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Can a single senator, freshly elected in a special election in a small state, really change the political landscape in the United States?

No.

There are two significant aspects to Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts. First he’s a Republican in a very liberal state, and second it is Ted Kennedy’s seat. Beating Democrat Martha Coakley is no accomplishment – she has one of the worst cases of foot-in-mouth disease since Dan Rather.

Of course the uber-elite among conservatives are making wild claims for this off-off-year win. They claim this was a referendum on Barack Obama, and a referendum on health care reform, and a referendum on the Democrat leadership in Congress, and a referendum on anything else they can think of they don’t like. Why? Because it’s a Republican win, and they need everything they can get.

At most Brown’s victory represents a distracting annoyance for the Democrats, and a temporary one at that. They have lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, at least until the next round of elections. But a filibuster is no guarantee of defeat for a bill, and it’s a two-edged sword. Republicans risk appearing as obstructionists if they hold-up the business of government in a wanton orgy of partisan tactics.

The claim that Brown’s victory is the death knell for health care reform is a bit late. Democrats already killed health reform in their quest to supply Barack Obama with some sort of presidential accomplishment in his first year in office. Yes they have a bill, but it is an empty achievement gutted for the sake of expedience.

The fact that Scott Brown could win in Massachusetts is definitely a referendum on Martha Coakley, and so indirectly on the lame party that ran her. But what is truly astounding is his taking Ted Kennedy’s seat. An electorate that has voted for a liberal for nearly 50 years has done an about-face, en mass, and elected a Republican (Brown is too new to configure his ideology as conservative just yet). It is the choice of Coakley as the Democrat contender that is telling here: the voters were not behaving as the statistical block Democrats counted on. The easy victory they anticipated dissolved before their eyes as Coakley went from one awkward gaffe to another. The message is clear: we aren’t sheep, we aren’t stupid, and if you want our loyalty you’d better start to deliver something other than empty rhetoric and empty legislation.

This is the message both parties need to heed. Republicans shouldn’t pat themselves on the back just yet, because the message isn’t that Americans don’t want health care reform, it’s that they want real substantive reform, instead of the childish political games that go on day after day in Washington.

One last point, just for its amusement value: if a Democrat had won who had once posed nude in a magazine, would Republicans be screaming about family values and engaging in character assassination? Yes, they would. But when it’s one of their own they are strategically silent.

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