Scott Brown is the new senator from Massachusetts. He took Ted Kennedy's old seat which
reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate to 57. The Democrats can no longer prevent a
filibuster. This means the long awaited health care reform bill's chances of passage have
just evaporated. In other words, unless the House decides to pass the Senate bill as it is;
it probably won't pass. With 41 votes, the Republicans can not only prevent this bill from
passing; they can stop all future Democratic bills even if the majority of Senators are in
favor. Health care reform is dead in the water.
The Republicans win. There is great joy in GOP-ville. Why are they so happy? What
exactly did "they" win? What does this victory accomplish? What monumental achievement have
they prevailed upon? First, they have kept 30 million Americans from being able to obtain
health insurance. Second, health insurance companies will continue to deny coverage for pre-
existing conditions. Third, the same insurance companies will be able to cancel your policy
if you get too sick. Finally, there will continue to be states where one company controls
as much as 70% of the market with no competition.
Along with preserving the status quo, the Republican victory guarantees Americans will
continue being forced into bankruptcy by health care catastrophes and a larger and larger
percentage of our Gross Domestic Product will go to pay for health care at a time when other
nations will be spending similar amounts of their treasure on education, innovation, creating
jobs, and new industries. If ever a victory can be termed Pyrrhic, this one fits the bill.
Once again, independents were the largest voting block in Massachusetts; and once again
they voted Republican as they did in the Virginia and New Jersey governor's races. Who are
these independents? Do independents want what they can't have? Are they intent on opposing
the current trend whatever it may be, no matter what the cost?
In 2008, independents overwhelmingly voted for Obama and his promise to "change direction"
in Washington. Obama ran on reforming healthcare. Independents said yes to his vision. Now
we are told 2010 will be the year of the outsider, and that incumbents and those in power are
in trouble because independents are now voting to elect people who oppose change. Independents
seem to be voting for whichever party is publicly committed to opposition as a guiding principle.
Independents seem to have become a grouping of the electorate which offers no solutions and
whose raison d'etre is to oppose any president who is currently in office.
Independents now appear to be endorsing a Republican strategy which will result in no
healthcare reform, Guantanamo staying open, a continuation of two wars, no banking reform
(leaving in place the rules and practices which led to the economic meltdown), and no energy
reform designed to reduce greenhouse gases will go anywhere in the Senate.
So, Obama gets elected to change the status quo; but after a year of trying, Independents
seem to be saying "enough"! By voting Republican, they have returned to power the very ones
who desire to prevent Obama from achieving the very goals they favored when they voted for him.
Is it possible that Independents, like adolescents, are impulsive? Are they quick to make
decisions but just as quick to change their minds? Are we to expect them to oppose all changes
out of obstinence, inexperience, or fear?
The vote in Massachusetts was a vote for political gridlock. I've known Independents who
say they prefer a government where nothing can get done because if the politicians can't
accomplish anything, they won't be able to cause any further harm to them. It, of course, begs
the question of what do we do about healthcare or any of the other intractable problems we face
as a nation. Is it good to have a healthcare system where Americans pay twice as much as any
other industrialized nation and yet get half the benefit? Is it good that our current health
system will soon be eating up to 22% of the federal dollar, leaving almost nothing for anything
else? Is the current system of granting health insurance companies virtual monopolies in a
supposed "free market" economy something that does no harm?
So I ask the question again, what is an independent and what do they want? Obama and the
Democrats didn't help the situation. By compromising on every issue he proposed, the President
cooled the ardor of his base. By elevating opponents and idealogues from the other party and
refusing to draw any lines in the sand over which he would not step, the President sent a
message to his base that their interests were not his top priority. By taking the half-a-loaf
is better than none approach to deal making (but not even getting half-a-loaf in return), the
President's base has become disheartened and dispirited. In Virginia, New Jersey, and now
Massachusetts, they did not turn out in large enough numbers to offset the erosion of the
Independents. Independents, who are quickly becoming key players in national politics whether
they want that responsibility or not; seem to have no idea what direction they wish the nation
to go in, if any direction at all.
Is it possible Independents have no idea what they want? Is it possible Independents simply
have no clear vision? Could it be that a larger and larger percentage of our electorate has no
idea how to progress and move forward in a global environment where our competitors are getting
stronger? Is the electorate capable of understanding our vast domestic environment where so
many problems need to be fixed or improved in order to simply maintain our economic, social,
and moral health? Have we become a nation where the largest or fastest growing segment of the
voting population is more comfortable with paralysis than with progress? Does the vote in
Massachusetts show who we have become as a nation which is no longer able to deal with big
problems? Have we somehow become a people only capable of going to war? Is raising military
budgets and a willingness to expend our blood and treasure on the world stage become the only
policy around which our politicians can form a political consensus in Washington?
I used to find the term Independent attractive. It was the opposite of an idealogue. It
meant someone who looked at both sides of an issue and somehow became politically committed to
a moderate middle ground. I am not so enamored anymore. What I'm seeing now are Independents
who appear to be saying "a pox on both their political houses", but who have no vision of their
own and no clue how to divert us from the doldrums of our suicidal national status quo. Faced
with a President who stood for change and acted on his promise and an opposition committed to
killing whatever the President suggests, meritorious or not, Independents are saying yes to both;
resulting in a victory for simply doing nothing, which is not an option.
There is great joy in GOP-ville; but it will be short-lived because the same Independents
who turned on them in 2006-2008 will do so again. The real question now is, has America passed
its prime? Are we fated to end up on the trash heap of history along with all the other great
nations and empires, a vague chapter in history books for our great grandchildren to puzzle over?
So, as we stand at the abyss, let me ask once again, what is an Independent? Until we
figure out who they are, one thing is for sure, they are calling the shots...reluctant be they
may. (to be continued...) What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please
send them to firstname.lastname@example.org