segunda-feira, janeiro 25, 2010

Ainda as eleições no Massachussets.

Michael Baum, um cientista político americano na U Mass., bom amigo e conhecedor da realidade portuguesa, recebeu há dias uma lista de perguntas do Diário Económico. Segundo me disse, as respostas não chegaram a tempo para serem incluídas no jornal. Mas divulgo-as aqui, com autorização do Michael, por serem tão interessantes:

- What do you think of yesterday's results of the elections in Massachusetts?
Surprising in the sense of how badly the Democratic Party of Masschusetts, the Coakley Campaign, and the DNC reacted to what was obviously a very poor campaign strategy. They simply took for granted their 20-point lead of some weeks ago and didn't realize that the state of Massachusetts is not as blue Democrat as everyone seems to think. The best analysis of the results thus far, in my opinion, appears here at the NYtimes:

- Was it a result that you antecipated?
Yes and No. Nobody predicted several weeks ago when Brown was a relatively unknown state senator, national guard member, and former nude layout model in Cosmopolitan Magazine that he could win, nor could anyone predict what a terrible campaigner Coakley would be; but in the past week I was actually not that surprised to see Brown win since his numbers were growing so quickly and Coakley's were dropping like a stone. The turnout wasn't large enough to bring the overwhelming advantage Democrats have in registered voters to any fruition for Coakley, and Independents went in large numbers for Brown.

- What are going to be the consequences of this election outcome locally, in Massachusetts, and at a national level?
For the nation the consequences are hard to predict. Everyone seems to be focused on the fact that Democrats now only have 59 votes in the Senate, and thus will be unable to stop Republican filibusters. While technically true, the fact is that of the 60 votes the Democrats had, several were always tenuous on any number of policy issues. Take for example, Sen. Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats; or Senators from the Midwest like Nelson, or Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, all of whom required significant concessions from the Obama administration on health care reform to use but one example, in order to get their support. So although the Democrats look like they have a significant and historic majority in Congress (which they do), in reality they had to run very centrist candidates in several states in order to win, and so their majority is really quite a bit narrower in the Senate than it appears.
Locally, the implications are equally hard to predict. Of course, one of the great ironies is that Massachusetts is one of the few states that will not likely be affected very much if healthcare reform fails nationally. That is because we have a statewide universal health care plan that already resembles in many ways the plan that Obama was pushing for the country. Brown, like most Republicans, is against raising taxes. So this means there it will be more difficult for Democrats to push through any policies that would require higher taxes on banks, wealthy individuals, carbon emitters, large corporations, etc. Locally, that means that states like Massachusetts will most likely have to continue to reduce their spending in those discretionary areas where they can do so-- that means areas like public higher education, care for the poor and mentally ill, prison spending, and other social services. At my own university, the University of Massachusetts (public), the percentage of our budget which comes from the state is now down to something like 18%. So we really are not any longer a public university, we are a privately funded university with some modest public support and a public mission.. That trend will only get worse.

- What are the consequences for the portuguese community? How did the portuguese voted in this election: more democrat or more republican?
Urban areas in Massachusetts, like Fall River and New Bedford, voted overwhelmingly for Coakley. This is typical of both Massachusetts and national politics; urban areas tend to vote more Democratic than rural and suburban areas of the United States. So there was nothing new in this regard. Fall River voted 57% to 41% for Coakley, while New Bedford voted 59% to 39% for Coakley. The consequences for the Portuguese community will likely be negative in the sense that their children are more likely to attend public schools (at least those unable to afford Catholic school tuition), and as a poorer community than the average in Massachusetts, they are more likely to rely on social services than the average Massachusetts resident. Consequently, insofar as the election of another Republican senator leads to less federal funding for state mandates, less stimulus monies, and less federal spending on public education (which I think is a reasonable prediction), then this community would tend to suffer more than most in Massachusetts.

