Was it arrogance that caused the Democratics to lose the Massachusetts seat held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy for almost 50 years? Did the party not realize that hard economic times and scepticism about health care reform has faded the state's blue tradition? Whatever the reasons, President Obama and the Democratic Party now find themselves without the protection of a filbuster majority as they try to push ahead with controversial legislation and attempts to fix the economy.
It seems particularly ominous that Scott Brown won in a special election to represent a state that mandated universal health care in 2006 (with Brown's vote and support), by promising to vote against a similar national health care plan fought for by his predecessor. The late senator must be rolling over in his grave. Sitting parties are always vulnerable when the economy is doing poorly, and the Obama administration is also faced with a voting public who did not necessarily agree with the bank bailouts and are disgusted by the obnoxious bonuses being mete out in the financial industry. They have also been frightened by misinformation and confusion about an expensive and cumbersome health care plan. With mid-term elections coming in November, and the economic forecast still showing rainy days ahead, Democrats have a tough row to hoe if they want to maintain their tenuous majority.
Many of the people who handed out buttons, made phone calls from party offices across the country, and wept in the streets at the prospect of electing the first black president, have now gone back to their politically inactive lives. The excitement is all over and the waggonists have abandoned the work that needs to be done. While President Obama's election mobilized the political right, democrats on the Hill and on the streets rested on their laurels despite the big issues at stake. There has been no uprising to defend the things upon which President Obama campaigned and won, such as healthcare reform and economy recovery. There has been no answer to the Teabagger movement; no animated, angry left.
To be true agents of change we must go beyond turning up to elect the president. We must be educated constituents that understand large global and national issues. We must be able to understand how larger issues connect to our quality of life - our jobs, taxes, housing, and health. Every election - municipal, state, federal - is important. Every issue is worth our attention. We cannot be so lazy as to hold a president to campaign promises, without providing the support needed to accomplish them.
Massachusetts is behind us, but there is much ahead to lose or to accomplish. What we do next will sound the death knell for real progress, or the rallying cry towards a truly historic period of American history.