Massachusetts voters tell Democrats to shelve ObamaCare.'It is to me a new and consolatory proof that wherever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."
—Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, January 8, 1789.
Two hundred and twenty-one years later, the sage of Monticello has been proven right again. Aroused and well-informed by a year of watching a liberal majority go very far wrong, Massachusetts voters handed a Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for 47 years to Republican Scott Brown, a little known state senator from Wrenthem.
The resounding five-point victory in one of America's most liberal states is an upset heard 'round Washington—and one that ought to force Democrats to rethink their entire agenda, national health care in particular. Despite an 11th-hour intervention by President Obama in a state he carried with ease only 14 months ago, state Attorney General Martha Coakley was routed even in such unlikely tea-party outposts as Andover (58%) and amid a large turnout for a midwinter special election.
***Democratic delusionists are already attributing Mrs. Coakley's defeat solely to her weaknesses as a candidate, and those were real enough (Curt Schilling, "Yankee fan"). But the last time the Bay State elected a Republican to the Senate was 1972, and a mere 15% of state voters now belong to the GOP. Mr. Brown won because moderates and independents swarmed to him, and because he had the wit and nerve to make the race a referendum on Democratic policies in Washington.
The White House insists that the election had nothing to do with health care. But Mr. Brown ran explicitly on a promise to be the 41st Senator against ObamaCare. "I can stop it,'' he declared in one debate.
Massachusetts passed a prototype of the Obama plan in 2006, and residents have since watched as their insurance premiums have risen to the highest in the nation, budget costs have soared, and bureaucrats are planning far more draconian regulation of medical practice. Mr. Brown accurately said the national sequel would be too expensive and reduce the quality of care, and that it would be a "raw deal" forcing Massachusetts taxpayers to subsidize all other states.
It's telling, too, that at his rally for Mrs. Coakley on Sunday, Mr. Obama mentioned health care only by implication. The Commander in Chief did find time to deride Mr. Brown's pickup truck—six separate times. Mrs. Coakley also didn't mention health care in her final TV ad. The Democratic Party's top priority had become such a political albatross that Democrats didn't dare mention it lest it drive more votes to Mr. Brown.
***The question now is how Democrats will respond to this historic election rebuke. Only a fleeting supermajority and corrupt logrolling has allowed ObamaCare to advance as far as it has, but many liberals will be tempted to keep telling voters to shut up and learn to like what Democrats give them. "Let's remove all doubt," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters this week. "We will have health care one way or another."
Sometimes politicians really are as obtuse as they seem.
One of those Pelosi ways would be to delay certifying the election or seating Mr. Brown, and then rushing a bill to a vote in the next 15 days. But even liberals can't relish that spectacle of disdain for voters. Another option is to use the budget reconciliation process that would require only 51 Senators. But that would take several more months of committee work and controversy when the White House desperately wants to move on to jobs and its "austerity budget."
A third bloody-minded option would be for the House to pass the Senate's Christmas Eve bill, word for word without amendment. Liberals might swallow that humiliation, but then again ObamaCare only slipped through the House by an eyelash before Thanksgiving, and the bill keeps getting more unpopular.
Many Members may be curled on the floor in a fetal position now that the GOP has won even in the People's Republic of Massachusetts. (We'd love to eavesdrop on the next Blue Dog caucus meeting, or Indiana Senator Evan Bayh's conversations with his pollster.) And assuming they're not paper tigers, Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) and his band of 10 or so pro-life Democrats have said they can't accept the Senate language on funding abortions.
Even if one of these partisan efforts in brute political force succeeded in passing a bill, the effort would only further enrage the public and lead to an even larger Democratic rout in November.
The sensible alternative would be for Democrats to concede how badly they have misread the mandate of their 2008 victory and the public mood. They were elected to fix the economy and to replace a tapped-out GOP, not to exhume and pass every dead 20th-century liberal dream.
The place to start such a rethinking is on health care, by dumping the House and Senate bills and negotiating one that can attract Republican votes. A de minimis package that fixed some of the cost-drivers embedded in the tax code and added refundable tax credits to help the uninsured wouldn't be our policy ideal, but it would be better than the vast new entitlement spending, taxation and central planning that is ObamaCare. Mr. Brown (like everyone) says he supports universal coverage, and what an irony it would be if he and other Republicans ultimately voted for a more moderate plan that saved Democrats from their worst ideological obsessions.
More broadly, Mr. Brown's entire platform was built on change in Washington, and his candidacy tapped into the economic anxiety and political estrangement that voters feel nationwide. The electorate is livid about bailouts, blowout spending and the coming tax increases that Democrats will claim are necessary because of the deficits they have created.
On the economy, Mr. Brown didn't merely oppose tax increases; he was forthright in proposing across the board tax cuts to spur the economy. One of his ads cited JFK's supply-side cuts, and Democrats would be wise to heed that message and reconsider their desire to let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year. Cap and tax on energy, easier unionization and higher estate taxes should all be dropped as burdens holding back job creation and the pace of the economic recovery.