(photo credit: AP)
On January 14, five days before the Massachusetts
special election, President Barack Obama was in full bring-it-on mode
as he rallied House Democrats behind his health care reform. "If
Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for
the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and
businesses, that is a fight I want to have."
bravado lasted three days. When Obama campaigned in Boston on January
17 for Obamacare supporter Martha Coakley, not once did he mention the
health care bill. When your candidate is sinking, you don't throw her a
After Coakley's defeat, Obama pretended that the real cause was
a generalized anger and frustration "not just because of what's
happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the
last eight years." Let's get this straight: The antipathy to George W.
Bush is so enduring and powerful that it just elected a Republican
senator in Massachusetts? Why, the man is omnipotent.
And the Democrats are delusional: Scott Brown won by running
against Obama not Bush. He won by brilliantly nationalizing the race,
running hard against the Obama agenda, most notably Obamacare. Killing
it was his No. 1 campaign promise.
Bull's-eye. An astonishing 56 percent of
Massachusetts voters, according to Rasmussen, called health care their
top issue. In a Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates poll, 78% of
Brown voters said their vote was intended to stop Obamacare. Only a
quarter of all voters in the Rasmussen poll cited the economy as their
top issue, nicely refuting the Democratic view that Massachusetts was
just the usual anti-incumbent resentment you expect in bad economic
Brown ran on a very specific, very clear agenda. Stop health
care. Don't Mirandize terrorists. Don't raise taxes; cut them. And no
more secret backroom deals with special interests.
deals - the Louisiana purchase, the Cornhusker kickback - had
engendered a national disgust with the corruption and arrogance of
one-party rule. The final straw was the union payoff - in which labor
bosses smugly walked out of the White House with a five-year exemption
from a ("Cadillac") health insurance tax Democrats were imposing on the
92% of private-sector workers who are not
THE REASON both wings of American liberalism - congressional and
mainstream media - were so surprised at the force of anti-Democratic
sentiment is that they'd spent Obama's first year either ignoring or
disdaining the clear early signs of resistance: the tea-party movement
of the spring and the town-hall meetings of the summer. With
characteristic condescension, they contemptuously dismissed the
protests as the mere excrescences of a redneck, retrograde, probably
You would think lefties could discern a
proletarian vanguard when they see one. Yet they kept denying the
reality of the rising opposition to Obama's social democratic agenda
when summer turned to fall and Virginia and New Jersey turned
Republican in the year's two gubernatorial elections.
The evidence was unmistakable: Independents, who in 2008 had
elected Obama, swung massively against the Democrats: dropping 16
points in Virginia, 21 in New Jersey. On Tuesday, it was even worse:
Independents, who had gone 2-to-1 Republican in Virginia and New
Jersey, now went 3-to-1 Republican in hyper-blue Massachusetts. Nor was
this an expression of the more agitated elements who vote in obscure
low-turnout elections. The turnout on Tuesday was the highest for any
nonpresidential Massachusetts election in 20 years.
Democratic cocooners will tell themselves that Coakley was a
terrible candidate who even managed to diss Curt Schilling. True, Brown
had Schilling. But Coakley had Obama. When the bloody sock beats the
presidential seal - of a man who had them swooning only a year ago -
something is going on beyond personality.
That something is substance - political ideas and legislative
agendas. Democrats, if they wish, can write off their Massachusetts
humiliation to high unemployment, to Coakley or, the current favorite
among sophisticates, to generalized anger. That implies an inchoate,
unthinking lashing-out at whoever happens to be in power - even at your
liberal betters who are forcing on you an agenda that you can't even
see is in your own interest.
Democrats must so rationalize, otherwise they must take
democracy seriously, and ask themselves: If the people really don't
want it, could they possibly have a point?
"If you lose Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call," said
moderate - and sentient - Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana,
"there's no hope of waking up." I say: Let them sleep.
Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated Washington Post columnist.