Published on 20 Jan 2010 Sections

Massachusetts vote makes it harder for Obama to bring change

The winning candidate in the Massachusetts senatorial election, Scott Brown, drove across the state in a truck whipping up anger about everything President Obama has done, and failed to do, in the one year he’s been in office.

What a difference a year makes. Last November hope drove US voters; now it seems the key emotion is anger.
 
The winning candidate in the Massachusetts senatorial election, Scott Brown, drove across the state in a truck whipping up anger about everything President Obama has done, and failed to do, in the one year he’s been in office.

Unemployment is high, and the president’s bailing out banks. The deficit is astronomical and the president’s pushing a trillion dollar healthcare reform bill.

US companies are losing their competitive edge to China, yet the Democrats want to introduce a climate change bill which will increase business costs. Some foreigner tried to blow up a US passenger plane with a bomb in his underpants and the president wants to free everyone in Guantanamo Bay prison.

He portrayed himself as an independent, local voice against the twin bogeymen of US politics: “big government” and “Washington”.
 
It’s what political analysts call “a narrative”. It may be a distortion of President Obama’s policies, it may not be entirely true, it may be exaggerated but it worked.

The candidate who favours “waterboarding” of terrorism suspects won in a state which returned the most liberal or liberals, the late Ted Kennedy, for 47 years, and where 62 per cent voted Obama for president.
 
Pundits will be reading the runes for months, while the Republicans crow and the Democrats cry. Martha Coakley, the Democrat candidate, didn’t seem to try very hard – she even told a journalist she didn’t want to shake people’s hands, a staple of campaigning.

(Historical note: British readers may recall that Coakley was the prosecutor in the famous case of Louise Woodward, the British nanny found guilty of shaking a baby to death in Boston in 1997.)
 
So where does it leave President Obama? The latest CNN poll gives him 51 per cent approval ratings – not high. The seat robs the Democrats of their 60/40 filibuster-proof Senate majority, which means they may be unable to get their healthcare reform bill through.

That’s Obama’s most important piece of legislation, the campaign promise by which his first term will be defined.
 
Today Obama celebrates one year in power. Increasingly, Americans say they’re disappointed, maybe because their expectations were unrealistically high.

The Massachusetts election result means it will now be even more difficult for him to bring the change he promised.