and makes every other policy goal harder to achieve in the short term.) But politically, it works for the Democrats on almost every level.

  • Scott Brown will be faced with choice to either split from the Republican Party on significant issues creating discord within the party or losing the seat in 2012.  If Brown moderates his views so, it’s hard to see him maintaining his credibility with the Tea Party right – but it he does, he will represent a person with credibility on the right compromising with Obama rather than the unified front today. After all, this is a guy who supports the idea behind Obama’s health care plan – and voted for the Massachusetts plan which is similar. His grounds for opposing national health care is that Massachusetts residents would be penalized because they already have near universal coverage which he supports.
  • Though the Democrats had a filibuster-proof Senate caucusing with them, there were a handful of members who consistently were willing to hold the Democratic agenda hostage, and the Democrats were only able to muster this filibuster-proof majority on one significant occasion: to pass the health reform bill. Taking this 60th vote away removes the illusion that the Democrats can get what they want done. The Democrats were never organized enough to pull that off. (They only merely have the largest majority in thirty years.)
  • It forces Republicans to take some responsibility as the minority party. The Democrats will still set the agenda – but Republicans and progressives can no longer complain that Democrats just need to get their act together to pass something. If the Republicans continue to vote as a solid bloc against any Democratic proposal in a cynical attempt to win back power through obstructionism, they can block almost everything. But then the focus won’t be on the preening Democrats competing to leverage their individual power to get what they want – but on the Republicans for blocking the passage of legislation and confirmation of nominees.
  • The inchoate anger at the status quo didn’t stop with the election of Barack Obama. Instead, his election radicalized the right wing – those who felt they were “losing their country.” Brown’s election – and the growing anger at the Democrats – doesn’t suggest the country is moving right. Rather, it is a symptom of an anti-incumbent bias. By running as the man who will stop health care reform – and being embraced by the Tea Party crowd – Brown is placing himself, the Republican Party, and the Tea Partiers as defenders of the status quo.
  • Carl Hulse in the New York Times offers an additional reason: “Even Republicans privately acknowledged that the redrawn Congressional landscape could hold benefits for the most vulnerable Democrats in November by easing pressure on them to vote as part of a united 60-member Democratic bloc and sparing them from providing decisive votes on contentious issues.”

Scott Brown and the Republicans will face a choice in the coming months before the midterms: They can either offer to work with the Democrats to actually govern or they can obstruct everything in order to make the Democrats look ineffective and weak. Either way, the 2010 midterms will be a referendum not only on Obama’s agenda but on how the Republicans have handled themselves.

[Image by Rob Weir licensed under Creative Commons.]

7 replies on “Why Scott Brown’s Election is Good for the Nation and the Democratic Party”

I can’t help but think you’re being a little Pollyannish today. The issue of how the Republicans have handled themselves won’t come up at all. It will be purely Democrats=weak, Economy=bad. It’s a vicious circle for the Democrats. They have a super-majority because they are a big-tent party, but they look weak because they can’t get everyone under the tent to agree on anything. 2010 will be a bad year for Democrats. In the Senate, we won’t pick up any seats, and we’ll lose North Dakota, Arkansas, Nevada, Colorado, Delaware, and at least one more (IL, PA, or CT). In the House, we’ll lose 30-40 seats. We probably won’t lose either house, but we will have let the biggest opportunity for progressive reform pass us by in 40 years without any accomplishment whatsoever.

Having fewer seats won’t make the Democrats stronger, it will make them less ambitious and weaker. Cap-and-trade, real financial reform, immigration reform, and health care reform are all out the window. The next 3 years will be fighting over scraps (withdrawing from Iraq, minor reductions to military spending, minor education reform, minor entitlement reform).

John Rose!

I’d wondered if you were still reading…2010 was destined to be a bad year for the Democrats the moment they won large majorities in the House and Senate, along with the presidency. This was even more likely to be true presuming the economic situation hadn’t fully turned around – or if it turned around too quickly.

I’m not saying I think the Democrats are going to pick up seats – but rather that Brown’s cutting into their majority now changes the dynamics at play in a way that favors the Democrats – favors them in the midst of a cycle that overall doesn’t.

I suppose the biggest thing Brown’s election accomplishes isn’t any of these things – but that it can act as a kind of slap to the face, waking up the Democrats and Obama administration. Obama has seemed content to create the best policy and to govern. The plan was to – at some point before Nov. 2010 – jump into campaign mode again. Now, they’ll be starting into campaign mode sooner – they’ll be putting the Republicans in awkward positions with votes – for eg, defending the banks against a bank tax. They’ll be striking a more populist tone, etc. This will mitigate their losses.

I hope so, but I doubt it. What else do they have up their sleeves besides this news-cycle-capturing stunt Obama is putting on right now? There’s nothing they can really do to turn the economy around, they’re not going to turn their backs on their Wall Street support, and they’ve already demonstrated their reluctance to pass any taxes on the rich. Color me cynical, but the Democrats have chosen their bed (with the financial industry, insurance industry, energy industry, etc.) and they will soon realize just how uncomfortable it is to sleep there in an anti-incumbent atmosphere.

I’m not sure the Democrats have quite chosen to side with Wall Street yet. They chose to coddle them while they seemed vulnerable – but if for the next year Obama hammers them, and if he can consistently position the Republicans to support them, if he can allow the Republicans to obstruct several other popular measures along with regulation of Wall Street, and to aggressively posture on the deficit – hopefully getting the Republicans to filibuster the spending cuts he proposes. Perhaps they can even throw in some largely symbolic job stimulus. Obama and the Democrats don’t need things to be back to normal – they just need to show improvement.

In my opinion, Obama’s first year has been about substance – about trying to get legislation passed and the financial system in order and a framework for progress in place. This year will be about scoring political points – of posturing and frittering away time pushing proposals the opposition will block.

Regardless of the job growth prospects, everyone knows the incumbent party loses in the midterm elections. That’s why the substance was planned for 2009. But they have long signaled that 2010 is about the deficit, jobs, and now, Wall Street.

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