So This Is What an Election Is Like

Martha Coakley just called me for, oh, the fifteenth time over the long weekend. I get multiple fliers in my mailbox every day. People from other states are calling me and asking me to volunteer. I’m sure I would be seeing nonstop ads on TV, except I don’t watch TV. All this started within the last week when, as many news outlets have noted, the Democrats woke up and realized they might actually lose Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

We’re not used to competitive elections here in Massachusetts, certainly not competitive elections with national implications. But this one is huge. The Republicans have been admirably or distressingly able, depending on your perspective, to hold forty votes against more or less anything the Democrats and President Obama want to accomplish, including health care reform. I think it’s a fairly easy bet that if Coakley loses, health care reform is dead until 2013 at the earliest, since there is no chance the Republicans will allow anything that looks like an accomplishment to occur if they can possibly help it. So if you live in Massachusetts, and you care about health care reform one way or the other, you should take the time to vote tomorrow.

Update: A friend emailed to point out that should Brown win, the House Democrats could pass the Senate bill, which presumably would not then have to go back to the Senate to be voted on again. (If the conference committee modifies the Senate bill, then it would have to go back.) Then some provisions could be modified through the budget reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes. So a Coakley defeat might not be the end.

As for the comment about whether the Democrats could have negotiated with the Republicans to pick off one or two votes, they tried that for months–first via the Baucus Group of Six, then later directly with Snowe. Snowe ended up pulling out saying that the Democrats were rushing the bill, when they had spent several months talking to her specifically.

By James Kwak

50 thoughts on “So This Is What an Election Is Like

  1. It is certainly shaping up to be a squeaker.

    I think the Democrats took the MA electorate for granted, and forgot that you still have to run somebody who, like, lives in the state or has some sort of personality or something. (John Kerry notwithstanding.)

    Although I still believe MA will revert to form and hand Coakley her entitlement.

  2. Dear Baseline Scenario: When can we expect a piece on MIT’s
    Ricardo Caballero’s exercise in, well, providing “intellectual” cover
    for incompetence? How does he not get his license to teach revoked?

  3. Thank you for reasoned appeal to voters to exercise their right without shrill invective against either party. Although I am not a Mass. voter – I agree that the implications are enormous for our nation. I appreciate your non-biased appeal to your readers intelligence.

  4. I am a Independent Massachusetts voter and would never vote Republican. And when I got a person calling for the Republican trying to scare me – literally using the words “socialism” and “communism” – my opinion was reinforced. It is hard when you have a major talk radio station that is dedicated to ridiculous descriptions of Democrats. We never seem to be able to rise above this stupidity. So the Republicans keep us from any real progress and the Democrats are too moderate.

  5. Neither party really seems set to pass reform that will truly accomplish the two original goals: reduce overall health care costs AND reduce insurance premiums. I’m really not sure either party is going to do us any good. I’d almost rather watch the system burn COMPLETELY to the ground so that we really do have to have reform that accomplishes both goals. Allowing the Republicans to keep stomping their feet and saying “No” would accomplish that.

    Then there’s the camp of “Well making even the current inadequate changes would beat changing nothing”, which is true… but if I’m going to be shackled to a federal mandate to pay additional RENT simply to EXIST in this country, I sure would like to have an up side to the arrangement.

  6. You’ve got to be kidding! Are you from the extortion is better than nothing crowd? Health care reform my A$$. Next, you’ll be saying we better reelect Obama or suffer through Palin. IMHO, the sooner the whole corrupt system sinks the better. I wouldn’t vote for one of these clowns if they still offered free drinks on election day.

  7. this is d day for the democrats ,healthcare reform, financial system reform, global warming regulations, etc. Lose this race , lose the Senate filibuster vote. Might as well go home for the next 3 years unless they are willing to go the reconciliation route might they have been relutant to use.

  8. I am a registered Republican in Massachusetts, but I’m an academic first. And it’s for precisely this reason that I’m voting for Coakley tomorrow.

    To everyone out there who intend to sit out tomorrow’s election as a protest vote, I’d recommend reading more Alan Blinder and Brad DeLong, in order to gain a better understanding of how little power liberal Democrats have in Washington…

  9. Alot of academics are registering as Republicans of late. It has become uncomfortable and difficult to explain away how virtually 100% of academics are liberal…democrats…with an agenda…and no counterpoint/counter perspective in academia. Thus, a few academics have recently registered on paper as Republicans, to at least make the percentage 90/10, so they can point to the “representative diversity” of thought and perspective.

