The surprise victory of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Senator Edward Kennedy has left the Democratic Party reeling in confusion. The unexpected result reduces the Democratic majority in the Senate from 60 to 59, meaning that the Democrats will no longer be able to block a Republican filibuster. Among other things, this development seems to have effectively derailed President Obama's much-touted healthcare bill.
The Republicans have proven adept at blocking the Obama agenda in the year since he took office. Their newly-acquired ability to sustain filibusters, assuming their caucus remains firmly united, substantially increases their political power. Republicans are hopeful that this special election result is a harbinger of more gains to come when the general mid-term election takes place in November.
Democrats, by contrast, seem in despair. A year ago, the party was celebrating the inauguration of President Obama and the elevation of the party to a more powerful position than it had enjoyed since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Now, faced with a resurgent opposition and having failed to enact much of their domestic agenda, the Democrats seem as confused and disjointed as a man picking himself up after being run over by a dump truck.
The new political situation now gives both parties a chance to act like responsible public servants. Over the last year, the Republicans have not acted like a responsible opposition party, but merely as the "Party of No" determined to block any and all initiatives by the Obama administration for purely political motivations. They certainly have not had the public interest in mind. For their part, the Democrats have attempted to ram through enormous and expensive bills as though the Republican Party didn't exist.
Now that the Republicans have solidified their ability to block Democratic bills, one of two things will happen. It may be that the two parties will simply continue to snip away at each other and refuse to work together, ignoring the people's business and allowing the critical problems facing our country to go unsolved. Or they can do what the people have been asking them to do for decades: sit down together and work out compromise solutions that will tackle the important issues.
There are a few good signs in the days since the election. Immediately after the results were announced, there was talk of simply rushing the healthcare bill through the final stages of the Senate legislative procedure and sending it to the President's desk before Senator-election Brown took his seat. However, President Obama himself has firmly rejected this course of action, saying that it would be improper in light of the new political situation. The next few days will be very interesting to watch.
Because we live in a representative republic, the government should act only in keeping with the wishes of the great majority of the people, as nearly as these can be determined. Unfortunately, when one party is firmly in control, it acts as if the American people who support the other party no longer exist. The Republican Party did this between 2000 and 2006, when it controlled both Congress and the White House, and the Democratic Party has done the same over the last year.
Perhaps the two parties will recognize the futility of continuing this way of doing business and sit together together in the spirit of compromise and cooperation. But don't hold your breath.