Author’s Note: Though not planned when it was published, this post ended up the first in a series. Here are links to parts two and three. In the second part, I defend the suggestion at the end of this first installment; in the third, I acknowledge that the suggestion is flawed.
So Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley had their final debate last night; and by all accounts — at least all the accounts I’ve read — it was a feisty affair.
If you follow political matters at all, you probably already know why so many eyeballs are focused on this race. Let’s recap …
1. It’s a race for the seat that was held forever by the late “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy, a well-known champion of health care reform.
2. The conventional wisdom holds that this seat should go to Kennedy’s same-party, successor-in-waiting, Ms. Coakley; but Mr. Brown is doing better in some polls than expected, and Massachusetts’ races (despite conventional wisdom) are not guaranteed blow outs for Democrats.
3. This particular race will be decided Jan. 19, well before anyone expects health care legislation to be finalized and re-voted in the U.S. House and Senate.
4. Mr. Brown has not been shy about his desire to be vote #41 in the Senate, to kill national health care reform legislation.
Add up those items and you can understand why Democrats have been gnashing their teeth; why Organizing for America (the successor group to Obama for America) sent out a recent email alert, asking volunteers to make calls to Massachusetts voters; and why Bill Clinton is expected to be in the state Friday to support the Coakley campaign in its final, pre-election gambit.
While I can’t vote for her, I’m rooting for Ms. Coakley, only because I want to see health care reform pass.
Granted, if the Senate’s “dangerous dysfunction” — its 60-vote threshold — were not an issue, my take on all this might be different: I would probably not root for Ms. Coakley, especially if this commenter’s description of her track record is accurate. And I might not back the current, Senate or House versions of health care reform; they certainly have their flaws.
But knowing that the 60-vote rule is not going anway anytime soon; agreeing with the Obama Administration that, if this shot at reform fails, nothing like it will happen again for a very long time; and considering the critical nature of certain consumer protections in the Senate and House bills — e.g., the ban on pre-existing conditions — I’m left with little choice but to hope the Democrats, and by default Ms. Coakley, prevail in Massachusetts.
And no, that’s not the confession part of this post. Regular readers are already quite familiar with my overhwelming allegiance to the current reform effort — and last I checked, confessions involve matters that are not so well known. Hence, the real confession is this: I’m on the verge of changing my affiliation, from Independent to Democrat.
Last week, I received a call from a volunteer with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), asking for a contribution. I told him: “I vote for the candidate, not the party.” He tried to explain what I already know about contemporary Republican obstructionism, but I wouldn’t listen. Instead, I kept repeating: “I vote for the candidate, not the party.” Today — after taking time to understand the threat to health care reform, if Mr. Brown wins Massachussets’ special election — I might not be so resolute in my response to that DCCC volunteer, or his counterparts at the DSCC.
It’s not that I’m a huge fan of the Democratic Party. I’m not. In fact, I’m not a huge fan of any party, and I continue to believe George Washington was right, when he warned (more than 200 years ago) against the formation of parties.
So, if my ideal goal is no political parties, what’s the best path to achieving that goal? Answer: Make party affiliation meaningless. And how do we do that? One option: Help elect so many members of one major party, that the other major party is marginalized to the point of irrelevance.
If I were forced to make that choice, today — to boost one party to the virtual elimination of the other — I would pick the Democrats. They have a bigger tent. Within their tent, they seem to have more reasonable/constructive conservatives than the Republicans do. And while I don’t agree with every position the Democrats (as a party) articulate, I agree with more of their positions than I do Republican positions, at this point in time.
Am I worried about one-party rule? No. I’m confident that, as long as we have fair elections, the diversity of this nation will elect a diversity of candidates, regardless of party. It happens already. Consider Tony Campbell’s description of Western Pennsylvania in this post from nearly two years ago. Net: I believe, even with one major party, there will still be plenty of conservatives and progressives and moderates; but they’ll maybe — just maybe — be in a better position to debate issues on principle rather than party affiliation, especially when you consider how party affiliation seems to terribly distort candidate posturing, above and beyond the normal course of such posturing.