Wednesday, January 20, 2010

After Massachusetts

Yesterday was really a stunner. Scott Brown - I still can't believe we're talking about a Cosmo centerfold hottie - claimed his Massachusetts Senate seat - the one held by Ted Kennedy since real life Mad Men were charging three-martini lunches to their expense accounts. And now Democrats gather for the famed circular firing squad.

There's plenty of blame to go around, a chain of shame that grows from national party hubris, rises through the ranks of ever-cautious wait-and-see-ers, and collapses at the doorstep of a singularly tone deaf candidate whose campaign even managed to misspell Massachusetts on a television ad. In a larger sense, though, we might simply be seeing further proof that Americans prefer to calibrate against one party taking too much power, tilting against the majority to ensure a fair fight (or just for the sheer orneriness of sticking a middle finger to the clowns in charge).

Either way, Democrats face a bevy of miserable options that mark a spectacular downfall from grace not seen since the dark morning after the 1994 races when Newt Gingrich vaulted from the bomb-throwing ranks to the Speaker's chair. When it comes to health care, Democrats can try to cram the Senate's version through the House, which would represent an impressive feat of arm-twisting by current Speaker Nancy Pelosi. More likely this administration and its congressional surrogates will watch dreams of health care reform vanish in the same puff of smoke and mirrors so well known by Clintonistas.

The insurance industry wins another victory as once again Americans are suckered into voting against their own interests - and against their own stated preferences, beaten silly by buzzwords like Socialism, Government Takeover, and the dreaded Obamacare. Surveying the wreckage of today's political landscape I feel like Charlie Brown, looking up crazily at the sky above only to find Lucy staring down, laughing. Health care reform isn't dead, but the pulse is fading. I am amazed mostly, well, that I'm amazed.

Me, I left the Democrats years ago. It seemed the most sensible way for Jenny and I, frequently clashing opponents when it comes to policy and politics, to have conversations that didn't end with shouting matches. Our choice to become independents removed much of the partisanship from our household, inspiring us to relax our previously fixed positions. But the big picture remains the same, as bumper sticker-spouters shuffle the deck chairs and the rest of us watch the damn ship sink.

It's amazing how one Senate race can change things - or, closer to the truth, reveal how things really are. It's disillusioning too, which I admit as a guy who performs gimlet-eyed cynicism while hiding a secret reservoir of hope that we may still pull our country out of the drink. It's all a little disorienting. Of course, maybe my shock is really about the nature of yesterday's victor, a guy with pictures that have to be pixelated for The Cobert Report.

My Republican friends are surely celebrating an amazing victory. I can hear the laughter and the clinking of glasses from last night's parties that never really ended. And I can even hear the question, with all traces of mockery concealed by genuinely glowing sentiment: "Hey, the Dems elected Stuart Smalley. Why can't we get a little beefcake?"

Sure, why not?

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