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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The People's Seat

This past summer I spoke to my Dad while he was enjoying a prolonged stay in Sweden. He was unusually, but happily, disconnected from the news in America. "What's happening?" he asked.
"Dad you would be so proud of the American people. They are speaking up across the country. Not just activists but ordinary Americans are travelling to town hall meetings and rallies given by members of Congress and demanding answers to questions on the health care legislation."

Americans spoke again yesterday in Massachusetts. On President Barack Obama's 365th day in office the most liberal and Democratic state in the union voted overwhelmingly against his policies, leadership and direction. The cradle of liberty, the home of the Boston Tea Party, the Shot Heard Round the World, John and Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, spoke with a clear voice, "No." The people of Massachusetts voted to fill the people's seat in the Senate with a Republican, Scott Brown, with 52% of the vote and a five point victory of the Democratic candidate.

Throughout the summer the mainstream media and Democrats tried to spin the townhall meetings as foaming Republicans screaming at Democratic members of Congress. They ignored the senior citizens who came out in droves to ask about their Medicare. They ignored the speakers from the audience who would preface remarks with, "I am a registered Democrat" or "I voted for President Obama." As the House barely passed Speaker Nancy Pelosi's health care bill, with one Republican crossing the aisle (a Republican filling a seat created when a Louisiana Democrat was caught with $98,000 in bribe money in his freezer, a district that is over 70% registered Democrat) the mainstream press and far-left partisans cried, "Bi-partisan support!" When in fact it was by-partisan opposition.

Throughout the fall as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid horse-traded over his version of a health care bill, not publishing the bill, not allowing it to be read except in his office as he brought in recalcitrant Democrats to strong arm their support, the mainstream media and far-left partisans cried, "Republicans are blocking health care reform." When in truth it was Democrats blocking the bill since no Republicans were required to pass the legislation. After bribing Senators with Federal tax dollars, Reid finally got his votes and passed his version of health care reform.

The President cheered, Pelosi cheered, Reid cheered, the editors of the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times cheered, the news directors and anchors at ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN cheered, the publishers of Time and Newsweek cheered. And they thought the American people were cheering with them. Ignoring the polls being published daily, ignoring the emails and letters being sent to Washington, ignoring the people back home in real American who vote, they cheered.

Cracks and fissures were visible all over the Democratic party, Pelosi and Reid were urged by Obama and members of his administration to get a deal done. Get the Senate version and the House version reconciled before his State of the Union. He wanted it done before summer recess. He wanted it done before winter recess. He had to have it done before the State of the Union. Obama and the Democratic leadership did not care what was in the bill, just that they passed one to hold up to the American people and say, "See? See what we have done for you?"

With arrogance and contempt of the people who disagreed with the tactics, the process and the content of the bills being reconciled Democrats in Congress were being urged to pass a bill, "we can explain it to them once it passes." "Them" being us, you and I.

But the plan did not work. The plan to arm twist moderate Democrats into voting a bill through was seen as twisting the arms of the people back home. People in Agawam (64% Brown) didn't like the bills or the process. People in Dedham (55% Brown) didn't like it. Adams, Hanover, Rowley, towns across Massachusetts were filled with people who said, "No." And this time they have to listen. But will they?

Since his election there have been three significant special elections where President Obama has travelled to the state to campaign for the Democratic candidate. And each time the Republican has won the race. In Virginia, in New Jersey and now in Massachusetts. Each time the candidate was blamed, certainly it could not be the President. As excuses and blame begin this morning, Brown's opponent, Martha Coakley, will be blamed for running a bad campaign--she did. She will be blamed for not taking her opponent seriously and assuming a Republican could not win in Massachusetts--she did. She will be blamed for costing the Democrats the critical 60 seat super-majority they have held throughout 2009--she did not.

What cost the Democrats this seat was the Democrats, specifically the Democratic leadership, the Gang of Three (Obama, Pelosi, Reid) pushed their agenda with such arrogance and ignorance of those objecting to the reach of the policies and agenda and the costs. The voters in Massachusetts echo almost exactly the national polls: No. No huge deficits and spending. No to your version of health care reform. No to your trying to hijack the democratic processes of the United States Congress.

Ironically the results in Massachusetts is the best result possible for Democrats facing re-election this fall. The Senate cannot pass a reconciled bill because there are now only 99 Senators until Brown is sworn in. In the House, Pelosi can try to strong arm her fellow Democrats one more time, this time to pass the Senate version of health care exactly as presented; but those who already voted against it won't change their vote and those who compromised before see Massachusetts' results and will say "no thanks." So the current versions of health care reform die in conference. And when they hit the campaign trail this summer and fall the Democrats can say, "Republicans blocked health care. We didn't get a chance to pass a bill that would help all Americans." They have their blame, and they are not blamed for passing a bill that would add trillions in debt and forever change how health care is delivered and paid for in our country.

For Democrats in swing states and 50-50 districts, no health care bill is better than the ones being presented in Washington. The people of Massachusetts told them that.

Moving forward for the Republicans, what Scott Brown delivered was an opportunity and a rallying cry. In a debate last week Brown was asked about filling "Ted Kennedy's seat." Brown replied, "This is not Ted Kennedy's seat, this is not any party's seat or any individual's seat. This is the people's seat." That statement pointed out the arrogance and assumption of the Democratic leadership in Boston and in Washington D.C. This underdog candidate who was behind by 30 points when his election started pointed out to the nation what our Constitution states, our leaders are representatives of the people. Not of parties. Not of special interests. Not of corporations or unions. Of the people, for the people and by the people.

This is the slogan and talking point the Republicans need to take to the Hastings this summer and fall. Rekindling the voice the people felt in last year's town hall meetings and the nascent Tea Party movement that has remained strong, remind the voters that they control government. They are the ones who actually vote and whose votes are counted. So speak! Make your district's seat the people's seat.

As for opportunity, now is the time for Republicans in Washington to come together and make a united statement regarding health care. I have written several times in the past about how I feel health care reform should progress, and I hope Republicans adopt some of the process. Primarily to put together a Pledge For Health Care Reform. Much like Newt Gingrich's Contract With America that led to GOP victories in 1996 during Clinton's first term, the Pledge would be a simple to read and understand step-by-step outline of what the Republicans wish to see in health care reform. Once drafted they can work with Democrats who have been resistant to Reid and Pelosi and Obama to have them sign the Pledge.

The Pledge should state that health care reform is needed, but needs to proceed methodically and incrementally and not all at once. Reform Medicare and Medicaid to eliminate waste and fraud. Tort reform to take the practice of defensive medicine from the burdens of our doctors and hospitals. Allow insurance companies to offer insurance across state lines to increase competition and lower costs to consumers. Remove the burden of providing insurance from employers so people do not lose their insurance when they change jobs, freeing people to shop for health care insurance that is best for them and not their employers. Protect hospitals and health care providers from the over-burdensome regulations and bureaucracies that prevent growth and expansion. With each of the items provide a timeline. Project into the future that the Pledge will be offered to all candidates for Federal office to ensure work will continue when they are gone.

In what might be the biggest upset in modern politics a Republican won an election for United States Senate in Massachusetts. A simple man ran a campaign on issues, on substance and on integrity speaking directly to the people he will represent. He let them know it is their seat he will fill. The people of Massachusetts fired the shot heard around the country.

But are the people in power in Washington able to hear a shot from the people? We will see.

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