  10. Everyone always believes that the legislators of the other party are monolithic and possess a military level of discipline and command – obeying orders without question from the higher headquarters. It just doesn’t work that way.

    Few are willing to concede the possibility that our universe contains other possible compromise health-reform bills that might have garnered a strong-enough consensus to have a bit of a buffer over the bare minimum 60, get a *gasp* Republican or two on board, and that wouldn’t, therefore, have ended up in a moment where our entire future hangs precariously on the result of a single special election tomorrow. That a little less stubbornness and winner-take-all, get-as-much-as-we-possibly-can attitude might have avoided this situation.

    Indeed, I’ve read a few “What if Brown wins?” Democratic strategy rumors which seems to hint a possible tactic could be answering the question of, “What additional ideological sweeteners do we need to put in here in order to get the most reform-sympathetic Republican (usually named as Senator Snowe) on the team?”

    Would it have killed the dogmatists to have tried such sweetening (maybe in the kum-bah-yah spirit of bipartisanship or whatever) prior to a moment of crisis?

  11. Let me premise this comment with these two statements.
    1) I was a city, county, district and state delegate for Obama in the 2008 election in the single most important state to his ultimate election. I regret.
    2) I was a city, county, district, and state delegate for the Republican party in 2006 in an effort to bring moderation to the party’s platform. I failed.

    To call the current abonimation “reform” is a travesty.

    Let’s see:
    1) Ridiculous insurance antitrust exemption-intact-NOT REFORMED
    2) Pharmaceutical prices negotiated like every other country on the planet-no-the U.S. will continue to pay a minimum of 3-4 times what any other country on the planet pays-NOT REFORMED
    3)Insurance mandate-YES-required to purchase with sanctions if one doesn’t-and unfunded mandates-mandatory insurance company market increased-NOT REFORMED
    4)Single payer-no-NOT REFORMED
    5)Costs-not reduced, cost increases-not checked-NOT REFORMED
    6)etc, etc, etc.

    To call this mess reform is a joke and assumes Americans are uniquely stupid. It panders to pharma-no price negotiation. It panders to insurance-mandates, subsidies, and no cost controls. It does not remove antitrust exemption. It does not provide competition. It does not offer single payer.

    The only viable Reform option has been, and continues to be unequivocally demonstrated to be a single payer “socialized” system like those employed in every single other OECD Country on the planet for the last several decades, and every other civilized country on the planet for that matter.

    Democrats don’t get it. Replicans don’t get it. Which is why I now live in Vancouver, BC, Canada where healthcare is a complete non-issue, runs and operates as a utility, and everyone gets on with life and productive activity….

  12. Agreed. Push in the clutch and rap her to 15,000 rpms and watch her blow…then we can rebuild in a way that makes sense instead of this continued approach of cobbled together, bailing wire and duct tape, layered, incrementalist status quo garbage.

  13. Indy, thats all the process has been so far is a continuious movement towards the right on HC reform, but it is never enough for the GOP. There is absolutely no way to appease them. People like you seem to have very short memories. We spent all summer with the “gang of 6” where the GOP had equal say even though they were in a rather distinct minority. When did the GOP ever show that sort of bipartisanship when they were in control of Congress?

  14. James, you probably live in an affluent neighborhood (educated guess). Also you contributed to a couple campaigns (although all of them well-intentioned, one of them for a soulless philanderer who would stick his wet finger in the wind to see which way the wind told him he should vote). You put yourself under every mailing list and automated phone list under the sky when you do that James. Again it’s well-intentioned, and God bless you for it, but you knew what was going to happen.

  15. Also…. the Curt Schilling statement from Coakley was just dumbass James, sorry dumbass is the only way to say it, just pure dumbass. Michael Capuano was a much much much better candidate. EXCEEDINGLY better.

  16. Are we really seeing the rise of an anti incumbency vote that might be expressed at the primary elections?

  17. Chris Matthews and others have said what you said in the update. I put it at 40% James (that they will just pass the original bill in the House). It’s another example of lily-livered Democrats leaving Obama out there as the only man with courage. When you look at how lazy Democrats were in the Massachusetts race, making Obama go down there to create a miracle, it ALMOST, I say ALMOST explains why Rahm Emmanuel is so cowardly in scheduling Obama’s public appearances.

  18. Well Daryl, it’s easy to look at all them perfessers and say “librull bias.” It takes a little deeper thought to consider the possibility that if you make using your brain your life’s work, then it’s not that hard to realize that modern conservatism (at least since Gingrich) is intellectually vapid, morally bankrupt, and economically unsound.


