Massachusetts delivers shock to Obama

In one of the biggest electoral upsets of all time in the United States, and a huge shock to President Obama, Republican Scott Brown has won the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Edward Kennedy for 47 years until his death last year and his brother John Kennedy from 1953 until he became president after his 1960 victory.

Brown secured 51.9 percent of the vote against 47.1 percent for Democrat Martha Coakley. Given the context, this is a substantial margin.

Marking the first anniversary of President Obama in office, the race became the focus of national attention. The result will be viewed as a sharp rebuke to him. Obama had staked his personal reputation by going to Massachusetts to campaign for Coakley just two days before.

Scott Brown’s victory restores filibuster power to the Republican opposition with 41 votes in the Senate, preventing Obama’s healthcare plan from moving forward. Edward M Kennedy had described health care as ‘the cause of my life’.

Even before the result came in, Democrats had begun to ponder what to do about health reform. The Washington Post warned that the upset could lead to the collapse of a plan that looked close to becoming law only a few weeks ago.

The Massachusetts defeat has far-reaching implications for the Democratic Party. Unemployment in the United States is a source of increasing frustration and resentment. With mid-term elections for the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate due in November, the Massachusetts victory has emboldened the Republican Party. Obama faces even greater challenges for his plans on a range of domestic issues.

On foreign policy, Obama’s June 2009 offer of improvement in relations with the Muslim world has hit a dead end. Relations with Iran have deteriorated sharply. A lot of the goodwill across the Middle East has been squandered because of the administration’s ceaseless emphasis on war and its failure to make any progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president is uncharacteristically quiet while his secretaries of state and defense, and senior military commanders, continue the talk of war on a number of fronts, with Obama’s occasional reminder that he is the commander-in-chief of the world’s greatest power. And Guantanamo has not been closed despite Obama’s pledge to close it at the end of his first year in the White House.

As if that was not enough. On January 20, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting India, indulged himself in quite irresponsible speculation that al Qaeda could try to provoke a new war between Pakistan and India. His remarks are unlikely to please his Indian hosts.

Democrats, after sweeping victories in the presidential and Congressional elections in November 2008, have no one else to blame but their own disunity and lack of real purpose. In her concession speech, an emotional Coakley said anybody on the campaign trail would have seen that folks ‘are angry and concerned about health-care issue and they are angry about our two wars’.

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