A distinguished columnist, editor and foreign correspondent, Wes Pruden has been a leading voice of conservative thought for more than three decades.
No flip-floppery, just flim-flammery
If someone is determined to embrace suicide, there's not much someone else can do about it. If a gun isn't handy, a knife will be, or a bottle of sleeping pills, or even a video of a speech by Joe Biden. If you're Barack Obama in a vengeful mood, you just shove a health care "reform" that nobody wants at reluctant congressmen in your party. It's just as effective and just as quick.
Mr. Obama is loath to say the word "reconciliation," because he knows "reconciliation" is this season's synonym for suicide. So he warns of the danger of flip-floppery. His health care "reform" passed the House by only five votes, and deaths and resignations have reduced the margin. There's no margin left for flip-floppery. That's the message the president's desperate lobbyists are taking to Capitol Hill. He wants a vote before Congress departs for its Easter vacation at the end of the month, and promises his loyalists that he will apply enough flim-flammery over the next fortnight to discourage flip-floppery.
The president's men remind wavering congressmen of Sen. John Kerry's boast that he voted for the second war in Iraq before he voted against it, and everyone knows how that turned out. They could draw a lesson from Bill Clinton as well, who once tried to explain away his support for sending troops to the first Gulf War as a straddle: "I was for it but I was really for those who were against it."
This time, Mr. Obama wants an up-or-down vote, and no straddling.
But unless there's an irresistible congressional impulse for suicide, the White House has a tough sell, and the president knows it. "The American people want to know if it's still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future," he says. "I don't know how this plays politically, but I know it's right."
That's not quite what the American people want to know, and besides, it's a weak appeal to a frightened congressman. It sounds like the beginning of a concession speech. A congressman, like a president, is always calculating the politics. Doing the right thing is OK, unless you overdo it and certainly not if it ends a career. Mr. Obama has been in Washington long enough to recognize the difference between community organizing, which is about stirring up trouble, and congressional politics, which is first about getting re-elected.
The president and his party loyalists have been forced into a defensive game. They can't afford to lose a single vote, and the temper of the times encourages flip-floppery. Retreating from an earlier vote to enact Obamacare to a new vote to kill Mr. Obama's poisonous "reform" is merely a desperate attempt at survival. The Republicans and the Democratic Blue Dogs who are riding the crest of sentiment against Obamacare will hardly be tempted to change their votes.
After months of tea parties, presidential threats, pleading harangues and enough hot air to melt the polar bears there's not anything left to say, but certain embattled Democratic incumbents are trying to hide behind words. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, the most seriously threatened Democratic incumbent, is in trouble at home for her vote for the Senate bill. She can't explain it away, since it's on the record, but now she vows she will vote against "reconciliation." She doesn't say how she will vote when "reconciliation" by another name is used to silence Senate dissent. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the leader of the Republican minority, promises that the Republicans will make "every election in America this fall a referendum on this issue."
The latest obstacle in the president's way is the vow of Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan to destroy the legislation unless stronger language to prevent subsidization of abortion is written into the Senate bill. He says he has 10 House colleagues with him. The abortionistas in the House insist they won't vote for the Senate bill if the president caves.
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker and leader of the San Francisco Democrats, says her members "are very excited about what comes next." For many of them, that's "excited" as in "hysterical." If White House pressure prevails and Mr. Obama wins the vote, the campaign of 2012 begins at once with a Republican promise to repeal the monstrosity. That's when the real fun begins.
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