Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Massachusetts Betrays Kennedy Legacy

The victory of Republican Scott Brown over Martha Coakely, Massachusetts attorney general, in the Massachusetts senatorial race has its bitter ironies. This race was necessitated by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, whose passion for universal health care was described by The Nation:

Senator Edward Kennedy was a fighting liberal, a lion to the very end--often among timid cubs. His final fight was for quality, affordable healthcare for all. As recently as July, Kennedy called it "the cause of my life" and argued eloquently that "quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face."

To compound the irony, Massachusetts returned Kennedy to office nine times over 46 years. One would think that the voters overwhelmingly supported his policies. Now this supposedly blue, progressive state has, through electing Brown, deprived the Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans can now count on that undemocratic tactic to block health care reform.

True, Coakley coasted on a presumed victory while Brown ran an energetic campaign. Also true, almost everyone in Massachusetts already has health coverage. Still, Democrats hoped that the majority of voters would respond to the threat to national health care reform that Brown represents. In addition, Brown's other stances would seem to be anathema to an overwhelmingly Democratic state:

That seat, held for nearly half a century by Mr. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, will now be held for the next two years by a Republican who has said he supports waterboarding as an interrogation technique for terrorism suspects; opposes a federal cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions; and opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless they leave the country.

The options that the Democrats are considering now, including speeding up legislation before Brown takes his seat, are politically perilous. The implications for the Obama agenda remain to be seen, now that the president's number one domestic priority has been disrupted if not derailed. Those who support health care for all Americans now have one more reason to mourn the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy.


Davin Wolok said...

I second all your comments. As a Massachusetts voter, health care was the primary reason I voted for Coakley. Would that she were a stronger candidate. Hopefully one day health care will be regarded as a fundamental right in the same way that education, decent roads and fire and police protection are.
Thank you for your characteristically humane blog.

Jeff Tone said...

Davin: Thank you for your kind comments–-and for the humane reason you voted for Coakley, regardless of the poor campaign she ran.

I too hope that health care will some day be regarded as a fundamental right. I view it as perverse that so many in our country regard it as a privilege. I fear that Massachusetts, of all states, may have delivered a crippling blow to realizing health care reform for quite a while.