- What does it mean a republican victory in a state predominantely democrat, in the last 47 years?
Personally I don't see it as such a dramatic change. Massachusetts citizens have elected Republican governors in the past, and given the increase in registered independent voters in Massachusetts, it is predictable that elections will become more volatile in Massachusetts in the future. Given our current (Democratic) Governor's low level of popularity, we might also predict that his reelection is in jeopardy this year, and there is a very good chance that Democrats could lose the governorship again.

- Is this bad for president Obama, after winning in the state by a large majority in 2008?
Yes clearly. The fact that he invested political capital by coming up here over the weekend to campaign for Coakley also looks bad for him. But clearly, expectations surrounding the election of Pres. Obama were and remain unrealistic. The American political system is designed to be very difficult to change in any significant way. There are many veto players in the American system, and people who thought that a Democrat majority in both houses, plus a Democratic president were going to equal dramatic change in a more progressive direction were simply not paying very close attention to our history nor to the kinds of Democrats the party was electing in many constituencies that are hardly progressive.

- Why do you think the people of Massachussets changed their minds in voting republican this time?
All the polls suggest that Obama still retains relatively high personal approval ratings here, despite the end of his honeymoon some time ago. So this was not so much a vote against Obama, as many pundits might like to portray it. I think it was primarily a large group of independent-minded voters, who came out in force for Obama a year ago, because they thought that he represented a force for change in Washington, and now because they are disillusioned with the pace of that change, they voted for Brown as a force for change in Washington. Will Brown be any more of a change agent in Washington than Obama has been? I doubt it. He is a relatively moderate Republican, despite the efforts of the Coakley campaign to label him as a typically conservative Republican. What is the change that Massachusetts voters seek? That depends a lot on whom you ask. I think the Democratic Party is really trying to figure that out right now and I suspect that we will see the Party promoting more populist measures as a way to try and tap into this amorphous public anger at the status quo--ergo the discussion of a modest tax on Wall Street bonuses. But note that the tax that is being discussed by the Obama administration is infinitely weaker than the one that the Gordon Brown government has pushed through British Parliament. That is just another example of how the American political system always tends to water down policies towards the center. The genius of the Republican Party in the United States is that they have managed to drag what constitutes "the center" more and more to the right over the last 20 to 30 years, and in this the Democratic Party is complicit--either out of fear for being branded "soft" on communism during the Cold War era, or the so-called "War on Terror" now, or on criminals, etc. In economic terms, when you see who funds the campaigns of many Democratic senators, their singular lack of will in reforming the nature of American capitalism in a more social democratic direction is not at all surprising...

- Do you think the election of a republican senator in Massachusetts means the end of the Health Care reform in the Congress?
That is the big $94 question, isn't it? Personally, I think the proposed Senate bill is already so weakened that it represents only a marginal improvement on our status quo. Granted, that marginal improvement would mean health insurance for millions of currently uninsured Americans, but if the premiums that they would have to pay for that coverage are as high as many analysts are saying, then that coverage would be meaningless for millions of people anyway. That said, is something better than nothing? I guess that depends on where you sit.
The House bill still has a public healthcare option in it, and I think any serious student of comparative health care policy knows that that is the only realistic option for dramatically reducing the costs of healthcare in the United States. Public opinion in the US in November was still very much in favor of a public option (61% support overall, 82% among Democrats, and 56% among Independents according to the CBS New Poll of Nov. 13-16, 2009. N= 1167 adults nationwide.), but that support is highly contingent on question wording and it appears that Republicans have been successful in eroding that support in the past month or so. Unfortunately, most Americans don't understand what the public option really means, or they have been taught not to understand this, and the Obama administration knows this, and so under the name of political realism they long ago gave up on pushing for a public option as a requirement for Obama's signature. I must admit that I am very pessimistic about any meaningful or dramatic shift in the wildly piecemeal and dysfunctional nature of American healthcare. Our politicians will likely continue to nibble around the edges, and negotiate deals that look like change, but which in reality represent very little substantive change for the lower and middle classes. Even when our existing systems blow up, as did Wall Street's financial capital model defended by both Democratic and Republican administrations for years, we aren't seeing wholesale change nor serious efforts to dramatically tighten regulations to make sure it doesn't happen again.
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