Anatomy of Anger

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I was struck by this passage in the Washington Post story about its poll of Massachusetts voters, because it so closely tracks what I was seeing up there anecdotally:

Health care topped jobs and the economy as the most important issue driving Massachusetts voters, but among voters for Brown, it was closely followed by the economy and jobs, and “the way Washington is working.”

Overall, 43 percent of Massachusetts voters say they support the health-care proposals advanced by Obama and congressional Democrats; 48 percent oppose them. Among Brown’s supporters, eight in 10 said they were opposed to the measures, 66 percent of them strongly so.

Sizable majorities of voters for Brown see the Democrats’ plan, if passed, as making things worse for their families, the country and Massachusetts. Few Coakley voters see these negatives, and most of those backing her see clear benefits for the country if health-care reform becomes law. Less than half of Coakley’s supporters say they or the state would be better off as a result.

Among Brown’s supporters who say the health-care reform effort in Washington played an important role in their vote, the most frequently cited reasons were concerns about the process, including closed-door dealing and a lack of bipartisanship. Three in 10 highlighted these political maneuverings as the motivating factor; 22 percent expressed general opposition to reform or the current bill.

The deal now known as the “Cornhusker Kickback” may have been one of the biggest blunders in modern political history. Normally, you’d be surprised if people in Massachusetts even know who the Senator from Nebraska is. But the number of people I talked to who brought up Ben Nelson’s name, unprompted, was striking. I’m also told, by some who were doing phonebanking, that they got an earful about it over and over.

Voters I talked to also brought up the deal with labor. How come, they wanted to know, that everyone has to pay this “Cadillac Tax” on high-cost insurance plans except for the unions, who get a five-year exemption? People are so disgusted by the process, I think, that they have ceased to believe that there is anything in this bill for them.

In my day-after-the-election interview with Scott Brown, he put his finger on it as well:

As you listen to people talk about the health care bill, what is your sense of what they object to? Is it what is in the bill, or the process of putting it together?

Let me ask you a question. What’s in the bill?

Well, I’ve been covering it for a year, so I kind of know.

What’s in the bill now? What’s the final version of the bill? No one really knows what’s in the bill because every time we turn around, there is a new backroom deal with a carve-out. I’ve read the bills too.

Another tidbit that I picked up in my reporting was that the first internal GOP poll that showed Brown closing what had been a 30-point gap with Martha Coakley came in on December 22. What was dominating the political headlines then? Harry Reid’s struggle to cobble together 60 votes on health care.

They call the legislative process sausagemaking for a reason. Has the writing of the health care bill been any uglier than usual? Probably not. But two things are different: The mood of the electorate, and the amount of information that is now available to them. In the past, these deals were buried deep in the fine print. People didn’t find out about them until years after the fact.

That has changed, thanks in part to the kind of media coverage we have and thanks in part to the way people get their information. There is simply a lot more of it out there than there used to be. And when people get their deals, they now have a tendency to go out and brag about them, to convince their patrons and constituencies that they are getting theirs.

So one of the lessons that politicians should take from the Massachusetts election is this: The back room now has windows.

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