On January 14, five days before the Massachusettsspecial election, President Barack Obama was in full bring-it-on modeas he rallied House Democrats behind his health care reform. "IfRepublicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up forthe status quo and for insurance companies over American families andbusinesses, that is a fight I want to have."
Thebravado lasted three days. When Obama campaigned in Boston on January17 for Obamacare supporter Martha Coakley, not once did he mention thehealth care bill. When your candidate is sinking, you don't throw her amillstone.
After Coakley's defeat, Obama pretended that the real cause wasa generalized anger and frustration "not just because of what'shappened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over thelast eight years." Let's get this straight: The antipathy to George W.Bush is so enduring and powerful that it just elected a Republicansenator in Massachusetts? Why, the man is omnipotent.
And the Democrats are delusional: Scott Brown won by runningagainst Obama not Bush. He won by brilliantly nationalizing the race,running hard against the Obama agenda, most notably Obamacare. Killingit was his No. 1 campaign promise.
Bull's-eye. An astonishing 56 percent ofMassachusetts voters, according to Rasmussen, called health care theirtop issue. In a Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates poll, 78% ofBrown voters said their vote was intended to stop Obamacare. Only aquarter of all voters in the Rasmussen poll cited the economy as theirtop issue, nicely refuting the Democratic view that Massachusetts wasjust the usual anti-incumbent resentment you expect in bad economictimes.
Brown ran on a very specific, very clear agenda. Stop healthcare. Don't Mirandize terrorists. Don't raise taxes; cut them. And nomore secret backroom deals with special interests.
Thesedeals - the Louisiana purchase, the Cornhusker kickback - hadengendered a national disgust with the corruption and arrogance ofone-party rule. The final straw was the union payoff - in which laborbosses smugly walked out of the White House with a five-year exemptionfrom a ("Cadillac") health insurance tax Democrats were imposing on the92% of private-sector workers who are not unionized.
THE REASON both wings of American liberalism - congressional andmainstream media - were so surprised at the force of anti-Democraticsentiment is that they'd spent Obama's first year either ignoring ordisdaining the clear early signs of resistance: the tea-party movementof the spring and the town-hall meetings of the summer. Withcharacteristic condescension, they contemptuously dismissed theprotests as the mere excrescences of a redneck, retrograde, probablyracist rabble.You would think lefties could discern aproletarian vanguard when they see one. Yet they kept denying thereality of the rising opposition to Obama's social democratic agendawhen summer turned to fall and Virginia and New Jersey turnedRepublican in the year's two gubernatorial elections.
The evidence was unmistakable: Independents, who in 2008 hadelected Obama, swung massively against the Democrats: dropping 16points in Virginia, 21 in New Jersey. On Tuesday, it was even worse:Independents, who had gone 2-to-1 Republican in Virginia and NewJersey, now went 3-to-1 Republican in hyper-blue Massachusetts. Nor wasthis an expression of the more agitated elements who vote in obscurelow-turnout elections. The turnout on Tuesday was the highest for anynonpresidential Massachusetts election in 20 years.
Democratic cocooners will tell themselves that Coakley was aterrible candidate who even managed to diss Curt Schilling. True, Brownhad Schilling. But Coakley had Obama. When the bloody sock beats thepresidential 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 legislativeagendas. Democrats, if they wish, can write off their Massachusettshumiliation to high unemployment, to Coakley or, the current favoriteamong sophisticates, to generalized anger. That implies an inchoate,unthinking lashing-out at whoever happens to be in power - even at yourliberal betters who are forcing on you an agenda that you can't evensee is in your own interest.
Democrats must so rationalize, otherwise they must takedemocracy seriously, and ask themselves: If the people really don'twant it, could they possibly have a point?
"If you lose Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call," saidmoderate - 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.