Jay Ambrose: Here's my plea to Republicans. Don't be Bart Stupak. Don't stand up like King Kong, thumping your chest in defiance of an administration you think has gone wrong, and then, when the pressure builds and a deception offers you a way out, run off like a chimp chased by a roaring lion.
Here's my plea to Republicans. Don't be Bart Stupak. Don't stand up like King Kong, thumping your chest in defiance of an administration you think has gone wrong, and then, when the pressure builds and a deception offers you a way out, run off like a chimp chased by a roaring lion.
For a while, this Democratic representative from Michigan was a hero, at least to some. He was standing on principle, and nothing could make him budge. He and 10 other Democrats he spoke for would vote against the health care bill in the House and thereby defeat it unless some language was restored. He wanted it made absolutely clear there would be no federal funding for abortions. Period. End of story.
Night after night, you'd see him on television, a seemingly bold figure seeing himself in the right and ready for this fight. There was applause especially from right-to-life Americans but also from many opposed to the health bill on other grounds, such as the less than negligible fear its cost could contribute to national decline.
But then there were the forces arrayed against him: large numbers of his peers, a White House desperate for passage, the House's Democratic leadership, angry commentators, an abortion-rights group swearing to defeat him in the midterm elections, phone callers harassing his wife, faxes and e-mails coming at him like bullets.. At one point, Stupak described all of this to the press as "a living hell," and I thought of years ago when a Republican state senator told me what it was like to defy New York's governor.
It wasn't just any governor, but Nelson Rockefeller, an extraordinarily powerful head of the state and one tough customer. The state senator believed he was on the high ground on an issue with ramifications in his district, was invited for a meeting and was in so many harsh words told that his life in politics was done if he did not shape up. I asked him what he did after the meeting. He said he went into the men's room and had dry heaves for a half an hour.
I'm not accusing President Obama, any of his sidekicks or any Democratic leaders of playing that rough a game, but I can promise you that politics is not patty-cake, and it was certainly more than just the phony-baloney executive order that caused Stupak to give in and go along. That executive order -- a conditional statement saying there'd be no abortion funding under this bill -- was a gesture to serve Stupak politically but would hold water only if our government were a dictatorship instead of a republic of laws. We aren't there yet.
Now Stupak, who won election by 65 percent the last time out, is retiring from the House. Some suspect the reason is that his chances of winning reelection in his conservative, rural district are on the order of nil this November.
There's a lesson here for Republicans. Lately, they've mostly been talking as if outraged by this health care monstrosity, vowing to find a way someday to repeal it and figuring on standing up generally to Obama's runaway spending and his plans for a European-style welfare state, but what's that I am beginning to hear -- some softening of the stance? Could be. The left is going after the Republicans with all the vitriol at its ample command, saying as one of its less offensive offerings that they are the party of no.
I hope they are. I hope Republicans will keep saying no to catastrophe and ruin, no to keeping a law that has already cost businesses billions of dollars, that has already caused planners to drop plans for 60 new hospitals, that one organization says will create a massive doctor shortage and that is expected to start sending health insurance premiums further skyward any day now.
We've seen you buckle before, Republicans. Don't do it again. Don't emulate Bart Stupak, thereby letting the country down and paying the same price he did.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.