Drew Altman and the message from Massachusetts

In his latest column, Kaiser Family Foundation president Drew Altman analyzes The Message From Massachusetts. Health care reform was a top issue for voters, he concludes, but their message wasn’t a simplistic “no” to reform.

What do Massachusetts voters want their newly elected Republican senator to do on health reform when he goes to Washington? According to [a Massachusetts Special Election] poll, seven in ten voters, including nearly half of Brown supporters (48 percent), want Senator Brown to work with the Democrats on health care reform. The same opinions held for independents: nearly two thirds of independents (64 percent) say they want to see Brown work in a bipartisan way on the health care proposals put forward by President Obama and the Democrats in Congress.

Altman’s conclusion is that many voters in Massachusetts don’t oppose the substance of the legislation, but they oppose the process, in particular its closed-door nature and perceived payoffs to individual legislators. He also points out that Brown emphasized that Massachusetts already has health reform, so why should we pay more taxes to support the rest of the country in this endeavor.

Altman makes good points but doesn’t tell the whole story. It seems to me Brown won because he campaigned effectively while Martha Coakley was an unattractive candidate who ran a terrible campaign. Brown said and did all the right things. Coakley said and did almost everything wrong.

Even people strongly in favor of health care reform had a hard time getting excited about Coakley. After all, in the primary election she said she’d vote against the House version of the health reform bill. She chastised her opponent Michael Capuano’s vote in favor of the bill because of its inclusion of the Stupak amendment restricting coverage for abortion.

As fellow-primary candidate Steve Pagiluca said in November in relation to the Coakley/Capuano fight:

Senator Kennedy spent 40 years fighting for this opportunity, and today it appears that the two candidates for his seat are risking the greatest opportunity we have had in a generation to make health care reform a reality.

That was prescient.

January 29, 2010

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