I am rethinking my attitude toward the President and health care. I have been quick to criticize him, and he alone, for ceding his principles, first to bi-partisanship and then to bi-ideology (that is, reaching way beyond the responsible right). I no longer think he should be singled out.
How did the 60 votes that were supposed to turn back the Republican opposition turn into a bargaining chip for Democrats (and a former Democrat) against Democrats? How did the Senator from the insurance industry and the Senator from the Vatican become the 59th and 60th votes? How did consumers and women become the ones who "should do the right thing" by swallowing hard for the greater good?
Ben Nelson is one Senator. Joe Lieberman is one Senator. Couldn't one senator have insisted on some version of a public option or insisted on women having access to comprehensive reproductive health services before agreeing to vote for the bill? Was it not possible that shuttle diplomacy could have been between Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray and Ben Nelson, with the women being the ones whose votes were needed to reach the magic number 60? Apparently not.
Why not? From outside the beltway, where I now reside, it looks like Nelson and Lieberman were assigned their status early on by the White House and their congressional colleagues. Rahm Emmanuel immediately dismissed and worked hard to marginalize progressives. There was the conference call with progressive groups to tell them to silence their criticisms. There are the many quotes where Emmanuel asserts that there is no reason to be concerned about liberals.
The Senate and the House were determined to accommodate Republicans (or Republican, Olympia Snowe) and conservative Democrats. Actually reaching across party lines itself is not a bad idea. However, it is a bad idea when defined in terms of the "ends justifying the means". In the health care deliberations it has meant compromising the basic tenets of the majority party and weakening the legislation. And, as it turns out, it is a bad idea when the effort to reach across party and ideological boundaries results in deifying one or two individuals whose views are in opposition to the majority.
So, I am left with two nagging questions? Is there no member of Congress representing my end of the spectrum who is willing to be the 60th vote? Is the strategy to elect Democrats regardless of how far they are from the Democratic Party's center a strategy that should continue to be pursued?