So there goes Mass of all places and, with it, perhaps health care. And maybe the Obama presidency. Or maybe not.
Here are a quick few conclusions I draw from this spectacle:
-- We knew all along that the Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008 owed in great part to rejection of George W. Bush and a bankrupt Republican Party more than it did to a pro-active love for Democrats.
-- The election of Barack Obama did not heal the racial divide in America. He merely and temporarily bridged it because he was, indeed, an inspiring alternative to the crumb-bum Bushies (and that includes a dottering McCain and a wacky Palin). But as soon as elected and the shine was off, the racial divide widened up again led by those strange creatures known as "independents" ( i.e. basically conservative white folks who look upon politics the way hotel guests view room service).
-- Once in power, the Democrats garishly demonstrated their inability not only to enact meaningful, swift and profound reform but also revealed a basic inability to provide leadership on any major issue.
-- The person of Barack Obama remains one of great integrity and intelligence but he has clearly erred in too closely following a Clintonista strategy embodied in such dubious characters as Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers.
-- Obama conceded way too much power to a feckless and literally corrupt Congress. He pandered to such dolts as Baucus and Lieberman instead of going to the Hill early on and sternly warning his delegation that he was elected on a mandate of real change and real change is what he wanted and wanted NOW.
-- The principal cause of the Democratic defeat tonight and in previous by-elections has nothing to do, whatsoever, with Obama trying to do too much, moving the party too far to the left (as the mindless pundits argue) nor in any specific policy decision per se. It owes primarily to a 10% unemployment rate ( really a 17% rate) and tremendous economic insecurity and fear. The economic recovery program was, in fact, a necessary evil for which Obama gets too little credit. But it was insufficient and has done little to nothing to touch the lives of ordinary Americans.
-- The wallowing around of congressional Democrats and the lack of clear strategic leadership on the part of the White House opened the door to the absurdity of a zombie-fied and discredited Republican Party being able to pose as the challengers to the economic elites. Rather fantastic. But not wholly baffling. After all, when you cut the sort of deals that the Dems have with Wall Street and Big Pharma like those we have seen the past year, it makes it all too easy for the Republicans to look like pitchfork populists.
-- He might be a font of conventional wisdom but this time around Howard Fineman hit it out of the park when he said: "Obama took all his winnings and turned them over to Max Baucus." Amen.
-- This isn't the end of the world as we know it, but it's a 7.0 political earthquake. Please don't mistake me for someone who gives two s...s about the Democrats. I gave up on them 'round about 1965. But I do deeply resent that they make me and everyone else around here live in a country that can't meet its great potential and that must suffer the further indignity of spending most our time living under Republican rule.
-- My best guess is that the Democrats will now fold on health care. The House might pass the Senate bill as is, which would be better than nothing, but I doubt there is enough political courage to go forward. After the euphoria of last year's election it might be hard to believe that exactly one year after Obama's inauguration the Democrats will give up the ship. Yet, that is exactly where the smart money should be tonight.
-- The only succor I get from this debacle is that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the DNC have perfectly met my dismal expectations. It's an unfortunate way to be right. But better it is to be validated than to be heart-broken.
-- Josh Marshall, bless his soul, has offered up in quick and dirty form, a proposed way forward for Barack Obama. It's a nice idea:
The central problem the president is laboring under is the fact that the economy remains in a shambles. And unemployment remains at a toxic 10%. Beyond that though the Democrats are suffering because they have shown voters an image of fecklessness and inability to deliver results at a moment of great public anxiety and suffering. Big changes provoke great anxiety, especially in such a divided society. But Democrats are not just having dealing with the ideological divisions in the country -- which is what the Tea Party movement is about. They're also losing a big swathe of the population that is losing faith that the Democrats can govern, that they can even deliver on the reforms and policies they say are necessary for the national good. As I wrote earlier, this is about meta-politics. If the Democrats, either from the left or the right, walk away from reform, they will get slaughtered in November. They'll get it from the people who want reform, from the people who never wanted reform and from sensible people all over who just think they can't get anything done.
What the Democrats -- and a lot of this is on the White House -- have done is get so deep into the inside game of legislative maneuvering, this and that 'gang' of senators and a lot of other nonsense that they've let themselves out of sync with the public mood and the people's needs.
The president needs to find way to say, we've heard you. We've gotten so focused on working the Washington channels to get this thing done that we've lost a sense of the public's mood and urgency. Well, we've heard you. We're going to stop playing around and get this thing done. And then we're going to work on getting Americans back to work. We know the urgency of the moment and we know you expect results.
I've written this quickly. I would not consider it a polished version of anything the president should say. But I think the gist is right. This is the biggest testing time the president has yet faced. It could be a key turning point in his presidency. Over the next forty-eight hours the president is going to come under withering pressure to walk away from reform. It'll come from the left and the right, and in various different flavors. It will come from shocking directions. The president is going to have to find a way to say, No. We're doing this. He'll need to stand down a lot of cowardly and foolish people in his own party. He'll have to stand down the vast and formless force of establishment punditry and just say, No. We're going to do this. And he's going to have to make the case to the public, not necessarily convince all those who have doubts about health care reform but make clear that he thinks this is the right direction for the country and that he's going to make it happen.
We'll see. Meantime, I would be buying some health insurance corporate stock.