  19. Democrats could always have come up with a bill that didn’t totally suck and was more popular.

  20. The update news is going to piss off the friends and relatives that I have interviewed this past week even more. They are more angry at congressional shenanigans than anything else. For the most part in my interviews with voters, democrats are bolting because they are angry at Pelosi and Reid.

    The local economy here is in deep, deep trouble. Most of the persons I talked with are not the ones who are suffering but they still intend to bolt. They see the bank larceny as a more central issue to fix. To put their attitude into a few words, they ask: why doesn’t Pelosi, Reid, and the president take on the real problems that are plaguing our nation?

    If Brown wins here tomorrow that will be what does it; not his stand as the 41st senator. People I talk to do not care enough about that issue. I see the revolt as a way to warn President Obama of what he is sure to face next November if he does not get hopping on the economy.

  21. I don’t understand Independents at all. You say you won’t vote for a Republican, that’s fine. Besides Dems, which I’m one of, what other choices do you have in this country? – there are some. But, they don’t have a chance in hell, until perhaps after the revolution, whenever that happens. Therefore, what’s the point of being an Independent? It must be a feel good thing. I hope Coakley gets in.

  22. Not without their handlers at the pharmas and insurers cutting off their allowance. In light of that realization I can give you the number of people in the house and senate willing to bite the hand that feeds: 0.

  23. It doesn’t look too promising for Ms. Coakley….

    Maybe more fallout for the spineless Dems in November as the R’s try and co-op the populist anger. Last Friday, Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska “asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to scratch Nebraska’s exemption and instead extend the Medicaid provision to all states” b/c the thought of subsidizing Nebraska by the rest of the country, in perpetuity, didn’t go over too well, not to mention the glaring reflection of his own low approval numbers.

    But, he should still be voted out of his Senate seat, along with Senators Joseph Lieberman (CN), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Blanche Lincoln (AR).

  24. “why doesn’t Pelosi, Reid, and the president take on the real problems that are plaguing our nation?”

    Because there are enough idiot Republicans in the way that they can’t get anything done?

    Seriously, all it would take is just a few with any brains at all….

  25. The persons I talked to included democrats and republicans. Both are sick of bad government in general. There was seemingly very little party issues. Democrats are willing to give up the seat in order to wake up their government. I was ready to bolt for similar reasons, but may not.

  26. I live in Canada and my sister said to me over Christmas:

    You’d think the Americans would have the decency and common sense to adopt universal health care.

    This just about says it all.

  27. Sometimes political frustrations of voter’s moves beyond the ability of political operatives and is moved by political Black Swans. There is a big political test at hand.

    A number of American students are still trapped in the Hotel Montana in Port Au Prince. Last night a distraught father begged Larry King to intercede to get American’s to rescue these students. LK said he would do what he could.

    Early this evening the same distraught parents were again on CNN personally begging the US Ambassador to Haiti, who was on CNN, to see to it that United States Troops be forthwith sent to the Hotel Montana for the benefit of US citizens.

    The Ambassador was equivocal and the distraught father told the Ambassador he expects the US to send 1000 soldiers to the Hotel Montana to search for the missing students. He then added that his child and the others deserve as much US attention as was lavished on the search for John F. Kennedy jr.

    Here is political dynamite that requires immediate attention of the Administration.This terrible problem will be playing out literally as the voters go to the polls in MA. If Obama does not honor the request of these two parents given the obvious disregard of the last 24 hours, he has a political problem that will not go away.

  28. Ever watch Fox News? Ever talk to the kind of people that actually take the “News” part seriously? Case closed.

  29. From the independents I’ve met, they’re quite a heterogeneous group.

    For the loudest ones, it is indeed mostly a feel good thing — people who’re personally insulted at President Obama and the Democrats’ waffling on specific issues (lack of single-payer, escalating the war in Afghanistan, Wall Street). But most of them are people like my mom — people marginally attached to politics, who vote sporadically, not very knowledgeable on the issues, and reliant on the news media for how to feel about the candidates.

    Personally, I think we are desensitized as to what a good president is, and we’ve grown too pessimistic as a society, with too many reasons to say no in politics. Here’s hoping Coakley wins.

  30. Unfortunately, decency and common sense have nothing to do with the analysis in the U.S. In the U.S. its not about providing a public good and a safety net that protects all citizens, spreads the costs, a provides health security for the population-as in Canada and the rest of the civilized world where straight forward, no-brainer single payer rules.

    It’s entirely about making money in the U.S.. And the U.S. is well past the point of no return in a number of Faustian bargains it has made-“healthcare” being one major one, with many sub-ones. Insurance companies are major employers-including in my former state of residence in the U.S.-in fact, the largest single employer in the state as an industry. Now, with 10% unemployment, the U.S. certainly can’t afford to scrap malevolent insurance companies-think of the job losses. The AMA controls the licensing of medical schools, the education slots limited, the curriculum, and keeps the number of doctors in the U.S. artificially low to keep costs artificially exhorbitant compared to OECD comparable rates. Pharma employs a lot of people, a lot of pensioners own pharma stock, now the U.S. can’t afford to lose pharma jobs, and impact pharma profitable NOW can it……on and on.

    Nothing will change until there is no other option.

  31. Gee thanks. And, I thought there were just a bunch of east coast liberal elitist snobs who posted here…thanks for clearing that up. If you had a brain you might realize that any single philosophy followed in pavlovian dog style, unchecked or challenged by critical and balanced analysis of competing philosophies becomes a vapid cesspool of group think. This of course requires the ability to think objectively, question premises, challenge assumptions, and go beyond rote regurgitation.

    But hey, where should I send your thoughtful Democrats good, Republicans bad, liberals good, conservatives bad mousepad?

  32. James writes:

    [I]f Coakley loses, health care reform is dead until 2013 at the earliest

    You mean there’s a chance that failure to buy junk insurance won’t become a federal crime?

  33. then why is kwak so eager to vote for them? it’s like jingo-ism but for a political party. the height of stupidity.

  34. What it comes down to is how genuinely intellectually curious you are.

    After that, it mostly a function of factors not directly in your control (the growth of money in politics, propaganda, the fall of the fairness doctrine, etc.).

    Contrary to conventional thought, the media is not liberal, it is corporate. And professors as a whole aren’t liberal, either. The problem becomes that when they say anything not conservative, they earn a liberal label. (which unfortunately happens to smart guys like Simon and James on occasion)

  35. I am a disgusted conservative libertarian progressive, who rooted for and voted for our President. He has thusfar disappointed me, since he promised change, and has only delivered in what he does and says, but hasn’t made a dent in his Congressional Democratice semi-allies when it comes to promoting anything resembling real reform in anything. What kills me is that he seems to refuse to use the power of the office and his intellect to make a real difference in the direction this country is pursuing, and seems to haved caved to Pilosi and the other non-progressive social liberals who seem to be using him (and the broad majority that he got elected into the Congress) to promote agendae with which he has serious philosophical disagreement. Sorry, but I think he’s either intimidated by the power and responsibility of the job, or feels some strange sense of allegiance that allows his agenda to be skewed far from the progressive one that he seemed to represent in the campaign.

    And, so the country has moved away from supporting the politics he pretends to support, and is willing to(perhaps) vote in a Republican who would stop the travesty represented by the proposed health care legislation. I hope they do, becasue is will eliminate the possibility of actual reform for another decade or more, while the rich get richer and the rest of us continue to give our money to them through one of the several great oligarchies which dominate our American Plutocracy. The only change that Obama has brought is that the riske of failure has increased, while the public will has diminished. All of this proves that America has truly been dumbed down by the control of the domininant wealth in our scciety.

  36. Yeah the idea of negotiating to pick off one or two republican votes has never been that compelling. With the republicans having introduced their own health care reform bill early in the process, the negotiating points to win a truly bipartisan reform were right there on the table.

    The White House should have been negotiating to win a supermajority bill. There are enough points of agreement between the two parties for it to be more than possible – much easier and with less stomach-turning pork-stffing. It just wouldn’t have included a “public option” and might have included tort reform, a refocus on individual, rather than employer-provided, insurance, and greater competition between private insurers. It probably could have included an insurance mandate (which the talk show hosts are currently calling unconstitutional) – there would be enough republican support for that.

  37. As a resident of Massachusetts — it has been a very long time since there was a possibility of a choice. Presently, it has been pretty much an one party state. The past does not dictate future actions and conditions can change. Nationwide, the Democrats might have won a majority but by the current legislation you would not know it. The Republicans are far from pacified and the Democrats have not been intelligently setting a winnable agenda. Affordable health care seems on intellectual level doable; however, as you can see from the reactionary response from Tea Party’ers out there it can be morphed into something totally unrecognizable. The question on whether or not the government should attempt to address the health care problem. In reality, I believe Obama was elected to clean up the financial mess left the Bush years not add to it. The Obama and Congress decided to take a pass on immediately and directly fixing anything but health care. In itself is pretty controversial. Not shocking that voters are pretty frustrate and angry. The way that Coakley comes across as a Democratic party wonk and not a real honest to goodness person doesn’t help her electability.

