In recent days, Barack Obama gathered with House and Senate Democrats in the Cabinet Room of the White House to “negotiate” health care. They no doubt grew alarmed as Scott Brown surged in the polls, but they seemed strangely unaware that their very actions — meeting behind closed doors in a rump legislative conference from which Republicans were excluded — were fueling the outrage that would make possible a Brown victory.
Even worse, when asked the impact on health care by a Brown victory, they sketched out various scenarios, from not immediately seating Brown to passing the bill under reconciliation, requiring only 51 Senate votes. The unceasing message to Massachusetts voters was that their vote did not count.
The House and Senate health care bills are, of course, not popular with the public. Bad legislation is not enough, however, to make Tea Partiers take to the streets in every corner of the country, or for this most improbable of election results. It takes something bigger. And that bigger something is the arrogance of the White House and Congressional leaders since they assumed total control one year ago. The arrogance resulted from having total control, particularly the 60-vote Senate Supermajority.
But this power was their Achilles heel. They failed to understand that the big and powerful are seldom judged for what they do because they have the power, but for how they treat those who don’t. The ultimate test of the credibility of a majority is how they treat the minority. In the United States, it cannot be at the expense of democratic norms and basic fair play. When there is no need to cheat and you cheat anyway because you assume that you can get away with it, you forfeit the overwhelming trust that created your mandate in the first place.
Scott Brown went all over the state but his message seldom varied. He stayed on message, and it usually went something like this:
This race is about more than just the health care bill. It is really about the lack of civility in Washington, the fact that there is no conversation. A lot of things are being done behind closed doors, and it is inappropriate. We can do better.
This deliberate understatement showed that Brown understood that ordinary people are upset in a way that transcends political ideology and affiliation. He did not have to inflame this discontent. All he had to do was ride it. Does Obama yet understand it?
When debate moderator David Gergen made reference to the “Kennedy seat,” Brown corrected him to say that it was the “people’s seat.” The Washington establishment never gave a second thought to the propriety of appointing Paul Kirk to the seat after Kennedy died, his qualification being that he was Kennedy’s personal friend and that he had the approval of the Kennedy family.
This positively un-American idea that a Senate seat is a private sinecure belonging to a particular family — even if it was the Kennedys — was not lost on Bay Staters.
Kirk’s appointment involved particularly crass politics and great hypocrisy. In 2004, the Massachusetts legislature took away the authority of the governor to fill Senate vacancies, to prevent then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, from appointing a Republican to fill the rest of Democrat John Kerry’s Senate term, should Kerry win the 2004 presidential election. The legislation was enacted over Romney’s veto. In September 2009, the legislature restored the Governor’s appointment power, so that unpopular Democratic Governor Deval Patrick could appoint Kirk.
Nor did the Washington crowd understand that Teddy was always much more popular with the national press corps than he ever was with the people of Massachusetts. Yes, he was repeatedly re-elected but he was not so much loved as tolerated. Like elsewhere, he was an embarrassment and the punch line for jokes.
The vast majority of independent voters who elected Brown have never attended a Tea Party but their motivation is the same. The arrogance of the present regime that includes the news media had to be taught a lesson. This is a full-fledged popular rebellion, conducted within the confines of peaceful dissent and democratic elections.
How many ways has Obama poisoned the political system? There’s the nine-figure bribes of Senator Ben Nelson (D-IA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The union bosses were bribed, too. There’s the now-laughable pledge to allow CSPAN into health care “negotiations.” Of course, when the bill was before the House, no one was allowed to read it.
There’s the plan to crush the private sector so that it could never be an impediment to Obama’s new order. The deals with the Big Pharma and insurance companies on health care was as much the result of intimidation as it was opportunism by unprincipled corporate executives. The message was to get behind Obama on health care — or else.
There’s the auto bailout, when Obama used TARP funds without statutory authority. (The one time Congress voted on the auto bailout, it voted it down.) And then he snuffed out GM bondholders, who were not only “speculators,” as Obama characterized them, but also thousands of middle-class investors and retirees. This was an unconstitutional theft of private property outside of bankruptcy. The loot — GM equity — was handed over to the United Auto Workers, whose boss Ron Gettelfinger, bragged to his membership that the union made no concessions.
The $787 billion stimulus was advanced in bad faith, aimed not at reviving the economy but at rescuing Democratic governors and mayors who had spent themselves into deep holes. The accountability provided by regular elections was thus blunted. Instead of being voted out, spendthrift politicians were bailed out.
And then there is a host of actions to prop up Wall Street firms at the expense of taxpayers. The latest outrage is contained in the emails of the New York Federal Reserve, then headed by Timothy Geithner. The New York Fed sought to keep secret the fact that the AIG bailout would result in Goldman Sachs and other credit default swap counterparties getting 100 cents on the dollar while taxpayers were being forced to kick in tens of billions. For this service to Wall Street, Obama appointed tax cheat Geithner to be Treasury Secretary.
Sensing rising public anger at the Wall Street bailouts, Obama now proposes a fee on TARP recipients to “get out money back.” Only a demagogue would hand over billions to the banks and then act as though he had nothing to do with it. In the campaign’s closing days, Coakley echoed Obama’s attacks but they apparently fell flat.
The dichotomy between the Democratic establishment and the people they think are their constituency was on full display during Bill Clinton’s Boston visit on Friday. The resultant sound bite was an attack on Tea Party activists. Clinton apparently believed that linking Brown to the Tea Partiers would somehow hurt Brown. The only problem is that in public opinion polls, the nonparty Tea Party is viewed more favorably than the Democratic or Republican parties. (Clinton also mangled history, claiming that the original Boston Tea Party was not anti-government but a protest against “abuses” of government. I guess he never heard of King George or the armed rebellion known as the American Revolution.)
Tip O’Neill once famously said, “All politics is local.” It might also be said that all corruption is local. The last three Speakers of the Massachusetts House have been indicted. State Senator Dianne Wilkerson was photographed by the FBI stuffing $1,000 bribes into her bra. One of her colleagues, Senator Anthony Galluccio was on probation for drunk driving, only to flunk his first probation Breathalyzer test. The state’s governor, Deval Patrick, has an approval rating in the 35% range. Patrick was right up there with Obama and Coakley on Sunday. A vote for Brown was a vote against the entire “machine.”
My jaw dropped as I watched YouTube clips of Brown’s visit on Sunday to the central Massachusetts city of Worcester, where I grew up. His foot-stomping event inside Mechanics Hall and his raucous welcome outside as his bus pulled in had the same intensity I witnessed at Town Hall and Tea Party events during 2009. I will not detail Worcester politics. Trust me, they are the bluest of the blue. Words like “stunning” and “amazing” will be thrown around but they do not come close to describing what took place today.
In 1967, I was eleven years old. The Red Sox won the American League pennant for the first time since 1946. Even though they lost the seventh game of the World Series, the season was about as improbable as it gets. In fact, the season was known as “The Impossible Dream.” For Brown and his supporters, and for anyone who has ever loved the Bay State but given up on its corrupt politics, it is a fitting theme.