It turns out that the common wisdom was wrong: a Democrat doesn't automatically get to be Senator in Massachusetts. The election must still be held.
Or maybe the common wisdom was right: no matter how favored, a Democrat is still capable of losing an election.
The truth is probably a hybrid: the Democrat gets to be Senator unless she trashes the Red Sox, refuses to campaign, misspells her state, and shows a complete absence of basic human charm.
Meanwhile we have Scott Brown - a Republican who supports water-boarding, opposes cap-and-trade, and stands pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder with the Republican party on any given issue - in Ted Kennedy's seat until 2012. 2012, of course, is a presidential election year. Presidential election years tend to have higher turnout. And election day will be in November not January... when it's warmer. And people tend to vote straight down the ticket. Massachusetts has voted for the democratic presidential candidate since 1988.
Anyway, Mr. Brown's tenure in the Senate is likely to be short-lived.
So: what now?
The key issue on the table was health care reform. Massachusetts already has near-universal health coverage. So it looks like voters who will be totally unaffected by health care reform are opposed to it. Good for them.
As for the rest of us (and I can't afford health insurance, so I really mean 'us' here), little has changed. There will no longer be a Democratic supermajority in the Senate. The Senate already passed a health care plan though and only needs to revote on the bill if it is adjusted in the conference committee.
So - and I encourage everyone to swallow the big hunk of outrage now caught in their throat - we need to vocally and wholeheartedly support the Senate bill without any changes.
By 'we,' I mean progressives, I mean almost everyone writing for this site, and I certainly mean the unions. Progressives need to give up the demand for a public option, the unions need to accept the so-called 'cadillac' tax, and we all need to accept that it's time to pass something.
The fact is this: healthcare reform, however imperfect, is dramatically and substantively better than no healthcare reform. At the very least, it forces Americans to contemplate the costs of their own healthcare and the insanely opaque system through which those costs are calculated. And, as Atul Gawande points out in a December New Yorker article, the Senate bill at least begins to contemplate how we might begin to work towards a longer-term solution.
Also - and I really want to emphasize this - I will get health care coverage.
This is an exciting prospect. I am very accident prone.
There are other benefits as well: the bill ought to be deficit-neutral, it forces us to honestly assess the percentage of our GDP going towards health care, it philosophically recommits us to protecting our poorest and weakest citizens, and it begins to examine why health care in Rochester, Minnesota is so much better than health care in McAllen, Texas at one third of the price.
But even if you are on the fence about it, consider this: by passing the Senate bill, as is, through the House, progressives and Democrats will avoid being derailed on a major legislative objective by political infighting.
That would truly defy the common wisdom.