Morning Must Reads -- Are you listening now, Mr. President? 

New York Times -- A Year Later, Voters Send a Different Message

When Senator-elect Scott Brown took President Obama’s congratulatory phone call Tuesday night the first thing Brown asked him was whether the president wanted him to drive the pickup truck Obama had mocked during the campaign down to Washington so he could get a better look at it.

Obama’s calculated anger at bank bonuses and jabs at Brown’s vehicle were no match for Brown’s blue-collar credentials and attitude when it came to connecting with voters. Brown won a 5-point victory in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1966. To consider the size of the repudiation of the president and his party, it would be as if Alabama had elected a Democrat during the Bush administration.

The message of the election is that independent voters are fed up with Washington and a political elite that is out of touch. Democrat Martha Coakley promised to join the team while Brown offered to be an independent voice.

We can expect the White House to do more bashing of Wall Street and attacking bankers, but the real frustration is with political system that doesn’t work and leaders who seem more interested in scoring political wins than solving problems.

Writer Adam Nagourney looks at the unhappy one-year anniversary gift the voters of Massachusetts gave the president.

“Mr. Obama could find it more difficult to get moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats in Congress to cast politically tough votes.

It will be lost on few in the House or the Senate that the Democratic defeat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state came despite a last-minute personal appeal from Mr. Obama, who campaigned here for Ms. Coakley on Sunday. This suggests that Mr. Obama may be of limited or no help to candidates in close elections. No less important, he may not have much leverage to stop them from defying him in Washington.”

 

New York Times -- Democratic Defeat Imperils Health Care Overhaul

The decision to craft a partisan health-care bill in private with special interests was politically risky for the president, but might have produced the benefit of a swift victory on a key issue.

But by cutting corners in the name of speed and then enduring on in a long slog on health care when fast results did not materialize, Obama may have obtained the worst possible result: blame for a crummy process that caused Democrats to look crooked and out of touch with no result to show for it.

Nervous Democrats in Congress were relieved by Scott Brown’s election, with centrists like Evan Bayh of Indiana and Jim Webb of Virginia metaphorically leaping to open the door to the chamber for the Senator-elect, knowing that his arrival means that the health-care plan crafted by the White House and Democratic leaders is a dead letter in the Senate.

As Examiner colleague Julie Mason pointed out all the talk about salvaging the original health bill in some final Hail Mary pass is starting to sound rather foolish in the face of a slap down by blue state voters.

What may emerge is a sliver of the overall bill that could be reintroduced with some bipartisan support. Obama can’t get the year back, but he can at least show it not to be a total loss.

While the problem is with a plan that is big, expensive, unwieldy, and of no benefit to middle class voters, writer Carl Hulse explains that the blame game continues:

“Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and a top party campaign strategist, acknowledged that resistance to the emerging health legislation also factored in the outcome of the Massachusetts race.

‘Health care was also part of the debate and the people of Massachusetts were right to be upset about provisions in the Senate bill,’ Mr. Van Hollen said, referring to ‘special deals’ included in the bill to win the votes of Democratic senators and round up 60 votes.”

 

Washington Post -- White House, Democratic lawmakers cut deal on deficit commission

The two promised themes of the president’s State of the Union address one week hence are job creation and fiscal responsibility. While delivering results on either would be very hard, the imperative is on good messaging in an election year, and having something tangible to point to is a must, especially for a president whose major domestic initiative has come a cropper.

As the White House was bracing for a stinging defeat in Massachusetts, administration leaders and congressional Democrats reached a deal on the creation of a new presidential commission that will have the power to offer legislative packages on debt reductions – prix fixe slates of spending cuts and tax increases to be taken as a whole or rejected.

Writer Lori Montgomery points out that at the very moment voters were sending a big message about bipartisanship, the White House excluded credible Republican ideas from the process.

“Republican commission advocates remain skeptical that a presidentially appointed panel would have the clout to tackle the nation's toughest fiscal problems. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a sponsor with Conrad of legislation to create a budget commission by law, called a presidentially appointed panel ‘a fraud’ designed to do little more than give Democrats political cover.

‘It's a fraud among anyone interested in fiscal responsibility to claim an executive order could structure something that would actually lead to action,’ Gregg said.

 

Wall Street Journal -- Republican Rise

While Democrats will debate the real reason for spanking they took in Massachusetts (bad candidate, insufficiently liberal agenda in Washington, stupid voters, etc.) there’s no debating the results of the newest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll – independent voters nationally are alarmed by the Democratic agenda and are turning even more sharply toward a shakeup in Washington.

They may not like the Republicans, but the desire to oust Democrats after a dreadful year of command will make voters do crazy things.

Writer Peter Wallsten explains:

“Perhaps most troubling for Mr. Obama and the Democrats is that independents are souring on them. That bloc backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008. Now, by a nearly 2 to 1 margin, independents said they would prefer Republicans to control Congress after November.

Still, distaste for Democrats isn't translating into more love for the GOP. Just 30% of voters felt positively about the Republican Party, compared with 39% for the Democratic Party.”

 

Wall Street Journal -- Gates: Afghan Reconciliation Efforts Critical

A day after Taliban fighters attacked Kabul impressing locals with their ability to project force in the nation’s capital but also with their willingness to spare civilian lives (suicide attackers shooed civilians out before opening fire at a shopping center), Defense Secretary Robert Gates, traveling in India, made a major point about the Obama administration’s desire to negotiate with the Taliban and bring them into the political process through a new jobs program aimed at paying aspiring young warlords to stay out of the jihad.

Writer Yochi Dreazen explains:

“Mr. Gates, a Bush administration holdover, helped shift the U.S. mission in Iraq towards a counter-insurgency focus that devoted significant resources to creating jobs for former Sunni fighters, educating U.S.-held prisoners, and otherwise setting the conditions for many militants to peacefully rejoin Iraqi society. Success in Afghanistan, he said, would need to follow roughly the same recipe.

‘Reconciliation has to be a part of the ultimate conclusion here, just as it was in Iraq,’ he said”

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About The Author

Chris Stirewalt

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Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and ExaminerPolitics.com in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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