Sunday, November 08, 2009

Tell Me Not In Mournful Numbers

I'm not as crazy as the Balloon Juicers and I forebore to watch the holy rolling and the foaming at the mouth, the baby kissing and the hysteria about the freedum agenduh on Cspann as the Republicans marched lockstep to our doom and Pelosi emerged triumphant. I did see the shouting down of the Democratic Women, of course. And I salute Pelosi and Obama and all the others who fought so hard and got us so far. And like everyone else I'm waiting with bated breath to see how the Senate and the Conference screw this up. I'm not proposing to throw the baby out with the bathwater on Democracy at this point.

But the whole thing turned from joyous farce to something pretty deadly serious with the Stupak amendment--at least for me. I'm not angry that Pelosi had to allow the amendment--there seem to have been enough anti women votes just on the Democratic side to force it. Maybe. And apparently it was the Stupak amendment that enabled Cao, who is anti-abortion, to vote for the bill as a whole. And they are claiming they made not promises not to strip the thing out in conference.

But it should never, ever, have come to any Democrats voting for the Stupak amendment once it was submitted to the floor. And, frankly, I don't think it should ever have come to allowing Stupak to forward the amendment in the first place. Pelosi and the Democratic Majority should never have allowed women's health issues to be severed from family health issues in the first place. They should have insisted, publicly, that the whole point of the legislation was to "get government and insurance companies out of the business of telling you what you need and what you don't need." No amendments referring to specific procedures should have been permitted and the grounds for that refusal should have been made generic, not specific to women's health care. The rallying cry should have been "Democrats stand for freedom of consumer choice. Your health care money will be spent as you choose--not as we choose."

As for Stupak and the Catholic Bishops I would have taken a very, very, very, hard line. I would have gone to the Bishops and said I was going to allow Grayson to read into the record the names and insurance status of every child raped by a Catholic Priest and I was going to hunt up records showing how the Catholic orphanages benefitted financially from "gunshot adoptions" and their anti-choice work. I would have gone to Stupak and said we would primary him, and all assistance of any kind to his community would be cut off or redirected so that it clearly came from other hands than his. And I would have had Obama and other surrogate dems all over the TV making this argument:

"We can't allow small minorities of religious extremists to dictate which lawful medical procedures will be performed on non-co-religionists. That would be like putting the entire country under Sharia law, for example. I mean, look, there are religions and sects that will ban absolutely everything--from blood transfusions to fertility treatments. We simply can't allow the door to be opened to punish one section of our society at the behest of another for religious reasons. There will, of course, be an opt out clause for patients and consumers to refuse to avail themselves of treatments if their religion forbids it. But insurance companies will have to cover all lawful and medically necessary procedures for everyone."

If necessary I would (pre-emptively) have introduced a clause--call it the Real Conscience Clause Amendment-- to allow consumers to opt out of insurance entirely if they didn't want to pay premiums to cover services like abortion or asthma or whatever other fantasy contract they've got with god--but they'd have to sign a form stating that they wouldn't use insurance at all, or emergency care services either, for anything. Penalize the shit out of the believers up front--before they penalize the shit out of us. No abortion care for mommy? Then no fertility treatments for daddy or mommy. No abortion care for mommy? then no cancer treatment for daddy. Simple as that.

I'm not arguing that the bill isn't an historic piece of legislation (so far). It is. Its a great achievement for Pelosi and for Obama. And you can see from its squeaker nature that Congress is a very wobbly institution to whip into shape. But the work of whipping a vote has to start long before the night of the vote. Pelosi and Hoyer have been whipping and counting since day one, of course, but the time to create party discipline is not in the run up to the vote but every day, and every way. Famously, when you ask a peasant woman how she "makes a loaf of bread" she is supposed to answer

"well,a few months ago I prepared the land for planting. I took the seed I saved from last season and planted it. I hoe'd and weeded and watered it for two months, then I reaped it, threshed it, winnowed it, ground it, and then today I baked the bread."

Whipping the vote for an important--ground breaking--party line vote for Health Care Reform is exactly the same. Months before the vote itwas clear that the Republicans were going to have a party line vote and the Democrats had better have one too. You get no public credit for the fact that your majority party lost votes, that individual Democrats crossed party lines to vote with the Republicans. You lose face, in fact. And if you don't want to lose face you prepare the ground thoroughly by explaining to the various Democratic representatives that they can choose to be all alone running their next race, or be given the backing of the DSCC. That they can have the various allies of the Democratic party with them, or against them. No private voting strategies, no conscience voting, no nothing but the party line vote when the party line vote is needed. A hard line on this long before the big vote would have paid off in spades late in the game when Stupak would have been too cowed to offer the amendment in the last instance.

Still, I accept the proposition that a good beginning was made and that, perhaps, in the long run, like Medicare itself or the Civil Rights Bill this thing will be improved no end by the time a few more Democratic Congresses and Presidents have enlarged it. I certainly hope so. Because otherwise in order to get something pretty good for the men and children of this country we allowed the Catholic Church to go all medieval on the women of this country.


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