Somewhere, James Madison is smiling.
Scott Brown’s impressive upset victory over liberal establishment candidate Martha Coakley in Massachusetts is being viewed nationally as a precursor to the midterm elections coming this November. Historically, such contests are rarely positive for the incumbent president’s party, yet the news in November could be even worse for Democrats with the loss of what they smugly referred to as "Ted Kennedy’s seat."
The improbable Bay State upset is worthy of consideration for a variety of reasons. First, the Obamacrats were able to lose one of the bluest states in the nation despite running a twice-elected Attorney General who secured her party’s nod in a landslide primary victory. Democrats struggled to mobilize the youth voters and independents that came out in droves for Obama in 2008. Quoting former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, "they are who we thought they were!" Independent voters again proved their autonomy, which could spell trouble in November.
Second, Brown’s win temporarily alters the Senate’s composition. Health care reform, prospects for an immigration overhaul, and the future of cap and trade legislation stand in limbo. Interestingly, U.S. Senator and war hawk agitator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has indicated that he is still open to making a deal and working with the Obama Administration to pass something that will ultimately risk our economic security via cap and trade and our national security and identity by way of immigration reform. Some guys never seem to get it. Maybe Graham is next in line for defeat?
Third and most frequently overlooked by the punditry is that Brown’s victory was a triumph for federalism. Defined by Merriam-Webster’s as "the distribution of power in an organization between a central authority and the constituent units," federalism is the preference for a non-federally centered state over the leviathan on the Potomac.
Massachusetts voters landed on the side of localism rather than centralization, dealing a blow to Washington’s desire to implement a federally managed health care program. They told the pointy-headed bureaucrats along the Beltway that Bay Staters prefer managing their own health care system to having their program usurped by the constantly inept, intrusive central bureaucracy.
Progressive political advocate Robert Creamer wrote in the ultra-leftist Huffington Post the morning after Brown’s victory that "98% of people in Massachusetts have health insurance because of their own state based health care reform—and almost 80% are happy with their health insurance—and it’s clear that the race there was not at all a referendum on health care reform."
The numbers for coverage and satisfaction are quite high. Yet, Creamer’s analysis is dead wrong. People voted for Brown because it was a referendum on health care reform and they said quite clearly that they don’t want this popular program that actually provides almost complete coverage to go by the wayside.
Data provided by pollster Tony Fabrizio and reported in Politico on Jan. 20, 2010 indicated that "48 percent of Massachusetts voters said that health care was the single issue driving their vote and 39 percent said they voted for Brown specifically because of his vocal opposition to the measure." In other words, Brown voters were health care voters, and they were flocking to the polls to protect their own Commonwealth’s ability to manage health care.
Justice Brandeis called the states "laboratories for democracy." Massachusetts is no exception.
Enacted in 2006 through a deal by then-Governor Mitt Romney and Democratic legislative leaders, Massachusetts’ health care program requires individuals to possess health insurance. The legislation created the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority and provides subsidized health coverage for citizens whose earnings are 150 percent below the federal poverty level with partial subsidies for those making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Over 435,000 residents were covered within its first two years of operation, according to the Boston Globe.
The Massachusetts program is criticized by the left for not going far enough to "universalize" health care in the state and attacked from the right as a fiscally burdensome Big Government contrivance. Susanne King, a physician from Berkshire County, MA editorialized in the Globe last March that the program still fails to provide truly "affordable" coverage for all residents.
Others have attacked the program as being excessively expensive. The Globe reported on March 15, 2009 that state taxpayers would see a 42 percent increase in the cost of the program from the 2006 budget to the 2009 budget, a figure that has fiscal conservatives on edge. Yet still, Massachusetts has just roughly two percent of its denizens without health care coverage.
Let’s be honest. There’s no such thing as a completely successful, problem-free government program. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar who will next try to sell you a jar of snake oil or a deed to a ranch in Montana. However, the 80 percent of Bay Staters who are happy with their Commonwealth’s health insurance reform program that covers 98 percent of residents voted yes on federalism and no on the federal juggernaut.
Tuesday was not necessarily a victory for Brown or the Republicans nor was it a defeat for Obama, Coakley, or the Democrats. It was a victory for federalism, for decentralization, for localism, and for weakening rather than empowering the federal giant.
Brown’s win demonstrates the continuing relevance of the founding principles of our nation. Madison declared in Federalist No. 45 in Jan. 1788 that "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." Thanks to Massachusetts voters, Madison lives to fight another day.
Nathan R. Shrader is the Vice Chairman of the 5th Ward Republican City Committee in Philadelphia, where he is working on his PhD in Political Science at Temple University. He holds an MS in Political Science from Suffolk University in Boston and can be reached through is web page at www.NathanShrader.com