Did Massachusetts vote again for change it still hasn’t seen?

Jan 20th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
President Obama, center, with basketball  team at Punahou School, Hawaii, 1977.

President Obama, center, with basketball team at Punahou School, Hawaii, 1977.

“History has many cunning passages,” T.S. Eliot from St. Louis, Missouri said about 90 years ago (by which time he was already living in London, England). But having a Republican like Scott Brown deal “a devastating blow to President Obama’s domestic agenda Tuesday night by capturing the Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy” must be close to the worst way imaginable for President Obama to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office.

The best or at least most constructive view of all this probably is that, in the end, it will prove a blessing in disguise for the Obama Democrats. After a year of immense challenges in office (most not of their own making, of course), they almost certainly do need to reconnect with the mood of anguish down on the populist ground. And now they have a harsh political necessity that could be the mother of invention they need.

The first problem is what to do about health care reform. The easiest and conceivably most effective way of clearing this nagging priority off the desk (to make room for more urgent attention on the once-again crucial it’s-the-economy-stupid issue?) has already been tidily articulated by the brilliant Ezra Klein at the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post has focused on the largest missing piece. And Jonathan Capeheart has pushed Dionne’s logic to its conclusion: “E.J. Dionne hits on why … the electorate likes the man but is troubled by what he’s doing. ‘[T]he truth that liberals and Obama must grapple with is that they have failed so far to dent the right’s narrative,’ he writes …  Let me go a step further … If Obama and his allies want to dent the right’s narrative, they have to devise a coherent, cohesive and concise narrative of their own.”

There is likely some compelling parallel message for the various forces of progress up in the true north in the year 2010 as well. This past Sunday the ancient Canadian left-wing guru James Laxer wrote in the Toronto Star: “One year into Barack Obama’s term of office, two remarkable things stand out: how little he has achieved on the core issues on his agenda and how potent the right wing has grown during his watch … It’s too early to make a prediction, but this has the feel of a one-term presidency.”

I’m often a great admirer of James Laxer. His argument here, however, finally seems to me just a counsel of weakness that need not be. And besides Mr. Laxer like the rest of us almost certainly ought to be worrying more about how potent the right wing has grown on our own patch of populist ground in the northern wilderness – and just what should be done about that!

President Obama, at work in the Oval Office at the White House, Washington, DC, 2009.

President Obama, at work in the Oval Office at the White House, Washington, DC, 2009.

Back in the USA today, watching the grim returns from the Massachusetts special election last night with Keith and Chris and Rachel and their friends on MSNBC was at least vaguely reassuring. President Obama still has almost three years left in his first term in office. He remains impressive in many ways – and the current Great Recession stateside has not turned into another  Great Depression. The Democrats still have rather healthy democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House. The 2010 mid term elections are still many months down the road.

The Democrats no doubt have much improving to do over these months. But according to the latest CBS poll, only 50% of all Americans approve of President Obama, but only 40% disapprove. Only 44% view Congressional Democrats favorably and 48% unfavorably. But only 34% view Congressional Republicans favorably and 56% unfavorably! These remain challenging times, and that is not about to change any time soon. But there are still more than a few good reasons to, as Jesse Jackson used to say, “keep hope alive.” (And, after drowning my sorrows briefly tonight, that’s exactly what I intend to do.)

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