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Wednesday, December 30, 2009
A Possible Reason Why

That is, why House and Senate Democrats are willing to jeopardize their reelection to pass the health care takeover.

Sometimes the Thing Speaks for Itself

I was tempted to blog last week about the freakish spectacle of Senate Democratic leaders openly buying -- and Senate Democrats openly selling -- votes for the health care takeover bill, in exchange for billions of dollars of Yuletide pork products. (All together now, "Hey, that's my tax money!") But that profligate disgrace was so conspicuous that it hardly seemed to require comment or analysis from me in the midst of all the squealing.

As almost everyone knows, the Senate's health care takeover bill passed on Christmas Eve. It was a strict party-line vote. Next, a conference committee consisting of carefully-selected members of both House and Senate will attempt to reconcile the different bills passed by those bodies. The aim is to present a single bill to both houses for an up-and-down vote without amendment. If that passes, it goes to the President's desk. This is the normal legislative process. No doubt there will be at least one more avalanche of partisan pork before the final vote; to a degree, that is also the normal legislative process.

Because there will be another vote in both houses of Congress, it is theoretically possible that enough votes will drop out that final passage of the takeover will be impossible. That would be one vote in the Senate -- perhaps 11 if they fudge the rules -- and quite a few more than that in the House. I am not optimistic, but it would be a fine thing to see.

What Are They Thinking? (It's Not a Rhetorical Question)

A number of interesting questions suggest themselves. Some pertain to the past, such as, "Why didn't just one of the 40 Senate Republicans object to unanimous consent motions to waive the three (otherwise required) readings of the monstrous bill? That would have delayed matters at least a week or two. Some questions relate to the future: What will the final vote be? What will be in the final bill? Will anyone be allowed to see it before voting on it? How much pork fat will grease the skids? How many constitutional challenges will there be, and will any of them succeed?

One of the most interesting questions is about the present: What are Senate Democrats thinking?

Public opinion is increasingly unhappy with the health care takeover bills and the lawmakers who have been pushing them. So far, the more the public learns about what's really in the bills and how votes are being bought and sold, the crankier the public gets. Given that many elected officials' top priority is prolonging their political careers, it's worth wondering why either bill, but especially the Senate bill, has come this far. It seems reasonable at this point to foresee that a vote for the health care takeover will end numerous political careers, so how did the Senate bill ever get the 60 required votes?

Vote Nay When It Matters?

One possibility is that some of the 60 voted for the Senate bill so they can say they did, but plan to vote against the final conference bill, to save their careers. That bill will be a compromise; it won't be too hard to argue, if one of the 60 wants to vote against it in the end, that it includes unacceptable provisions that weren't in the original bills. The effect of such a reversal on a Democrat's political career are uncertain. The initial yea vote might slightly mitigate the left's wrath, and the latter nay vote would go a long way toward averting eventual retaliation by conservative and independent voters.

If this is what some Senators are thinking, and if they end up changing their yeas to nays, I'll be delighted, because it will mean that this particular health care takeover will fail. That will be good for the country, in my view. But I'm not counting on it.

There is pressure in the other direction. The immediate retaliation by Senate Democrats, especially the leadership, against a Democrat who voted nay would be brutal. It would probably be enough to end some careers by itself.

Not Just a River In Egypt?

Washington, DC, is its own little world. It's possible to tune in to praise from the Beltway crowd (including the Big Media Acronyms) so intently that even widespread opposition at home is drowned out. Maybe some senators simply believe the propaganda, that the country is largely in favor of the health care takeover and that opposition to it is limited to a few loud and un-American malcontents. If they think this, or if they believe that the storm will blow over once the bill is signed, and everyone will live happily every after with socialized medicine, they may not believe that voting for the takeover will lead to their defeat in the next election. I don't know about the one-third of Senators who are up for reelection in 2010, or the 435 House members who are up for reelection every two years, but I'd be surprised if some in the 2012 and 2014 Senate contingents are not thinking like this. Three years is a long time, and five years even longer, for voters to hold a political grudge over a single bill.

Can Ideologues Do Realism?

Lately, my five year old says he's psychic. Maybe he thinks he's a fake psychic; he's been watching Psych with the family. For my part, I do not pretend to psychic powers. I'm not actively reading any distinguished senatorial or congressional minds. Still, I don't think I've yet accounted for most of the Democrat yea votes on the health care takeover bills.

Many House and Senate Democrats must be sufficiently connected to political reality and sufficiently analytical in their view of it that they know voting for the takeover is likely to cost them their next election. They'd probably be glad if it didn't, but they're resigned to it.

It's not just that they have to retire anyway someday, and the retirement package is very nice, to say nothing of the money they can make lobbying their former colleagues. Few if any of us will pity them if they lose, but they will probably miss the power and the media attention, and they know it.

So if they're not eager to lose their positions, why are they so determined to act against their own political interest by voting for the takeover? Three possibilities suggest themselves; one is unabashedly cynical, while the other two may be somewhat honorable in a sense.

