Yesterday's election of a Republican Senator in Massachusetts to the seat held for many years by the late Ted Kennedy has been referred to as "the shot heard round the country," and as a "kick-mass" election. Was last night's upset a massacre in Massachusetts? Hardly... but what happened last night should be an obvious warning that both Democrats and Republicans need to heed, though they probably won't.
The 2008 election that thrust Barack Obama into the presidency and gave greater majorities to the Democrats in Congress was a change election as everyone knows. Independent voters, who always decide elections, and who feel little to no loyalty to either political party, were fed up with Republican overreach in foreign policy and domestic spending. The Democrats, however, misread what change really meant for the Independent. Perceiving that the rejection of the partisan right meant an embracing of the partisan left, they set out acting in the same extreme ways that got the Republicans in trouble. Independent voters wanted change, which meant not more of the same, which is exactly what they received in the form of huge deficit spending and health care legislation that smelled of backroom deals and special perks for some states while taking away those same perks from others. What the Independent voter has been witnessing is not the routine give and take and compromise of a democracy, but bribery in its extreme form. It is one thing to give money for a bike path to a state in exchange for educational funds to another. But to take away Medicare Advantage from all seniors except those in the state of Florida in exchange for a vote, or to exempt health insurance companies in Nebraska from paying taxes on the new health care legislation, while companies in the other states will have to foot a big part of the bill, or to exempt "Cadillac" health insurance plans from taxation for unions, while the same kind of non-union insurance plans will be taxed, went too far beyond the acceptable compromises of the democratic process. Whether special favors are given to Halliburton or the UAW, to oil companies or pharmaceutical companies, independent voters see them as unfair.
I continue to say that most elections are not enthusiastic endorsements of the party people put in power. In 2009 the voters gave the Democrats the keys to the American political house and just like the Republicans before them they proceeded to trash it like a frat party on a Friday night. Yesterday's election in Massachusetts cannot simply be explained as a bad Democratic candidate, though that certainly is part of it. Neither can it only be understood by saying the Democrats failed to get their message out about health care, though they were not always clear. These are the excuses the losers always make regardless of party affiliation, likely because of the unwillingness to admit that perhaps the Independent voters just don't like their policies. Scott Brown specifically campaigned on the promise that if he were elected, he would not vote for the current health care legislation.
What happened in Massachusetts was that Independent voters will not tolerate politicians out of control. And any Republicans who think that Scott Brown's election was an reaffirmation of their brand are deceiving themselves as well. While Brown did not deny his party affiliation, he did not have any national Republicans campaign for him and he was very clear to state his independence, even from his own party. The Republicans are not on the rise with this election-- rather incumbents are sinking fast. This happens when the people want change. Independents voted for change in 2008, but they have not received the kind of change they voted for, so yesterday they had no trouble voting for change one year later.
Health care reform is needed and I support health care reform, though I do not support the current plan. This kind of legislation must have bipartisan support. Historically, most of the major legislative successes in our country have been bipartisan. But it appears that the only time that can happen is when one party is in the White House and the other controls Capitol Hill. Then they have no choice but to deal with each other. Currently the Democrats have no more incentive to work in bipartisan fashion with Republicans than the Republicans had in reference to the Democrats when they ran everything. Only a divided government can create the kind of health care reform that is needed and will work.
I know that partisans on the left and on the right think differently. But the partisans must understand that while the base may drive both parties, the Independents decide elections. Too many partisan Democrats want moderate Democrats in the South so they can control Congress, and too many partisan Republicans want moderate Republicans in the Northeast so that they too can control Congress; but then they want them to shut up and toe the party line and vote as partisans. Many partisans in both parties are not the "big tent party" people they claim to be.
What it finally comes down to is that most independent voters believe that partisans on the left and the right often lack common sense when it comes to government. Yesterday's election was an attempt to return a little sanity to Washington DC.
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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian