A Hill staffer gives us his read …
Maybe it’s just my perspective, but I honestly think Washington Dems missed what was happening in Massachusetts because they were simply exhausted.
Last year was incredibly long and incredibly tiring. Congress went from the omnibus to stimulus to nominations to appropriations to health care reform, all the way through 1:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. votes in the Senate just days before Christmas.
When everyone left for a much-needed vacation, Coakley had a solid lead. Then we had the Christmas Day bombing attempt, Dorgan and Dodd resigning, and a massive earthquake in Haiti. By the time everyone turned back to the Massachusetts special election, a week before election day, Coakley had already snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
That explanation doesn’t make anyone look good, least of all the DSCC and the White House political office. But that’s my gut reaction on why it happened, and why no one was prepared to deal with it. Today people were just dumbstruck that all the work that went into health care, and all the political capital spent on it last year, could be for naught.
That said, with regard to health care, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath. Yes, we need to steel everyone’s resolve and get the messaging right as soon as possible. And no one with any political sense wants to deal with health care any longer than necessary — we need to talk about jobs, reining in the deficit, and reforming Wall Street. But legislatively, this isn’t something that needs to happen in the next 24 hours, or even the next week. The House has the Senate bill, and it’s not going to expire. We’re not rushing anything through before Scott Brown gets seated, and we’re not somehow going to lose another seat in the next month. Let’s figure out what makes the most sense, from both political and policy perspectives, and get it done.
Late Update: TPM Reader BC responds …
Not a shot at the Hill staffer himself, but the Democratic attitude he’s outlining is what frustrated me most when I was working on the Hill, and I think it’s going to have to change in order to avoid repeats of disasters like this.
Congressional Democrats get so immersed in insular, bureaucratic legislative projects that only really resonate with themselves, lobbyists, and C-span addicts – things like the omnibus and appropriations and appointments – and then spend so much time patting themselves on the back when they get these basic tasks done, that they forget that the voting public only really cares about action on big issues like health care or jobs or energy.
I remember being given talking points from Dem leadership trumpeting how we had passed more appropriations bills on time than the Republicans had when they were in charge. When the Democrats in Congress are so buried in their own institutional culture that they think that’s an accomplishment that anyone outside Washington will care about, it’s easy to see how they would start feeling like they deserved a vacation long before they ever actually got to thinking about anything that would actually matter to the American people — like passing health care reform or making a priority out of winning the Senate race that will clinch it.
Until the Dems get better at winning the big fights than handling the day-to-day minutiae of Washington, we’ll have more embarrassments like this.