Kneale: The Real Deal on the Massachusetts Debacle

The stunning victory by a conservative Republican in the genetically liberal climes of Massachusetts goes far beyond the spin you'll hear today.

President Barack Obama
Photo By: Pete Souza
President Barack Obama

Yes, happily, it's a blow to Obamacare and a threat to the Democrats' ultraliberal agenda; and yes, it’s a wakeup call that President Obama, suddenly, may be at risk of pulling a “Jimmy,” a one-term stint like that of Jimmy Carter.

The bigger upshot, though, is this: Maybe we weren't repudiating 30 years of Reagan-style, less-is-better government, after all, when we elected Barack Obama president. Maybe we voted for the man because we liked him—and now we're realizing we DON'T like his policies.

That would mean the stock market is utterly underestimating the true, positive impact of the Dems’ Debacle in Massachusetts. The Dow is down a bracing 200 points today after rising nicely since the new year began. Yet the Republican win means the Democrats no longer can punish business and impose new taxes with impunity, and that augurs well for growth.

One year ago today, Obama moved into the White House and pulsed with the promise of invincibility. Some supporters already were dreaming of two terms and the start of a New Democrat dynasty. Now a Republican has won in one of the bluest, most unabashedly liberal states in the union, where a Republican hadn’t been elected to the U.S. Senate since 1972.

The health care overhaul is ground zero for this reassessment. It is especially salient in Massachusetts, home of the nation’s most ambitious universal-coverage health plan. When it passed in 2006, officials projected the cost to be $725 million a year; by last year the cost was at $1 billion and rising. That is 38 percent over budget, and it’s early yet.

It turns out “the people” didn’t want an overhaul of health coverage for 300 million Americans, not when polls show 80 percent or more are satisfied with their insurance plans. The people wanted government to help get coverage for the narrow target of 15 million Americans who want insurance but can’t afford it and don’t qualify for Medicaid and Medicare.

That figure comes from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service; it says 30 million other uncovered people could afford insurance but don’t want it, or already qualify for government programs but haven’t signed up.

Now some voters may be deciding that, given the onslaught and scale of Obama policies for health care and beyond, maybe they no longer like the man himself, either.

President Obama, never one to underestimate the power of his own charm, campaigned in Massachusetts over the weekend for Martha Coakley, the anointed Democratic heir to the late Ted Kennedy's seat in the U.S. Senate. He clamped an arm around her and held on so tightly she looked like she might pop.

That makes the Republican state Sen. Scott Brown's decisive victory an especially personal blow to the President and his aura of just-trust-me likability.

President Obama suffers from a credibility gap between the man we thought we knew, when he ran for the White House, and the Obama he since has revealed himself to be. Could the contrasts be any sharper?

  • We thought he was a moderate liberal, not a screamer, but his tax-and-spend agenda has been breathtaking for its scale. Audacity, indeed.
  • We believed him when he said his health care overhaul should be done in the sunshine and that any backroom dealing ought to be televised on C-SPAN. Instead, he personally presides over secret meetings of a handful of Democrat-only allies.
  • We were comforted by the ample support he had from business leaders (Warren Buffet for gawdsakes! Google’s Eric Schmidt, even Paul Fed demigod Paul Volcker!), only to watch this President demonize Wall Street, sneer at “obscene” bonuses and wealth creation, and propose huge tax increases on investing.
  • We applauded his outsider’s call for a new era of bipartisan cooperation, only to watch him snub Republicans and push health care without a single Republican vote. Now the Dems are mulling whether to pass Obamacare in the dark of night, before the new Republican from Massachusetts can be seated. Shameless.
  • We assumed Obama meant it when he made us feel we were all in this together. Then we learn he is willing to grant a $59 billion break on Obamacare to the unions who helped get him elected; he wants to offset the shortfall with a brand new Medicare tax on investing.

Bam also wants to impose a new TARP tax on the 50 biggest banks. Yet the biggest already have paid back the bailout money at a government profit. Several hundred smaller banks got TARP but face no tax; and the biggest bailout beneficiaries of all—General Motors, GMAC, and Fannie-Freddie—will likely produce big government losses but won’t have to pay anything extra.

That’s fairness? That’s bipartisan policy? Voters in Massachusetts had a message for Barrack Obama: Change your ways, Mr. President, before it’s too late.

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