The results from yesterday’s election to fill the US Senate seat from Massachusetts left vacant by the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy last August show that the Republican candidate Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley. Not since 1972 has a Republican won one of the Massachusetts seats (the other is held by John Kerry, the Democrat who unfortunately lost the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2004) and Kennedy himself had held his seat since the 1962 election.
Until very recently it seemed beyond doubt that Kennedy would be succeeded by another Democrat, something which makes Brown’s achievement even more impressive. Edward Kennedy had himself succeeded his brother John F. Kennedy as Senator, but shortly after the former’s death it became clear that no-one from the Kennedy family would run for the seat which some years ago might have been considered theirs by right of inheritance. This as well as Caroline Kennedy’s failed attempt at taking over Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat may well be seen as proof that the Kennedy myth is no longer of any particular political significance.
The election result also means great trouble for President Obama, who on this very day has been in office for a year, as it means that he no longer has a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. 60 votes are needed to raise an issue in the Senate, while 41 Senators may prevent a debate by causing endless procrastinations. Until now 59 Democrats and one independent have been able to prevent such tactic, but those days are now over. The healthcare reform may be the first victim of this new situation.
Healthcare was what Ted Kennedy called “the cause of my life” and although President Obama’s proposal has been watered out, a significant health reform has never been closer. It is one of the ironies of history that Kennedy’s death may be the indirect reason why the reform may now be stopped – like the rest of the Senators from his party, Brown has vowed to oppose it.
Possible options for saving the reform may now be to push it through before Brown takes up his seat, to try to persuade at least one Republican Senator to vote for the reform (which seems highly unlikely) or to persuade the House of Representatives to accept the Senate’s bill as it is, thereby avoiding another Senate vote.
One year after Obama’s inauguration the Republicans are again on the rise. After eight years where President George W. Bush and the Republican Party abused their power to lie, manipulate, torture and start an illegal war, causing a financial collapse along the way, they were deservedly beaten in the 2008 elections. But having lost Ted Kennedy’s seat to a Republican only months after his death, having recently lost the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia and with Obama’s approval ratings falling, this should be a warning to Obama and the Democrats that they may be in serious trouble ahead of the mid-term elections this coming November.