A certain small subset of blogs on the right have noted the president’s habit of posing with middle finger extended, which they take as a sign of contempt for his questioners, for the opposition or perhaps for the public at large. Should this be true, he was repaid with a vengeance when Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., jumped ship and the Senate, giving him the grace of a few hours’ notice, and leaving a phone message to inform Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
It was, said Charles Lane, an “emphatic ‘screw you’” to the leader and president, designed to inflict the maximum damage — putting his own seat in play and giving wavering Democrats a renewed case of jitters, just as Reid needs them for reconciliation, which Bayh has said he opposed.
Bayh and his friends from purple and red states had spent the past year being worked over, torn between the pull of their voters and instincts and the White House and its demands.
Unenthused from the first, they were told that opposing health care would break the career of their shining new president; that God and the White House would never forgive them; that a bill would pass by Thanksgiving and soon be forgotten. They might take a brief hit, but they would recover. Obama would save them, and all would be well.
The bill didn’t pass, independents revolted and poll ratings tanked. In November, voters swung hard against the Obama agenda, with Bob McDonnell winning by 18 points in once-blue Virginia and Chris Christie in deep-blue New Jersey winning by five.
The left put this down to moderates’ foot-dragging, and assured them that though the public resented them for backing health care in the first place, they would love it — and them — once the bill passed.
The Senate passed the bill on a party-line vote, with the moderates bought, bribed or badgered into submission, and the leaders prepared for the glorious moment. The voters looked on, and lowered the boom on Obama, jerking away his supermajority and giving Scott Brown, who ran as the 41st vote against the health care agenda, what was no longer “the Kennedy seat.”
By now, analysts all said voter fury was rising; that the Democrats were looking at a truly calamitous midterm election; that they could lose the House and even the Senate; that no seat in the country was safe. Bayh tried to tell Democrats that going on as they had would lead to a greater catastrophe; that the hard leftward swing had been a disaster; that “if you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no waking up.”
Others, however, preferred to snooze. Andrew Sullivan called Brown’s win a “stray result” that ought to change nothing. Liberals urged endangered moderates to man up and take the hit for the party. At a tense meeting, according to Lane, Obama dissed Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s concerns for her re-election: “Conceding nothing, he implied that her defeat was not only a foregone conclusion, but an acceptable price to pay.”
The tone was expressed best by the Nation’s blog, Altercation: “Let me make a proposal to people like Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson and the various Blue Dogs in the House. Look gang. You guys are going to lose in the fall, and some of you are going to lose hugely. So here’s the deal — get out of the way.”
Bayh heard them. He did. And he gave them the finger they gave him and the rest of the country. They can now kiss their big dreams good Bayh.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”