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Obama's woes after Massachusetts

Mark Mardell | 23:41 UK time, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Barack Obama speaks at an event in Washington on 20 January 2010After last night's beating at the hands of the people of Massachusetts, President Obama is keeping his head down.

Any public event reflecting on his first year in office would have been both unseemly and uncomfortable. So there wasn't one.

But he did give an interview to ABC in which he rejected a dirty quick-fix on healthcare. He said: "I just want to make sure this is off the table. The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. The people of Massachusetts spoke, he has got to be part of that process."

That last part suggests he is also ruling out simply passing the Senate bill through the House. The speeches have been made, the commentators will continue to sound off, but I suspect the political strategists will take a little time reading the entrails.

It's obviously easy for those with a political agenda to impose their own agenda - to find out what is behind the discontent is less easy. The trouble is that there was little in the way of exit polls (apart from this one I've just found), so it is difficult to answer the core question: why did people who voted for Obama in the presidential election vote for Scott Brown in the Senate race?

Vox pops are no substitute for such research, but I was intrigued by one man who told a BBC colleague: "It was sending the message 'enough is enough'. I mean trying to push this healthcare thing through: do you know what it means? Well do you?"

Mr Obama's woes must in part stem from the fact no-one can answer that question. There are still two different bills, and what impact they would have on individual family finances is a matter of interpretation. Confusion is never a good policy.

The man who's rocked Mr Obama's boat, Scott Brown, is endearingly thrilled about his victory, and sounds as if he can hardly believe it.

His tone is fascinating. He is calling himself an independent, hardly mentioning the word "Republican" but talking about "the people" a lot. Invited to take a free hit at the president, he joked about their mutual interest in basketball and Mr Obama's good sense of humour.

He's strongly opposed to the healthcare bill, but - asked to analyse his victory - he stressed voters' disgust at the pork-barrel politics that allowed the Democrats to get the healthcare bill though the Senate before Christmas.

When the blogs and columns and airwaves are full of bile it is at least interesting that the man who won doesn't want to make it personal.


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