A Little Perspective.

It's entirely possible that by the end of the night, Martha Coakley will have squeaked by with a win in the Massachusetts special election, and all this sturm und drang will have been for nothing. But if that doesn't happen, Republicans are gearing up to tell us that this one election in one state is The Most Important Thing That Has Ever Happened, and one that means more than, say, the elections in which the country gave Democrats the White House and large majorities in both the House and Senate.

For instance, here's David Brooks in full-on hack mode:

Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop. They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad. They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren't sophisticated enough to understand it. Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

That, of course, would be political suicide. It would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern. Marie Antoinette would applaud, but voters would rage.

Brooks manages to be wrong on the facts and utterly ridiculous in his conclusion. First, those stupid Democrats, caught in their "insular liberal information loop," believe "the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad." Does Brooks actually believe that if unemployment were at 5 percent, Obama's approval ratings would be below 50? Or that any president would have high approval with the economy the way it is now? The fact is, as John Judis shows with some compelling graphs here, that while the economy isn't the only thing that matters to presidential approval, it's far and away the most important thing.

Next, those dumb Democrats "tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren't sophisticated enough to understand it.” I've never heard anyone actually say this; instead, what they say is that health care is unpopular because a lot of people are just unaware of what's actually in the bill, and a lot of people have been fooled by the string of Republican lies about it, and a lot of people are simply disgusted with the legislative process they've been watching. Brooks tries to turn these objectively true facts into figments of the snooty, elitist liberal imagination, but they aren't. Read the health care polls on pollingreport.com; you'll find that large majorities of Americans approve of the major features of health reform, like expanding Medicaid, ending denials for pre-existing conditions, providing subsidies for low- and middle-income people to buy insurance, and outlawing rescission of policies when people get sick.

Finally, Brooks tells us that passing health care reform even after they lost one Senate race "would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern." Indeed -- how could a party that holds 59 percent of the seats in both the House and the Senate be so arrogant as to enact the agenda it ran on? The nerve!

As I said, it may well be that Coakley will win, and all this will be moot. But let's get some perspective here. This is one seat in the Senate. It's procedurally important, because it's the 60th vote, and Republicans have decided to filibuster essentially everything. But the 60-vote requirement for overcoming filibusters is a quirk of Senate rules, not the absolute line between legitimacy and illegitimacy. The fact that losing the 60th vote gives the Democrats a procedural problem in passing legislation doesn't mean that it gives them a moral problem in passing legislation. They got elected by a wide majority. They represent a wide majority of the country. Those things don't change if they go from a 20-seat advantage in the Senate to an 18-seat advantage. Passing legislation, on health care or anything else, will be more difficult in practical terms. But if they can manage it, they will have just as much right to do so as they did before.

--Paul Waldman

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