Archive: December, 2009
This is my last dispatch of the year - I'm going on holiday break, with the aim to begin anew on Monday, Jan. 4 - and what better way to ring out the old than to bestow the 2009 Public Misconduct Awards? For your consideration, in no particular order:
Most Creative Dessert. Former Louisiana Democratic congressman William Jefferson was convicted in August on 11 criminal counts of bribery and money laundering. He denied all wrongdoing, naturally, despite the fact that the FBI had discovered $90,000 wrapped in foil and hidden inside boxes of frozen pie crusts, all of which were secreted in his freezer. How unpatriotic. Perhaps Rachael Ray can advise on this, but I always thought that apple pie was served with ice cream.
Best Vacation Travel Agent. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford gave a major boost to the National Park Service by publicizing the aesthetic and contemplative splendors of the Appalachian Trail - even though, in truth, he left his hiking shoes at home, preferring instead to misspend the taxpayer's money by jetting to a more exotic and erotic locale in pursuit of his soul mate.
At first glance, Democratic congressman Parker Griffith's defection to the GOP doesn't seem like much of a story - and it's not because, until yesterday, you probably never heard of Parker Griffith.
Even before his announcement that he was switching parties, the freshman lawmaker had been voting with the House Republicans on all the big stuff (no to the economic stimulus, no to health care reform, no to cap and trade, no to jobs creation), so the Democrats haven't really lost a vote.
Conservatives in 2009 circulated all kinds of phony scare stories about health care reform - the government wants to kill granny, yetta yetta - but one particular salvo clearly wins top prize. Let's listen in:
"In our country, under our free-enterprise system, we have seen medicine reach the greatest heights that it has in any country in the world. Today, the relationship between patient and doctor in this country is something to be envied any place. The privacy, the care that is given to a person, the right to chose a doctor, the right to go from one doctor to the other.
Now that the Senate Democrats have reportedly secured the requisite 60 votes to foil a GOP filibuster and pass health care reform, the Republicans seem poised to fail in their stalwart attempt to stand athwart history and deny Americans the fundamental rights that are available in every other advanced western democracy. Surely there must be something dramatic that the Republicans can still do - set fire to their Senate desks? call in a bomb scare? hire Joe the Plumber to flood the toilets? - because it's clear at this point that the parliamentary options are dwindling fast.
One such Republican tactic failed badly in the wee hours last Friday morning; the episode is worth recounting, if only to demonstrate the depths to which desperate politicians will sometimes sink. Be forewarned that the hypocrisy detailed here may be enough to make you retch, because there was quite a stench in the Republican trench.
As we move ever closer toward the passage of health care reform, public support for reform continues to tick downward; as reported in the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, only 41 percent of Americans currently believe that changing the health care delivery system is the right course of action, while 44 percent favor the status quo.
We could debate endlessly about why the support for reform is so dismal -for instance, conservatives and GOP-leaning independents are worried about higher deficits and government intrusion; many liberals think the current Senate reform bill is a sop to the private insurers, and thus not worthy of passage; many pundits say that President Obama has failed to take the lead and clarify what he wants - but most of those diagnoses are predictably partisan, or otherwise framed too narrowly.
One can only imagine how the denizens of the left in 2009 would have treated Franklin D. Roosevelt back in 1935. Howard Dean and the bloggers and dailykos and moveon.org and the rest of the liberal chattering class would have assailed FDR (and his congressional Democratic allies) as sell-outs, as betrayers of the New Deal themes of hope and change.
Confronted with all the compromises that were embedded in the historic Social Security Act of 1935, undoubtedly these liberal activists would have yelled "Kill the bill!" and insisted amidst their fulminations that the president and the Democrats scrap the whole effort and return to square one.
I'm not quite sure how we wound up with President Lieberman. Last I recall, he completed his sole bid for the presidency on Feb. 3, 2004, when he got his butt kicked by losing seven out of seven Democratic contests.
Yet thanks to the undemocratic rules and routinized dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, this guy gets the opportunity to issue peremptory decrees about health care reform, with the aim of bending the overwhelming Democratic majority to his whimsical will. All because he has set himself up as the crucial 60th vote in a chamber that now seems to require 60 votes for passage of anything remotely substantive.
In a previous and distant incarnation, I was a feature writer, tasked with the job of identifying "trends" in our society - political trends, cultural trends, behavioral trends, all kinds. The process of identification was a very inexact science. If you had only one anecdote, that was not enough to constitute a trend. Two anecdotes, still not good enough. But if you had three anecdotes, plus some statistical backup and the likelihood of four or more...bingo, that was grist for a "good story."
Which brings us to the House Democrats, and their prospects in the 2010 congressional elections. When congressman Dennis Moore announced in late November that he would not run for re-election next year in his Kansas district, his fellow Democrats generally dismissed his retirement as a fairly unique event. And when congressman John Tanner confirmed on Dec. 1 that he too would retire, rather than seek re-election in his Tennessee district, party strategists insisted that a pair of retirees did not foreshadow a flood of other Democrats fleeing for their lives.