Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The White House wake-up call

It's a cliched, but in this case, a very fitting statement: What a difference a year makes.

One year ago today, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States. He was historically ushered in with unprecedented pomp and pageantry. He was almost a rock-star president, elected by a majority seeking change and a fresh start after eight years of the Bush administration.

Then last night, his far-reaching agenda, particularly his controversial health care reform that he's stamped much of his presidency on, was dealt a severe blow in, of all places, Massachusetts. Scott Brown, a Republican state senator, upset Martha Coakley, the Democratic Attorney General, for the U.S. Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy.

It was decisive, too, 52 to 47 percent, that took a Senate seat that had been Democratic for half a century. This is as shocking as a Democrat winning in Randall County.

Massachusetts can be an odd state. It's elected its share of Republicans, including Gov. Mitt Romney. But it's seen as the bluest of liberal states, and you would think that voters might go with the Democrat simply to honor Kennedy's health care reform passion. The late senator called it "the cause of my life."

But as Brown said Tuesday night, "When there's trouble in Massachusetts, rest assured, there's trouble everywhere."

It reminds me when TV newscaster Walter Cronkite spoke out publicly against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Then-president Lyndon Johnson famously said, "When you've lost Walter Cronkite, you've lost America."

Demos are spinning this as somewhat of a local issue and that Coakley ran a terrible campaign. Whatever. This was a clear no-confidence vote in Obama's health-care reform. Many want change, but don't feel comfortable in the direction the White House wants to go.

Brown's election also gives the Senate 41 Republicans, the exact number needed to block legislation. It could also signal a tough year for Democrats nationwide, who will fight to hang on to majorities in the House and Senate.

While conservatives were high-fiving into the night Tuesday, the White House is going to have to take a hard look at itself and its policies. Some things are definitely going to have to be tweaked and the manner they go about them has to change as well.

America spoke last night, speaking loudly in a small New England state. Indeed, what a difference a year makes.

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