Voters in Massachusetts, where universal health care reform was introduced by former governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, are all too aware of the unforeseen costs and service impacts. Having seen the flaws and problems in their own state, many balked at the prospect of going national and thereby adding to their already high tax burden in order to pay for implementation of a similarly flawed national program.
Is it a mistake then to suppose that voters, in choosing Brown over Coakley, were reacting to the high-handed and fundamentally tone deaf way Congressional Democrats had pushed their programs, without regard to the opposition of the majority of Americans (as recognized in the polling data) and through reliance on backroom deals and pay-offs to major supporters and states for crucial votes?
Rather than seek reforms via inclusion of opposition party ideas (opening insurance markets across states, policy portability and tort reform) to forge an expansive national consensus, the Democrats simply decided to remake America in the shadow of three decades of long-deferred liberal dreams. American voters watched with increasing alarm as Democratic policymakers dug in, despite rising national opposition to the big government/big spending/heavy taxation model they were pushing.
Americans were shocked and angry at looming deficits, as far as the eye could see, set to swamp even the sinking prospects of existing entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Americans swallowed hard at the prospect of ever-rising taxation, the implications for job creation and an expanding national debt that could turn us into a third world country with a collapsing currency and questionable creditworthiness.
The great tension that always exists between voter passion for government largess and the resistance to paying for it began to drive the political pendulum back toward restraint in a series of off-year elections that Democratic leaders just refused to acknowledge.
The Republican brand had fallen so far so fast and presidential charm in the White House seemed so strong that Democrats believed their caucus was impervious to voter disaffection this early.
Besides, they had waited so long, after years in the Reagan wilderness, a triangulating Clinton administration (which talked the liberal talk but often declined to walk the walk), and that squeaker of a loss to an awkward Republican with a Texas twang and cowboy boots. They simply believed that, having finally regained their rightful place in Washington, they could not be expected to wait and focus on coalition building, too.
There was too much to be done and so much lost time to make up that they simply discounted voter angst, figuring Americans would eventually come around and accept the planned tax increases to keep their new benefits when the time came. But, in so doing, Democrats seem to have forgotten one important thing about democracies. Elections still count – and sometimes even the voters remember that.