Barack Obama and his Democratic Party colleagues are reeling. With the Republican victory in the special Senate election in Massachusetts, they now have no hope whatever of putting together the “required” super-majority of sixty votes to pass healthcare. Indeed, with the loss of the “sure” seat long occupied by Ted Kennedy, the Democrats may not be able to pass any legislation whatever. The President tried to address this situation in his State of the Union Address this week, haranguing and sometimes begging Republicans to stop being obstructionists and start being bipartisan. He reportedly did the same thing in his meeting with Republicans on January 28, accusing them of being obstructionist for political purposes and putting party loyalty before the good of the nation, and appealing to them to at least vote for the measures—tax cuts, support for states going bankrupt—that would normally be Republican pet projects. It appears, in short, that the President has learned almost nothing in the year since he’s been in office, and still sees himself as the great statesman who can bring the warring parties together under his bipartisan leadership.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Republicans have made no secret of their intention to bring the president down, to make him fail, and their equal determination to sacrifice the country they profess to serve in order to do it. This has been the Republican strategy since at the least the days of Richard Nixon, although it became most extreme during the Reagan-Newt Gingrich-George W. Bush era.
This being the case, it simply defies belief that Democrats, especially those in the Senate (backed no doubt by the Administration), continue to try to muster up the “super-majority” they say they need to pass legislation. Normally, legislation simply requires a simple majority—51 votes—which the Democrats could muster even in a flu epidemic. What they need 60 votes for is to override a Republican filibuster. The Republicans have threatened such a filibuster every day since the President was elected, a move which means that Senators can take the floor and read from a telephone book, one after another, for days and weeks on end, to prevent any vote from taking place. By doing this—or rather by threatening to do this—they force the pusillanimous Democrats to abandon every progressive measure they were elected to implement, in order to get the votes of heretofore mealy-mouthed mid-west senators like Max Baucus and Kent Conrad, or literal traitors like Joe Lieberman. They can also try to ass-kiss the so-called “liberal” Republicans like Olympia Snowe of Maine. It is a humiliating and doomed strategy, as a full year of trying to craft a “passable” health-care reform bill plainly indicates. And now, with the loss of the Massachusetts seat, the doom is palpable.
There is only one solution. Abandon the ‘super-majority’strategy. A bill can be passed with 51 votes. Therefore, the Senate should simply begin the process of bringing the bills that they truly support—and healthcare should include a public option—to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Call the Republicans’ bluff. Force them again and again to either vote on the healthcare bill, and all the other bills that are in process, or to filibuster. Force them to go public with their idiotic strategy of reading phone books on the floor of the senate while the country goes down in flames. Force them to take responsibility for bringing the business of the country—the business they are sworn to act upon—to a halt. And then have the President, with his bully pulpit, call them out daily for their obstructionism. For having no policy but a policy of “no.”
Yes, it will take some guts. Yes, it will require that the Democrats take the risk that the public will blame them as well. But the risk is worth it, especially from a position of action. This nation is being held hostage by a group of yahoos who wish only to win back their majority. The health of actual people, of actual citizens, means nothing to them. The welfare of the nation means nothing. The only welfare they care about is the welfare of their white, moneyed classes and their wealthy corporate sponsors—the ones who make a killing in privatized health care, medicine, warfare, and corporate and banking fraud. But the truth is, the big numbers are all on the other side. Democrats have to return to the ideals that they pretend to espouse: help for those who need it, help for the common people who work for a living and who yielded to so much hope when Obama was elected. They have to let the American public know that Democrats actually stand for something, and are willing to risk a defeat in the Congress to prove it. As it is, Americans see through the games, see through the compromises that have been employed to gut the health-care bill of any meaningful reform. And they have contempt for it, for a party that is unwilling to stand up and be counted.
The Republicans threaten to filibuster? Call their bluff. Let’s see how many are willing to announce to the nation that they have but one policy: NO; that they give not a damn for the pain of the people, or the ruin of the nation’s economy; that they have but one solution to the country’s ills: more wealth for the wealthy, their one and only constituency. Otherwise, the fate of the Democrats and their President will be more of the same: slow death by a thousand cuts from a party that a few months ago was in an advanced stage of rampant cell death. Otherwise, we could soon see the resurgence of this, the crew that gave us Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Yoo and that gang of criminals that nearly sank the nation, and would like nothing better than to try it again. This time with an even bigger yahoo like Sarah Palin.
Get some backbone, Democrats. Call their bluff. And then get on with the people’s business.