Some thoughts from the last round of public political theater – a morality play in four acts played out in the early spring of 2010 in Washington DC.
Act 1 – Bring in the Clowns
The country finally had to confront the real character of the Tea Party. What started months ago under the guise of a populist response to concerns about intrusive government, quickly morphed into an angry unruly mob. What started out as a media sponsored stunt to disrupt public meetings has grown to a radical conservative ethic that leaves no room for opposing views. Joe Wilson raised a lot of money and became a media darling for disrupting a Presidential speech by calling him a liar. Congressional Democrats had to run a gauntlet of racial and homophobic slurs, physical threats, and virtually every other form of hate speech imaginable. During the debate, Congressional Republicans came off the floor to lead the mob in chants of “kill the bill”. It got to the point where local police were concerned for their safety. The culmination was Republican Randy Neugebauer flinging the “baby killer” epithet at the most pro-life Democrat on the planet, Bart Stupak.
Act 2 – In Pelosi we trust
This was a tour de force for the majority leader. What she lacks in public speaking, she more than made up for in political skill. She leveraged her majority to pass a very controversial bill in the face of the most organized and powerful forces every aligned against a bill’s passage. For months, the Republicans have been winning the public opinion battle by painting the Democrats as unable to govern and unresponsive to the American people. Polls plunged and the Republican victory in Massachusetts was hailed as the beginning of a new age of Republican ascendency.
Passage of this bill demonstrated that those claims were hollow and gave strength to the Democratic argument that it is the Republicans who have been preventing the government from doing the people’s business. In another swift turnabout, she positioned the Democrats as the real party of the people. That’s because the Democratic party embraces broader spectrum of opinions than the Republican party. It may take a while longer to reach consensus, she said, but Democratic proposals are a better reflection of the diversity of the American people as a result.
Act 3 – Stupak secure
The real winner was Bart Stupak. He went three for three. He wielded his small coalition of pro-life democrats to extract a commitment from a pro-choice President to rigorously enforce the Hyde Amendment. This satisfied his backers in the Catholic Church. He delivered the votes to pass the Healthcare Bill. This made him a hero to those Democrats who don’t share his views on abortion. Finally, he delivered the most dramatic moment of the evening after the bill passed. Republicans made an impassioned plea to send the bill back to committee to add back the anti-abortion language that Bart Stupak had originally authored. This was a long shot attempt to peal off some Democrats who may have been concerned about casting what the Republicans were certain to characterize as a “pro-choice” vote. Stupak was the only person in that chamber with the credibility to call this maneuver out for what it really was. When he rose to speak, he condemned the Republican motion as politically motivated and passionately characterized the Healthcare Reform bill as genuinely “pro-life”, thus giving cover for any that might have been wavering. Thus he not only gained immediate forgiveness for his threat to scuttle healthcare reform, but re-established himself as a Democrat in high standing with the rest of the party.
Act 4 – There’s no place like home
The Republican Party now knows the risks of playing the wicked witch. The Democratic Party found their Dorothy in Stupak. His water bucket was full and his aim was true. The public are now witnessing the spectacle of opposition to healthcare reform melting away and perhaps the Republican party with it.
The Republicans bet the farm on their ability to defeat President Obama on healthcare. They sold their soul in the process. They embraced Tea Party radicalism. They bent the truth past the breaking point. They nearly ground the government to a halt a year. They unleashed a great tornado of fear and hate that continues to churn. But in the end, they failed.
As a result, it isn’t clear at this point what they really stand for other than more fear and hate. Fortunately that’s not what most American’s want. You can be sure that Democrats in November will point that out. That’s because at the end of the day, what the American people voted for in 2008 was hope for a better world rather than fear of a worse one. While there are still a lot of things to be concerned about, my sense is that the voting public is tired of being frightened.
I believe that this hope for a better world and a brighter future is still alive. This bill is the first substantive evidence from this administration of their commitment to deliver on that promise. My bet is the American people will reward this effort because we care about our neighbors and know that there is no place like home.