The necessity of heroism — is that too much to ask of Republicans?
Conservatives want Thermopylae. Congressional Republican leaders instead imitate the Confederate defense of Atlanta — the one that led a local editor to write that General Joseph E. Johnston’s reputation had “grown with every backward step.”
Thermopylae, of course, was where the famed “300” Spartans (and about 1,200 others) fought off many tens of thousands of Persians for three full days, with their courageous sacrifice helping the Greeks eventually win the war. The defense of Northwest Georgia, on the other hand, showed that Johnston was adept at putting up a united front, seizing excellent defensive positions in well-drilled fashion — and then retreating time after time in perfect order, saving his army for a “later” that never came while inflicting only glancing damage on his enemy as the Yankees gobbled up territory like a horde of Pac-Men… until Atlanta and eventually the whole of Georgia fell to the onslaught.
In the battle over health-care policy (and in most other big fights in recent years), Senate Republicans likewise have maintained unity, have arrayed themselves on favorable ground, have performed every technical maneuver with flawless precision — and have yet to win a single major battle about which conservatives care deeply. And like the local Atlanta editor in 1864 praising Gen. Johnston’s retreats, the McClatchy newspapers even published a story last month about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s parliamentary tactics headlined “Skillful McConnell leads GOP opposition to health bill.”
But the McConnell forces recessed for Christmas crowing that in return for giving up more ground (in this case, the ground was another 10 hours of potential Christmas Eve debate that could have been symbolically important) on a final health-care ballot, they secured an early vote, supposedly uncomfortable for Democrats, on raising the national debt limit. Yes, the debt limit, which has been raised almost every year for the past half-century without shaking the political earth.
What infuriates conservatives is the attitudinal signals the Senate leadership sends. The health care bill is treated as just another piece of legislation — certainly more important than most, as Atlanta was a more important city than most, but not ground to be defended by every available means, to the death, as if a civilization hangs in the balance the way Greek civilization was threatened by the Persians. Yet for millions upon many tens of millions of Americans, the health-care battle is indeed their generation’s domestic version of the Greco-Persian War, and nothing less than a Thermopylae-like stand will be acceptable. These middle-Americans don’t want amendments to the bills. They don’t want to force bill supporters into tough votes that will be used against them in the 2010 fall campaigns. They don’t care about positioning for future battles on other legislative subjects, and they don’t give a flying expletive about maintaining the alleged dignity of the Senate.
What they want is to beat Obamacare: They want to ward off this abomination, this vicious assault on the Constitution and on the free market, this affront to individual liberty in a realm that is intensely and profoundly personal. They want to defeat it, trip it up, smother it, by any and all means within the law. They hate Obamacare. They see a government that already has taken over banks and financial companies and car companies, a government blob that wants to limit the very air we exhale, and they see it now trying to suck in one-sixth of the whole economy in one massive power grab.
And the people say no. They say no at TEA parties. They say no at town hall meetings. They say no at Capitol demonstrations. They say no in emails and faxes and phone calls and letters, and they repeatedly and resoundingly say no in public-opinion polls. They don’t just say no; they shout NO with every breath of carbon dioxide in their lungs. Yet what they see is a Democratic leadership that wants to trample them, and a Republican leadership that defends them by daintily offering some amendments and making some speeches and then changing the subject to the debt limit.
Middle Americans want a Churchillian fight at the beaches, landing grounds, fields, streets, and hills, yet what they see instead is a series of “unanimous consent” agreements interspersed with some really severe tut-tutting. And they see a horrid future of Chuck Schumers — William Sherman-like — laying waste to what they hold dear.
Oh, sure, Sen. McConnell is a good man who has been working hard, very hard, to block Obamacare. But so too did Gen. Johnston work hard. So too do lots of losers work hard. But they don’t work effectively. They don’t use every means at their disposal. They don’t crawl over broken glass to win. They don’t say “Nuts” to Nazi surrender demands. They don’t see Santa Anna and, like Jim Bowie, pull out an eponymous knife and fight to the death.
What many Republican senators still don’t seem to understand is that the health-care fight isn’t merely one fight in a larger war; it is the war. Lose it, and we can’t reverse, not ever, the massive infringement on our liberties. It is tommyrot and poppycock, deeply dishonest, to claim that Obamacare, once passed, can later be repealed. Once it is law, the only way to change it is to pass a new law — and to do that would require overcoming a Democratic filibuster far more fierce than any that Republicans have put up. Republicans now hold 40 Senate votes out of 100; to repeal Obamacare in future years will require 60 votes. Yet only 33 (or 34) senators come up for re-election every two years. To think that Obamacare opponents will pick up 20 seats in time to reverse course before it fully takes effect — especially against the weight of all the big businesses that in the meantime will have become stakeholders in the new system — is akin to suggesting that Sen. McConnell can successfully hitch-hike to Jupiter on the back of a tricycle.
On the other hand, stopping this juggernaut shouldn’t be as difficult as it has been made out to be. Politicians being politicians, there absolutely must be at least one Democratic senator, or three more House members, who care enough about their own political skin to buck their party leaders. No single major proposal in generations has generated such strong opposition. With more than 60 percent of the public against Obamacare — and more opponents passionately against it than the combined total of all its proponents, mild or passionate alike — it is inconceivable that Republicans can’t talk a few Democrats into the more popular position.
Sen. McConnell could pledge to Nebraska’s Democrat Ben Nelson, for instance, that if he joins a successful Republican filibuster then the National Republican Senatorial Committee would not raise even a single finger against him for re-election in 2012. The price would be worth it. But if Nelson still won’t play, McConnell could come up with myriad ways to cut Nelson in half.
Indiana’s Evan Bayh should be made to sweat, too. House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, for instance, could take a risk his idol Jack Kemp never took, and announce before the Senate vote that he will give up his safe House seat to try to send Bayh bye. As William Kristol has argued, even a losing effort would set up Pence for a run for governor in 2012; a winning effort would vault him into the front tier of presidential contenders. If Pence won’t do it, former U.S. Rep. David McIntosh has a statewide following in the Hoosier state, and could give Bayh fits in what is becoming a strong GOP year. Heck, even Dan Quayle, if he would move back from Arizona, could ride the Obamacare issue to a strong challenge to Bayh in the Fall.
And Democrat Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas already knows she is in grave political danger. Have her Republican colleagues offered her any legal inducements to come their way?
Procedurally, also, McConnell could do far more. He could tell Majority Leader Harry Reid that he will tie the Senate in knots for the entire year unless Reid backs down. No unanimous consents all year. Holds on every nominee. Every single one. Forced readings of every word of every bill and every amendment, all year.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?