There have been a couple of nights in the past week when I’ve had trouble falling asleep. I’ve been anxious.
It’s not because of anything in my personal life. It’s because of tomorrow’s Senate race in Massachusetts.
It looks like Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose to Republican Scott Brown. The Senate seat held for 47 years by Ted Kennedy — and held before him by his brother, John F. Kennedy — is probably going to go Republican. That seat hasn’t been Republican since JFK won it in 1952.
I am deeply, deeply upset that after months and months of debate, after all the angst, after all the arm-twisting and dealmaking, after all the grief, after the reform plan has approached death’s doorstep several times since August, only to keep surviving — after everything, after decades of waiting, we have, at long last, seen the House of Representatives pass a health care reform bill; and then, miracle of miracles, we have even seen the Senate — the United States Senate, where reform bills go to die! — pass a health care reform bill; after decades of effort, we are finally on the brink of passing health care reform; and now we are going to see it all fall apart, because Ted Kennedy — Ted Kennedy, of all people, whose life’s dream was to bring health insurance to millions of Amerians, who worked tirelessly for decades to achieve this goal — was taken away from us by brain cancer.
I have actually had trouble falling asleep because of this. Because I’ve been taking it personally.
It doesn’t make sense to take it personally. The death of health care reform wouldn’t affect me materially; my own health care coverage is fine.
But this bill could bring health care to 31 million Americans. I may be in decent financial shape, but millions of Americans are not. And I want this to be a country that gives aid to its citizens when they need it. It pains me that people die in this country because they can’t afford health insurance, that people come to financial ruin in this country because they get sick.
And I admit, my feelings go beyond altruism.
The thing is, human beings are clannish. We like to divide ourselves into tribes, whether it’s in support of religions, or nations, or political parties, or sports teams, or late-night TV stars, or supernatural creatures. If Massachusetts voters send a corporatist Republican to the Senate tomorrow, I will feel like I have been personally attacked. I know this is not rational. But it’s what I will feel. I will feel like millions of Americans are jeering and laughing at me. I will feel like they hate me. I will feel like my team has lost.
(And I don’t even live in Massachusetts.)
It pains me that health care reform could die. And it angers me that 59 votes is not enough to get things done in the Senate. Jon Stewart channeled my feelings tonight on The Daily Show: the Democrats have more Senate seats than the Republicans have had since 1923; George W. Bush was able to do all the damage he did to our country without ever having a supermajority in the Senate. (By Tuesday morning, the relevant Daily Show clip should be here. Update: here it is.)
Even if Brown wins, the House can still save reform. All it has to do is pass the bill that the Senate has already passed. The fear, though, is that Democrats will be quaking in their boots after Brown wins — because that’s what Democrats do best, quake in their boots — and give up on reform for fear of being voted out by a wrathful electorate in the fall.
But the House has until the end of the 111th Congress to pass the Senate bill. It can even wait until after the November 2010 elections and then pass the bill in a lame-duck session. Hey — if the Republican-controlled House could impeach Bill Clinton in a lame-duck session after losing seats, and not even be punished for it, the Democratic-controlled House can pass health care reform in December 2010.
But again: we’re talking about Democrats. Footwear, quaking.
In this instance I’ve decided to take Dan’s advice and expect the worst. The Massachusetts Senate seat is lost, and health care reform is probably lost. The only upside I can see is that maybe, maybe, the failure of health care reform will take away some of the Republicans’ ammunition as the economy slowly improves. Clinton’s health plan failed and then the Republicans took over Congress, and then they overreached, and Clinton was re-elected two years later. Maybe the failure of health care reform will improve Obama’s re-election prospects. I would rather have an ineffective Democrat in the White House than any Republican; better a holding pattern than active harm.
So I’ve decided to let it go. There is nothing I can do about it, so getting upset is pointless. And I shouldn’t take it as a personal repudiation. I haven’t failed; Martha Coakley has failed. The voters of Massachusetts don’t even know me.
I’m still going to be upset. But I’m also going to try and chill out about it.
For my own sanity.