The Democrats’ health care dilemma
With the loss in Massachusetts, Democrats still retain a 57-41-2 majority. The House majority is still intact. Yet health care reform appears to be stalled. The White House says it has not yet given up. However, congressional Democrats are not exactly in a hurry to take up the battle on the issue again.
The pre-Massachusetts reasoning was that, even if health care reform was unpopular now, it would be popular later. By the time of the elections, the economy would show signs of recovery and everything would be all right for Democrats. At worst, the most vulnerable of the incumbents would be lost, but they would have been lost anyway.
After a Republican won in Massachusetts, despite the efforts of the White House and the national party, the realization set in that it was no longer just the typical swing states and swing districts that could be vulnerable.
It’s easy for activists to say the Democrats have such a majority they can afford to lose a few seats. They’re not looking at the politicians as real people with real desires to continue in their seats after this election cycle. Whether it’s personal ambition or the desire to make changes on other issues, they don’t think of themselves as cannon fodder.
In the post-Massachusetts atmosphere, when any one of them could be the election surprise casualty of the 2010 elections, they’re just not willing to place themselves in jeopardy.
For example, look at the way Senator Russ Feingold is backing away from different provisions of the health care bill, saying he was hoping this or that provision (that he supposedly opposed) got knocked out for the final bill. Even I don’t believe that it’s because angry people confronted him in Pewaukee. It’s because he’s afraid of how many other angry people there are out there.
When Democratic activists say Martha Coakley lost because she ran a bad campaign, it doesn’t reassure the incumbents. They know what it takes to be in a perfect campaign, and none of them have been in one. They know they’re capable of making a gaffe, or their campaign could be taken surprise by some event. They’re thinking it’s better to have a less motivated opponent than to hope they can thread the needle one more time.
So when the activists and the White House ask them to go over the top of the trench wall one more time, the Senators and Congressmen look at each other and wonder which of them will be coming back. “No thanks. It’s too dangerous out there. We’ll stay right here.”