The revisionist history writers were busy last week. The health-care law was “sweeping” and “historic.” Mrs. Pelosi was the “most powerful speaker in history,” and President Obama had cemented his place as “one of the most consequential presidents.” The press, in short, echoed Vice President Biden’s view on the importance of the legislation.
This narrative is fantasy. We are asked to believe that the Democrats achieved a glorious victory when they were able to squeak to passage with only four votes to spare. If Bart Stupak and his colleagues had not sacrificed their consciences and gotten on board, then would the speaker have been impotent and the president a failure? To quote Vice President Biden again, “If we were unable to move the ball on this issue . . . we would have been done, absolutely done.”
To declare such a close contest — during which the president was reduced to begging Democratic members to save his presidency – a triumph is reminiscent of Pyrrhus of Epirus. He fought and defeated Rome, but at such a cost in casualties that, upon hearing of his success, he said, “One more such victory and I shall return to Epirus alone.”
In fact, though the Democrats achieved a narrow victory by passing their health-care behemoth, they lost the argument. Despite some 58 presidential speeches, vigorous press cheerleading, and more than a year of ceaseless lobbying, the Obama administration and the Democrats were never able to convince a majority of the American people to believe in a fairy tale. Voters were never persuaded that the same government that brought us a $107 trillion unfunded liability in the Medicare and Social Security programs was going to provide subsidized coverage to 32 million uninsured; create 4 million new jobs; produce, as Mrs. Pelosi put it, “a healthier America through prevention, wellness, and innovation”; make insurance more affordable for the middle class; and “save the taxpayers $1.3 trillion.”
No, the reality that the compliant press was eager to obscure in the days following the vote was that the Democrats had abandoned any effort to persuade the American people and had chosen to bulldoze their way to victory with old-fashioned vote-buying, harsh threats, and political hardball. That can purchase (narrow) success, but it doesn’t signify a political breakthrough, far less any historic realignment. Contrast the partisan victory Obama was able to eke out with Ronald Reagan’s economic program. With the House of Representatives controlled by the other party 244–191 in 1981, Reagan was able to persuade enough voters to call their representatives that his budget (including tax cuts) passed by a vote of 253–176.
Aware that their bankruptcy-inviting “triumph” was based on brute force rather than popular appeal, the Democrats adopted a smear-the-opposition tactic. Thus the well-prepared stunt of having several members of the Congressional Black Congress walk above ground to the Capitol on the evening of the vote, rather than through the underground tunnels. Their route took them past a noisy crowd of tea-party protesters. Two members later claimed that they had run a gauntlet of ugly racial slurs. Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.) said, “I haven’t heard anything like this in 40, 45 years. Since the march to Selma, really.” Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D, Mo.) claimed that he was spat upon, and Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) claimed to have endured anti-gay epithets. Headlines were assured.
Only the Frank story is confirmed by any contemporaneous outside source; a Politico reporter claims to have heard the word. Such slurs are obviously despicable and were immediately condemned as such by leading Republicans. But while the press went purple over one jerk’s shouted insult to Representative Frank, leading members of the Democratic party and the press (to repeat myself) blatantly slur the tea-party movement as “tea baggers” on a daily basis, and the press regards it all as a great “in” joke.
As for the claims of the CBC members, one cannot vouch for an entire crowd of thousands of protesters, but no video that captured the moment (and there are several) picked up any racial slurs, just angry boos and chants of “kill the bill.” As for Representative Cleaver’s incident, it was captured on video. He passed a man who had cupped his hands and was shouting as Cleaver passed by. Some spittle seems to have sprayed. It could not have been pleasant, but it’s a world away from being intentionally spat upon.
The Democrats have their narrative, and such is their influence with the press that they can circulate it widely: Virtuous liberals enact far-reaching, benevolent legislation in the face of violent, racist, homophobic opposition. Their fans at MSNBC and the New York Times may even buy it. But for most of us, it’s the boy who cried “racist” once too often.
– Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.