Everyone knows the Tea Party brought Bart Stupak down.
I know this, because the (mostly out-of-state) activists storming through Michigan this week have declared it to be true. And I make it a point to always believe angry mobs.
Incidentally, I have always thought Jon & Kate Plus Eight embodied our civilization's moral decline, so when that yawping experiment in child exploitation was finally canceled, I took full credit for it.
In politics, myths easily become gospel. They are entertaining shorthand for complex events, usually spun by high-paid consultants or social-climbing pundits trying to justify their existence.
Take Howard Dean's Iowa scream, which supposedly slayed his netroots-fueled presidential bid. For anyone covering the 2004 caucuses on the ground, as I was, it was clear that he was being outhustled by other candidates and was faltering long before his vocal chords were hijacked by demons in Des Moines.
So why are flawed truisms the language of political analysis? New York journalist Ryan Sager persuasively makes this case in True/Slant:
[My] theory of why no one in politics likes to think about political science: because it renders them powerless. How do you do your job as a political consultant when the truth is that 90% of the success or failure of what you do will be determined by the unemployment rate? If you're a political journalist, how do you write a story every day for a year (or three years, given our current presidential election system) saying, essentially, 'Well, the fundamentals still make it exceedingly likely the president will be reelected.'
So back to Bart Stupak. Whether or not you believe him about the Tea Partiers, who have called for his head since he voted for health care reform, probably says more about your politics than the particular situation at hand.
After all, everyone who agrees with you is good and brilliant and pure and everyone who doesn't is evil and stupid and corrupt. (There. I've saved you the trouble of reading dreadful blogs or watching cable TV.)
When I spoke to the Congressman on the phone Friday, following his press conference, he sounded weary. Stupak detailed his weekend routine of returning to his Menominee home in the Western corner of the U.P. for all of 12 hours with his wife, Laurie, before turning around and heading back to Washington. That's not much of a life for 18 years.
Stupak didn't talk about the death of his son a decade ago, although friends have told me it was devastating.
This last year has been marked with rage from the left as he lead the anti-abortion contingent in the health care debate, which culminated in a primary challenge from a pro-choice former Charlevoix official (whose 15 minutes are now up). Looking back, it seems clear that Stupak -- who made health care the cornerstone of his congressional career like his mentor, John Dingell -- was always going to vote for legislation. He just needed it to square with his Roman Catholic faith.
Alas, that will never satisfy those on the extremes who demand absolute purity.
Stupak did broker a deal with the White House and voted for the final bill, which prompted death threats, including a noose via fax, and the usual potty-mouth bile from angry anti-government types.
"I never back away from a fight," he told me. "It's my instinct to say, 'The heck with you, Tea Party people. I'll stay and fight and kick your nose like I usually do.' But even that has lost his luster."
The former state trooper added that the fire he took from his own side was actually the worst -- which makes sense. Nothing like being crucified by the folks you've been fighting for your entire career. We'll see how happy they are when a Tea Party-pandering Republican wins in November.
So when Mr. Stupak told me all that seemed like an unappetizing alternative to spending time with his family and watching the sailboats go by on Lake Michigan, who was I to argue?
We rarely wish to view politicians as human. They are our favorite punching bags, the catch-all explanation for why everything has gone wrong in our country, our state -- or perhaps more precisely, our own lives. It is a fundamentally childish perspective and one that allows us to demonize those with whom we disagree.
Now, I enjoy parodying politicos as much as the next gal, but I spend my career interviewing those with whom I disagree on an array of issues. I can't afford to live in the bubble that true believers do, and I feel fortunate that I get a glimpse into the lives of those who shape the world we live in.
It is an exercise in humility every day. But in our polarized political times, most on the right or left would willingly elect an ax murder, so long as he agrees with them on gay marriage.
There is little tolerance for decent public servants who vote their conscience. Thank the extremists for rooting out another one and pity them for dancing on his political grave.
Michigan will certainly be poorer without Bart Stupak.