Why Massachusetts' Senate race matters

Michael Gerson
Copyright 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010; 11:11 PM

So, a Republican has convincingly won Ted Kennedy???s former Senate seat. After opposing health reform. And supporting the waterboarding of terrorists. And appearing as a nude centerfold. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one. And where Republicans haven???t won a Senate election since 1972. After a high-profile visit by President Obama. Who won the state by 26 points last year. But who now carries no political weight in the bluest state in the country. With vicious, public recriminations starting among Democrats even before election day. Following major losses in Virginia and New Jersey. All of which led one popular Democratic blog to argue: ???Why Massachusetts doesn???t matter.??? Well, it does matter. It means a president who no longer inspires political fear. It means moderate Senate Democrats -- such as Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln -- who now feel nothing but fear from angry voters. It means that cap-and-trade legislation and immigration reform are on life support. It means that Rahm Emanuel???s ???big bang??? theory of legislative liberalism is the most foolish political strategy in recent memory. It means that spending political capital on health reform instead of economic recovery and growth was a dreadful error. It means that a crisis that Obama didn???t want to waste has largely been wasted. The response of prominent Democratic thinkers? "Since Americans think we are arrogant, let???s cram health reform down their throats, employing legislative trickery." There is only one explanation for this remarkable turn of events. Americans thought Obama was a moderate. He certainly sounded like one. But now he is attempting to remake one seventh of the economy in a quick march of party-line votes. In the process, he has alienated independents in large numbers -- even in Massachusetts. Obama now has the highest disapproval rating in the history of Gallup polling for a president entering his second year in office. He has been handed a series of political humiliations. If he takes all of this as motivation to ???stay the course,??? the humiliations have only begun.

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