When Republican Scott Brown won the Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, many Americans saw it as a vote of no confidence in Obamacare. I cannot speak much to how his candidacy was presented in Massachusetts but the American public was more-or-less told that a vote for Brown was a vote against the Affordable Care Act.
There’s no doubt Brown’s election was a change in the status quo for Bay Staters. The Democratic Kennedy occupied the seat for years and the possibility of a Republican taking it over seemed a stretch at best. 2010 proved to be a major year for Republicans and Brown “kicked off the movement” so to speak in the January special election. However, the lasting effects of his win proved to be rather minimal.
Even with Brown in the Senate, Republicans weren’t able to block the passage of Obamacare. His win only prevented House leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) from altering the bill. William Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School, argues that this was key in preventing the bill from becoming even more aggressive. http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/02/scott-browns-important-place-in-history/. Democrats were in such a hurry to get the legislation through however that it seems unlikely much would have changed.
With Brown’s 2012 loss to Elizabeth Warren, it is clear his 2010 win wasn’t the realigning election that political pundits thought it might be. After the craze surrounding his defeat of Martha Coakley died down, we didn’t hear much from Brown throughout his three years in Washington. Obamacare passed, Brown did his thing and then came home. His Friday announcement that he would not seek the seat vacated by John Kerry essentially solidified the belief that Brown’s election was just a result of him being swept up in the anti-Obama sentiment of 2010.
In reality, Brown wasn’t a game changer at any point. He was always known for being an independent thinker that reached across the aisle (something Washington could use more of). Expecting him to run to D.C. and fall in line with the Republican cause was rather dimwitted given his history. In fact, his own website says, “As your Senator, I have represented Massachusetts as an independent voter and thinker.” http://www.scottbrown.com/issues/independent-voice/. He may be one of the few officials on Capitol Hill who can actually make that claim.
The lesson here is that not every election is as monumental as we think. Although political theory looks at realigning, deviating and confirming elections primarily at the presidential level, we could easily compare Brown’s experience to Jimmy Carter’s in 1976. Seen as a big change at the time, Carter’s win quickly proved to be an exception to the norm. Republicans quickly took back the presidency in 1980, much like Democrats took back the Brown’s Senate seat in 2012. Time has passed and both wins simply proved to be deviations.
As the Affordable Care Act fully goes into effect in 2014, let’s remember that Scott Brown never had a chance to do much about it. He was late to the show and missed the Senate vote on the matter so blaming him for letting it through would be unfair. As we start to look back on the Obama years, be sure not to over-emphasize the importance of Brown’s election. If anything, hope that Democrats and Republicans take the last four-plus years as a lesson and start working together again.