Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts is more than just a defeat for President Obama and the priorities his administration has established during his first year in office. It is an outright rejection of the “identity” politics he and his party have championed for more than a generation.
A friend of mine put it best when he asked me when the Democratic party ceased voicing the concerns of ordinary Americans, working-class Americans, ethnic voters, and people trying not just to make ends meet, but to actually get ahead? I told him 1972. That was the year the Democrats nominated George McGovern. They treated themselves to one heck of a convention at which group after group championed its “rights” and voiced its “grievances.” Come fall, Nixon won 49 states. Massachusetts was the sole state McGovern carried, along with the District of Columbia. Tonight Massachusetts finally caught up with the rest of the country. How Obama reacts will determine the fate of his presidency, along with that of the country.
History may remember tonight’s Massachusetts returns as the vindication of the Cambridge cop. Last summer, readers will recall, the White House demanded yet another hour of prime time from the networks. It promised that at last the president would spell out the kind of health-care plan he would support. At the end of a boring hour, Obama came to life when Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asked him to comment on the case of the Harvard professor and the Cambridge cop. Interestingly, in the absence of facts, the president — who, citing “pending investigations,” chooses not to comment on what the government did or did not know about what led to the attacks at Fort Hood and the attempted Christmas Day plane bombing — declared that the Cambridge police, in responding to a call about a possible burglary, “acted stupidly” in arresting an African-American professor in his own home.
All parties, including the professor, maintained at the time that the professor had been anything but “cooperative” with the officer who had answered a neighbor’s call. For weeks, the nation engaged in yet another of its periodic “conversations” about race. It was a scene worthy of The Bonfire of the Vanities: A white Cambridge police officer, having been praised for his work to promote diversity and tolerance, residing in a modest home, becomes a nationally known figure, courtesy of the president of the United States. Meanwhile, the African-American professor, reported to own more than one European-made luxury car, as well as a summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, talks of pending book deals and PBS documentaries about the case. The endless “dialogue” ended in a celebrated “beer summit,” with the officer carefully “muzzled” by his union handlers.
One cannot help but wonder how many uniformed personnel voted for Ms. Coakley this week. She probably destroyed any chance she had with many of them the instant she suggested that pro-life Catholics should not work in emergency rooms. Many of the rest took a walk after she confessed all but total ignorance about her state’s beloved Boston Red Sox.
Democrats in Washington, in their insistence on ramming through some version of health-care “reform” — the voters be damned — bring to mind the knight in the old Monty Python movie who, after losing all four limbs, insists on taking on his assailant with his tongue. As the Democrats rush full steam ahead into a buzz saw, the GOP has choices of its own to make. Will they allow the media and their opposition to cast them as the Party of No, or will they demonstrate that, after losing their way at least since 2006, they are capable of governing? A few suggestions:
1) Do not gloat. Commend the people of Massachusetts on the wise choice they made and on their good judgment. Hail Scott Brown’s win as the first step on a long road to building a 50-state Republican party.
2) Call upon the president to start again on health care, and offer your help.
3) Offer to support a scaled-back version of pending legislation while demanding the following provisions as the price of GOP support:
– a provision mandating that insurance not be denied to people with pre-existing conditions.
– language allowing portability of coverage from job to job.
– elimination of lifetime “caps” on coverage for diseases like cancer.
– assurance of nationwide competition by providers to lower costs.
– ceilings on malpractice claims.
For the first time in many years, the GOP may find itself in a “win/win” position. If it takes the “make them say no” approach, the Republican party can force Obama to choose between knee-jerk allegiance to his leftist base and actually doing something that will work to the benefit of the American people. If the president and his team reject the GOP’s extended hand, they will come across to voters as exceedingly partisan and divisive. If Democrats move in their direction, the voters will regard the Republicans as both reasonable and right. They will enter the 2010 election perfectly poised to add significantly to their numbers both in Congress and in state houses across the nation.
Building on their Massachusetts win, Republicans should call upon the president to focus on issues of primary concern to the American people, like jobs. They should offer clear alternatives to what Obama proposes and seek voter input and comment through the kind of social networking Scott Brown perfected in his campaign. His voice will be one that extends well beyond the borders of Massachusetts.
– Alvin S. Felzenberg, author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, is writing a book about NR founder William F. Buckley Jr.