Tuesday’s special election to fill the Senate seat that is vacant because of the death of Edward M. Kennedy is an opportunity for Massachusetts voters, including us Vineyarders, to strike a blow for political balance in a state that has, to its immense disadvantage, allowed one-party politics to pervert the engine of state government.
The front runner on Tuesday is Martha Coakley, the Democrat who is the sitting attorney general of the Commonwealth. The surging longshot is Republican state senator Scott Brown. The hopeless third party candidate is Libertarian Joseph Kennedy, a decent, thoughtful fellow, but a Kennedy in name only, at least the way we calculate such things in this state.
To be sure, Mr. Brown’s recently buoyed hopes may very well be unrewarded, but there are some good reasons why Ms. Coakley, six days from the election, is no long the shoo-in she was from the moment she announced her candidacy, immediately after Senator Kennedy died at Hyannisport.
For instance, there is the restructuring of health insurance that is now being negotiated by Democrats in the House, Democrats in the Senate, President Obama, and the variety of interest groups that have elbowed or bought their way into the process. It may be that a miracle will occur, but the proposals that are now being merged do not, as they stand, accomplish any of the goals that the president and the Democrats in Congress set for themselves.
The proposals do not extend health insurance to everyone who does not now have insurance. They do not, despite pilot programs included in the plans, change incentives so as to use the vast sums Americans now pay for health insurance and health care services to inspire improvements in the quality of health care. And, they do not “bend the cost curve,” i.e. lower the rate at which health care expenses rise annually.
They do provide, in this difficult economic moment, for a variety of new taxes to fund the immediate extension of health insurance benefits to the uninsured and enormous, painful cuts in Medicare spending, to help offset the new costs to be shouldered by taxpayers.
Even this plan’s most unrestrained supporters say it’s not perfect, it’s a start. On these grounds, Ms. Coakley supports the plan.
In the alternative, Mr. Brown opposes the plan and urges that Democrats and Republicans in Congress begin again, and he promises that he will join a renewed effort to put together a better health insurance bill. It’s a sensible position.
On the struggle against radical Islamist enemies, Ms. Coakley opposes President Obama’s decision to strengthen American forces in Afghanistan. She says we’ve have accomplished all we can accomplish there and should remove our troops. She’s been asked whether we should shift troops to Yemen or Somali or other developing terrorist hotbeds, and she says no. Mr. Brown argues that the president’s decision on Afghanistan was the right one, largely because we must guard against allowing neighboring Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to fall into the terrorists’ hands.
We like the sturdy mix of independence, restrained ambition, personal attributes, and political views that combine in the Republican Brown. We like his life story, his mainstream views on social issues, his demonstrated determination to restrain spending, and his hostility to tax increases, particularly in these very difficult economic times. We think he will help to trim the political ship in Massachusetts and perhaps inspire a shift toward a better left-right balance in the State House and in state government generally.