OUR OPINION -- It started with Scott Brown
Scott Brown's election in January brought the Democratic Party to its moment of truth. The party's stubborn refusal to acknowledge that fact helped generate Tuesday's results. Think back: In December, the U.S. Senate passed health care reform, a ...
Scott Brown's election in January brought the Democratic Party to its moment of truth.
The party's stubborn refusal to acknowledge that fact helped generate Tuesday's results.
In December, the U.S. Senate passed health care reform, a landmark measure potentially on par with Medicare and Social Security in its historic impact.
But the health care reform vote was different: No Republican senators voted "Aye." Senate Democrats could pass the measure only because they had 60 seats, a magic number they'd enjoyed since the swearing-in of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., a few months earlier.
In contrast, Medicare, Social Security, welfare reform and comparable pieces of legislation had passed with significant bipartisan support.
How would the country respond to the Senate action: With applause for the Democrats for their forceful vote on a vital reform?
Or with frowns and folded arms for the senators' determination to push through a controversial win?
A few weeks later, a bellwether election rendered a verdict in unmistakable and unforgettable terms.
Republican Scott Brown won a U.S. Senate seat.
But not just any Senate seat. Brown won a Senate seat in Massachusetts, a famously "blue" place that was the only state to support George McGovern for president in 1972.
And not just any Massachusetts Senate seat. Brown won the seat that had been held by Ted Kennedy, the "Lion of the Senate" and a Massachusetts icon who'd made health care reform a centerpiece of his career.
Moreover, Brown campaigned not on supporting health-care reform but on killing it. That is, he vowed to be the GOP's 41st "Nay" vote, thereby denying Democrats their filibuster-proof majority and dooming the reform (when and if it needed another Senate vote).
At that point, congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama faced a crucial choice:
Pull back? Or press on?
The party chose to press on.
A few weeks later, health care reform passed the House, thereby making it all the way through Congress without a single Republican voting in support.
American voters passed their own judgment Tuesday on the Democrats' strategy. At press time for this editorial, analysts were projecting that the party would lose 55-plus House seats.
Tuesday was the Massachusetts Senate race writ large.
Yes, the economy also played a huge role. But a virtue of bipartisanship is that it enables not only shared credit but also shared blame. If President Barack Obama had heeded "the shot heard 'round the world" in Massachusetts, he would have declared that from that point onward, he'd sign major pieces of legislation only if they enjoyed bipartisan support.
Such a declaration would have defused the partisan element of Americans' anger, including anger over the economy.
When Congress wants to pass major reforms, Americans want both parties to lend significant support. That's the only way to ensure the broad, supermajority "buy in" that such reforms need to be effective over the long haul.
Tuesday's results schooled the Democrats on that lesson. Now Republicans must learn it, too. If and only if "each party's calmer heads assert themselves after this vote," as the nearby Dallas Morning News editorial urges, then America at last will be on its way to solving its most serious problems.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald