Monday, March 15, 2010

Volunteering (Others) For A Suicide Mission

I usually enjoy William Saletan's take on things, but this piece makes a terrible, terrible argument. Saletan argues that wavering Democrats ought to vote for the health care bill that's currently on the table, even if their constituents have made it abundantly clear that they oppose it and will punish an affirmative vote at the polls this fall. Failure to do so, he claims, would be undemocratic:

Democracy isn't about doing what might sell in the next election. It's about
doing what you promised in the last one. If you're in Congress, and if you think
this bill is good for the country, vote for it. Even if it costs you your job.
This is, to put it delicately, pure poppycock. Firstly, it's easy for a pundit, who will still be employed regardless of whether this bill passes, to argue that embattled legislators ought to jump on an electoral grenade to pass it. It's easy to dismiss the importance of someone else's career when you view it as an obstacle to something you want, but the view of said legislators is likely justifiably different. Secondly, the assertion that ObamaCare as it is currently proposed is what the Democrats "promised" in the last election is absurd. To begin with, I see little persuasive evidence that the Democrats' 2008 victories were a sudden endorsement of the progressive platform rather than merely a repudiation of Bush-era Republicanism. Many of the so-called "blue dogs" won their seats by running as DINOs who distanced themselves as much as they reasonably could from the progressive agenda, including expensive entitlement expansions. Furthermore the health care reform Obama promised in his campaign is different from the bill that is actually on the table. For one, he opposed the (extremely unpopular) insurance mandate when he was elected, but has now come around to endorsing it, and the bill includes it. Even if one accepts the dubious proposition that the public elected Democrats because they want "health care reform", it's pretty clear the reform they want is not the reform they're being offered. Moderate democrats in swing districts, not being morons without a shred of political self-preservation instinct, are aware of this discrepancy. It appears Saletan is not.

Here's a historical analogy. In 1941, Jeannette Rankin of Montana was the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on the grounds of her pacifist, isolationist principles. When she was elected in 1940, the prevalent mood of the country, and of her constitutuents particularly, was similarly pacifistic and isolationist, and she was clearly voting on the promise she'd made during the 1940 campaign to keep America out of the war. In the interim, however, an attack by a foreign power had radically shifted the national mood, and her vote, while principled, could hardly be said to represent the will of the people. The healthcare debate presents a similar, though much less dramatic, situation. In 2008, people were voting on somewhat different issues. While the economy had already begun to crash, it hadn't been rattling along in a ditch for eighteen months already, the war in Iraq was a bigger concern, and "healthcare reform" was just a vague phrase that everyone was free to interpret as meaning "the specific changes in healthcare that I personally want". Those circumstances no longer hold, and legislators are responding to that.

Saletan concludes by saying this:
...this is too big a vote to cast on the basis of politics. Every so often, a
bill comes along that's bigger than anything your predecessor got to touch.
You're the lucky bastard who had your seat in 2010, when that bill reached the
floor. And here you are, worrying about your career, when the purpose of your
career is staring you in the face.

For a journalist who is unabashedly enthusiastic about ObamaCare, it's clear that passing it is the purpose of any Democratic legislator's career. Unfortunately for hesitant Democratic legislators themselves, that's more difficult to determine.

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