  38. God forbid someone actually vote for the person based on who they are instead of their corrupt agenda. This was the problem with the Bush race and will be the problem now also, we vote not because we like the candidate but because we lack conviction to push for alternatives.


  39. You have absolutely no command of the facts, and your argument is based entirely on trite conventional water cooler myths.

    From its incipience, the healthcare proposal was gutted in its substance specifically to gain “bipartisan” approval from a soupcon of “moderate” Republicans. That is how Baucus and his “bipartisan” team took over development of the industry-friendly Senate bill. No negotiation of drug prices. No public auction. No removal of the antitrust exemption. And single-payer was not even allowed to be discussed. At the very same time, Congressional Republicans openly and repeatedly, on television and in print, stated categorically that they would never vote for healthcare reform no matter what was in it.

    This narrative has been reported, written about in detail, videotaped, and editorialized on ad nauseum–and yet you remain completely ignorant of it.

    The failure of effective healthcare reform is not the fault of excessively “partisan” or “uncompromising” Democrats, but of centrist poseurs whose above-it-all posture is simply self-flatter, and whose glib assumptions that “the truth is in the middle” are simply a lazy substitute for learning and thought.

  40. Unfortunately a vote to “wake up government” will do the opposite.

    Already this is settled, conventional wisdom in the media that Coakley’s loss would signal that Obama has gone “too far,” and is “too socialist.” The pharma and healthcare lobbyists will be incontinent with glee.

    The proper place to handle this matters is the primary. However, to elect better candidates at the primaries, you would have to “wake up” the voters.

    Don’t mistake the symptoms for the disease. In this case, the root cause is that the American people are no longer fit to govern themselves.

  41. “tort reform, a refocus on individual, rather than employer-provided, insurance, and greater competition between private insurers.”

    LOL, an insurance lobbyists wet dream.

    Say, why don’t we pass a hate crimes bill by including a “right to rape” amendment?

  42. People buy veneer furniture? If you scratch the surface you can see the pulpwood underneath. I don’t think politics is much different. You buy the veneer furniture because it serves it purpose at that point of time.

    Electing people on popularity has been around since the beginning. I personally find Brown’s ads trite fluff. Imagine a L-A-W-Y-E-R with a pickup truck? Why does he need it? His way of connecting with the Joe-Six-Pack crowd? It seems to be working. You watch the debates between the Senate candidates and Coakley says Democratic position; Brown the Republican and Joe Kennedy the Libertarian. So what makes this different besides peoples impressions? You are asking voters to look deeper and they only see that piece of veneer furniture that look absolutely fabulous in the living room until someone scratches it. People vote on who they like until it hits them where it hurts.

  43. For the record, Markel, Obama has not gone socialist enough for my taste. I am for a greater social agenda. One that brings down the elitist crimes perpetrated by a criminal financial services industry that is desecrating our local economy.

    In fact I did vote Coakley this morning. My sense is that The President got enough of a message prior to the vote.

  44. Late to the party, but I really don’t understand the mechanics of Republicans in the Senate holding anything hostage–Dems have 60, so Reps can’t filibuster. 60 is >>50 required to pass a bill. The balance isn’t as tilted in the House, but Dems still rule the roost there. How can you blame Republicans for stonewalling anything? As a casual observer of events here, it looks like the Democrats have frittered away their opportunity, if that’s what they had.

  45. Decency and common sense? I meet Canadians who winter in the US. I have yet to meet any Canadians who are happy with their current healthcare system. They say the cost has continued to rise and the care has declined. They are looking forward to private insurance plans they can purchase in addition to the public option. Many pay out of pocket for better service in the US.

  46. There is no one size fits all solution. You will have a portion of the population that will need or require a large expenditure for treatment. It is this moral dilemma of one to many or many to one? Who pays for this cost? If you go to a profit system does healthcare improve and for whom? Just for a select few or for society at large?

    The US political problem is that it seems to be done to pay off special interests to make Universal Healthcare possible without really dealing with the real underlying issues to contribute to US having the most expensive healthcare on the planet per person but not the longest life expectancy as stated in a recent Columbia University Study on Cost vs Life Expectancy

    Why is that? My impression is that people expect the system to take care of them? Alan Grayson’s advice of don’t get sick seems to be a good idea. Exercise…eat right…keep a normal weight. I think if you look deeper into why Danes live longer and pay less for health care is they do all those things.

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