Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Facing reality: Coakley will lose, and lose badly, to Brown -- but what will become of health-care reform?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In Massachusetts... oh, Massachusetts... what are you doing? Seriously.

Republican Scott Brown may be up by as many as nine points over Democrat Martha Coakley. Actually, he may even have a double-digit lead.

Polling expert Nate Silver has Brown as a 3:1 favourite.

We'll know by this evening, but it's pretty clear what's going on: Brown has surged ahead over the last week, further and further ahead, in poll after poll. And he will win today.

Even if the race is closer than the polls would seem to suggest, even if, if Coakley internals are to be believed, there's been some last-minute tightening, I just don't see how the Democrats can pull this off.

There would have to be overwhelming Democratic turnout, and a major shift to Coakley (among Democrats, who aren't supporting her at the level Republicans are supporting Brown), and that just ain't happening. I'm getting reports of Democratic enthusiasm on the ground, enough to be optimistic, but it likely won't be enough.

Reality may bite, but there it is.

Yesterday, citing Paul Krugman, I suggested that Brown is ahead of Coakley, and would likely win, because the Republican "outrage machine" is in full swing, because, I wrote, "Republicans are outraged and pissed off and unified behind smears, and because Democrats are deeply divided and somewhat apathetic, and because the media are promulgating the Republican narrative and declaring it to be the truth."

Andrew Sullivan eloquently, and correctly, made a similar point on a larger scale:

I can see no alternative scenario but a huge -- staggeringly huge -- victory for the FNC/RNC machine tomorrow. They crafted a strategy of total oppositionism to anything Obama proposed a year ago. Remember they gave him zero votes on even the stimulus in his first weeks. They saw health insurance reform as Obama's Waterloo, and, thanks in part to the dithering Democrats, they beat him on that hill. They have successfully channeled all the rage at the massive debt and recession the president inherited on Obama after just one year. If they can do that already, against the massive evidence against them, they have the power to wield populism to destroy any attempt by government to address any actual problems.

This is a nihilist moment, built from a nihilist strategy in order to regain power... to do nothing but wage war against enemies at home and abroad.

Andrew thinks that "serious health insurance reform is over for yet another generation," that "the bill is dead." I'm not so sure, but it will indeed be a challenge for Congressional Democrats to do what needs to be done. I wouldn't describe myself as optimistic, but I think Jonathan Chait, rebutting Andrew, is right that:

There are perfectly viable ways to pass a major health care reform without taking another vote in the Senate. The easiest is just to have the House pass the Senate bill, and promise to use a reconciliation bill, which requires just a majority vote, to smooth out any changes. It's very, very doable. It's also in the interest of the Democrats in Congress. They already cast a vote, might as well reap the benefit of having an accomplishment.

The only question is whether they can keep their heads.

That's the big question, and I'm not sure they can. For more on this, check out more from Jon and his health-care-expert colleague Jonathan Cohn. See also Ezra Klein:

Scott Brown's victory would change the math in the Senate but not the fundamentals of the bill. It's true, of course, that the addition of a 41st Republican means that the GOP can thwart the will of the 59 Democrats in the majority and successfully filibuster legislation. But this particular bill has already passed the Senate. It can be signed into law without ever seeing Harry Reid's desk again.

Democrats will need to keep their heads, put aside their differences, and pass the bill, the Senate bill as is -- and then seek improvements, which House Democrats seek, through reconciliation.

Will they do it? We'll see, but one thing's for sure: The alternative, letting the bill die, is not an option. It would be political suicide for the Democrats, and they can ill-afford to let this opportunity to pass historic legislation, which would boost their fortunes in the long run, slip away.

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