I haven't watched the Senate race in Massachusetts all that closely. I was impressed with the smart policy work, particularly in foreign policy issues, that Alan Khazei's campaign put out. Khazei touched on a lot of issues that the better known but more issues-mum Martha Coakley put out.
However, it's clear now that one of the most liberal states in the country is ill at ease with Barack Obama's health care reform agenda. Obama and Rahm Emanuel have so irritated the progressive wing of the party with what he has forfeited to get a deal with the health care industry and with Senators Joseph Lieberman and Ben Nelson that many are either staying home -- or they are actually voting for the Republican.
I ran into one of Washington's top lobbyists yesterday -- a stalwart Democrat who made his mark as one of the key managers of Congressional machinery -- and he doubted that Coakley was going to win. On the lighter side though, he said that the decision by Obama's team to campaign for her meant that they thought he could possibly make a difference and that there was a chance. He would not have chased a lost cause.
How could the health care issue have turned from a reform that was going to make Barack Obama ten feet tall into a poison pill for Democratic senators?
Whether or not Martha Coakley squeaks through in Massachusetts on Tuesday, the health bill has already done incalculable political damage and will likely do more. Either way, the Massachusetts surprise should be a wake-up call of the most fundamental kind.
Obama needs to stop playing inside games with bankers and insurance lobbyists, and start being a fighter for regular Americans.
The health care battle is beginning to look a lot like Afghanistan -- a pit into which America pours a never ending stream of rationalizations, compromises, resources and effort, looking paralyzed and neutralized in the process -- generating consequent weakness, inattention and impotence on virtually every other policy front.
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