Political Hay

Harry’s Shameful Victory

Comparing him to LBJ is the best the apologists can do.

By 1.4.10

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As the American public learns more about how Harry got his sixty votes, a revealing narrative has quietly emerged among the so-called progressives. First, they dismissed the Chicago-style political maneuvering as nothing more than standard congressional deal-making. Second, they applauded the creativity and ingenuity it took to promulgate this corruptive mess.

"Somewhere I hear the faint sound of Lyndon Johnson clapping," wrote left-leaning Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, fawning over Harry "Houdini" Reid's magically purchased votes. In response to the backroom political stink bombs that propelled Obamacare over the Senate finish line, Ms. Marcus relies on the timeless excuse for misconduct: denying the existence of a wrong simply because it has become commonplace. "This kind of political horse-trading has been around since the dawn of politics, if not the dawn of horses," Marcus blithely opined. By invoking the master legislator LBJ, she dismisses these political payoffs as merely another day on Capitol Hill -- no different from past legislative pursuits that involved some arm-twisting, palm-greasing, or soul-selling.

E.J. Dionne, another liberal Post columnist, in a rare hiccup of thoughtfulness, picked up on this obvious dichotomy:

When a writer admires a wheeler-dealer, he or she inevitably compares that politician to Lyndon B. Johnson and typically asks: Why can't others be more like LBJ? When a writer wants to condemn exactly the same sort of horse-trading, LBJ recedes and some other metaphor -- the popular one now is "Chicago-style politics" -- is wielded to imply highly unprincipled behavior. With just a few keystrokes, shrewd pragmatism is transformed into terribly sinful activity.

The problem with Marcus and Dionne's sardonic cheerleading (Dionne's column was, after all, entitled "Two Cheers for Harry Reid") is that Harry's legislative stew is simply more odious than the nasty norm. While legislating has always involved a tinge of cajolery and unsavory quid pro quos, this toxic brew fails the metaphorical smell test in every important way.

Does it reflect the will of the people? Not even close. No matter which measurement one uses -- polling the public at large, or by state -- America rejected this bill. The week before its final passage, national polls like Quinnipiac (53% opposed to 36% favor), NBC News/Wall Street Journal (47% opposed to 32% favor), and CNN/Opinion Research (56% opposed to 42% favor), all showed double digit spreads opposing the legislation.

On a state-wide level, Harry Reid's Nevadans opposed the bill 53% to 39%, while his personal approval rating hovers around 38%. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's approval rating has taken a 15-point tumble since her vote was prompted by a $300 million Medicaid payoff. And Ben Nelson's Nebraskans showed little appreciation for his Medicaid boondoggle, as only 17% of Nebraska voters approve of the deal their senator made, and 64% oppose the health care legislation overall. Together these characters bought and sold the public treasury and public trust in order to pass an unwanted policy. What shame.

This was a moment when transparency and the appearance of fair dealing were particularly necessary -- not merely because of the legislation's dramatic and weighty consequences, but because this is what the new administration promised. Americans, more concerned about spending than ever before, and fundamentally suspicious of nationalized health care, refused to look the other way. While deals where made behind closed doors, the public's collective ear was up against them, intent on hearing all the dirty details.

Worse yet, the details may even be unconstitutional. Putting aside the constitutionality of mandating that citizens buy insurance, Ben Nelson's infamous "Cornhusker Kickback" may pose a legitimate constitutional challenge. Attorneys General from seven states are already investigating whether making 49 states pony up for 100% of Nebraska's Medicaid costs (in perpetuity) violates Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. This provision requires that, "All Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." Making an exemption of this magnitude seems anything but "uniform."

The Democrats and their cheerleaders must face an inconvenient reality. There is simply no historical precedent that can match the foulness of this congressional depravity. It is a distinction for which the culprits and its media abettors should be ashamed. Any legislative victory that has Lyndon Johnson offering a standing ovation can only mean the thuggish, corrupt forces of big government have prevailed. I, for one, would prefer to keep my seat.

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About the Author

Kyle Stone is a practicing attorney in Chicago, Illinois, and is Membership Director of Chicago Young Republicans. He can be contacted at kstone@chicagoyrs.com.