Have they been threatened? Perhaps Democratic leadership (on the Hill or otherwise) has persuaded them that if they don't toe the party line on health care, the remainder of their terms will be miserable, and, after that, their careers are over. If they dare to run for reelection, the party will put up a compelling primary opponent and will see that the challenger wins. That's if they're squeaky clean. If they're somehow subject to blackmail, then the congressional doghouse, followed by defeat at the polls, may not be the worst outcome they can imagine. (I told you one possibility is cynical.)

The other two are variations on a theme: They think it's a triumph worthy of its price.

One of these is a classic revolutionary blind spot: They support the takeover because they think history will celebrate them for voting for it, even if their contemporaries don't. Many revolutionary movements around the world have grossly overestimated their present and future acceptance by the lumpen proletariat.

This Is the Big One

To my mind, the most plausible account of their fervor is historical in another sense. Most of these Democrats formed their political views in the late 1960s and early 1970s, during the Vietnam War, and mostly at prestigious universities. Quite apart from the enormous peer pressures, it was glamorous and morally satisfying to be a leftist.

They were outside of society's power structures then, demanding change -- and attention. Only the most radical anarchists among them wanted government power to go away altogether; many others were simply persuaded that power should be in their hands, not others'. It wasn't as simple as believing that they would use that power to help people, in contrast to the present rulers, who were using it to make war and to make monetary profits -- two roughly equivalent evils in their minds. Or maybe it was just that simple, at least in the beginning.

President Obama himself is the poster child for this. He was tutored by revolutionaries.

The realists among the driven worked their way into government. The ground wasn't fully prepared for them a few years later, during Jimmy Carter's presidency, despite the recent Nixonian disgrace. They weren't sufficiently high in government, in sufficient numbers, to do then what they yearned to do eventually. The same was true to a degree during the Clinton presidency, even before it was derailed by that President's "extreme mentoring." Bill Clinton is too savvy and calculating a politician to be a good and steady leftist, anyway.

Now, finally, they think the stars are aligned. In the Oval Office is a leftist president with no real experience outside government, but with enough charisma to get elected against the latest non-conservative Republican also-ran. There are solid Democrat majorities in both ends of the Capitol. Internally, in that party, leftists have overwhelmed moderates and conservatives. Liberal tampering with the free economy has led to the collapse of substantial portions of that economy; even some Republicans rushed in to bail out institutions that were "too large to fail." Under the guise of saving the economy, the government has now been able to take over substantial parts of major industries; for example, the federal government now owns more than 35 percent of General Motors, and no one's really talking about how much the union owns.

Government programs to provide food, shelter, and education to the dependent masses are well-established and growing. More American workers than ever are employed by government, and the number of people who receive government checks in lieu of employment is high and growing, because of high unemployment. Medical care is already somewhat under government control, but a full government takeover of that facet of our lives and economy is the holy grail. Quite apart from the fact that it involves about one-sixth of the US economy, and independent of the intoxication of tinkering with the life and death of hundreds of millions of people, it is an irresistible prize for anyone whose faith is in government, or who aspires to great power over the masses.

Why It's the Ball Game

If you are traveling down a road and simply keep going, you will eventually arrive at the place to which the road leads.

When government controls health care and writes the checks, it can reasonably claim an interest in virtually every facet of human behavior. Anything it considers "healthy," it can promote or even mandate. Anything it wishes to punish or eradicate, it can simply declare to be unhealthy and therefore impermissible.

For a moment, think ahead to the next Democratic majority, or the one after that, or the one after that. Think ahead, and try to tell me that the following is implausible.

Maybe you'll actually be glad and relieved when the government requires everyone to do things you think are good, from immunizing children (which I favor) to requiring that only healthy foods be brought to or bought at school. (Healthful  is a better word here, but no one uses it.) Maybe you'll be pleased when the government says that your neighbors have to stop smoking, or it will stop paying for their health care.

But how will you feel when the Ministry of Health is caught up in a wave of alarmist fervor about overpopulation, and decrees that it will only cover pregnancy and childbirth for women who do not already have a children? Or when it demands prenatal genetic testing as a condition of receiving benefits, so it can test a fetus for expensive potential medical issues and require that it be aborted if any are found?

Do you find me alarmist? Even after the New Deal of the 1930s, it took us 40 years to get from "Hell no, we won't go!" and "Make love, not war," to where we are now. How much further left do you think we cannot go in another 40 years? Perhaps you think that things could never get that bad here. I ask you to look around at a society that has slipped its moral and economic moorings. Then look at a government that is bloated and self-righteous and has increased its own debt ceiling by several trillion dollars in a single year. Decades ago, did you think things could get this bad?

In Summary . . .

That's a lot of words to say that some senators and members of Congress are voting for the health care takeover contrary to their political interest because they believe in it strongly enough that they're willing to sacrifice some things, including their next terms, to achieve it.

We can protest all we want, and maybe it will help somehow. But if I'm right, Congressman A and Senator B might be true believers at heart. If they are, they can ignore you and me and at the same time think themselves noble and heroic for doing so. In other words, it may be the case that the only polls where we can win this one are the ones that are open on Election Day in 2010 and 2012.

I'll be back tomorrow with some happier thoughts to end 2009 here at the blog.

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