The New York loss may yield even more dividends. It may induce a certain complacency among Democrats. Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, crowed, "Today, the Republican plan to end Medicare cost Republicans $3.4 million and a seat in Congress. And this is only the first seat ... We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare."
Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne noted with satisfaction that "This is a big setback for Paul Ryan's budget and a warning for Republican incumbents everywhere."
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, eager to wring every partisan drop from the special election results, scheduled a rushed vote on the Ryan budget. It failed 57-40 in the Democrat-majority chamber. A number of Republicans, including Scott Brown, Lisa Murkowski, and the ladies from Maine voted with the Democrats. (Rand Paul also voted against the Ryan budget -- believing it to be too timid.)
Democrats believe that Republicans have blundered badly -- changing the subject from the limping economy, the soaring debt, and the unpopular Obamacare to the Democrats' favorite campaign issue -- Medicare. But that confidence is misplaced.
Jane Corwin, the Republican candidate in NY 26, didn't make counterarguments about Medicare -- not even when the liberal group The Agenda Project aired a spot that looked more like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of a political ad than the real thing. A tall young fellow looking very much like Ryan pushes a delicate old lady in a wheelchair toward a scenic lookout. To the strains of "America the Beautiful," on-screen graphics describe the Medicare program and claim that Ryan's budget would "privatize" and thus end it. At the end of the spot, the Ryan figure dumps grandma out of the wheelchair and off the cliff. Subtle.
"Is America still beautiful without Medicare?" asks the graphic.
Is America still beautiful with politics like this? Sheesh.
For the Democrats to succeed with this tactic (and on political hygiene grounds alone, they deserve to lose), they must rely on the ignorance of voters. That's a dangerous gamble. In one special election, you can get by with it. But in a nationwide contest that includes the presidency, it's not going to be so easy.
Republicans happen to have reality on their side.