In recent months, a narrative has emerged on the Left regarding the cause of the health care debacle: It’s all the fault of the United States Senate, a perverse, bizarre, and dysfunctional body, which ought to be phased out, or killed.
To E.J. Dionne, it’s an absurd institution, the “least democratic … body” in any democracy, that has tied up the country in gut-grinding gridlock to the public’s unending dismay. “Normal human beings … real Americans — cannot understand why, ten months after Obama took office, Congress is still tied down in a procedural torture chamber trying to pass the health care bill Obama promised in his campaign.”
Alec MacGillis called it “the chamber designed to thwart popular will,” the saucer in which the coffee not only is cooled (in the words of George Washington) but often turns bitter and cold. Hendrik Hertzberg calls it the place where the hopes and dreams of “Obama mania” go to die at the hands of a small band of soreheads who have the power to stifle the will of the people. “If it weren’t for the Senate,” he says, more in sorrow, “you’d have a whole lot of accomplishments on the domestic front.”
Exactly. It takes a perverse form of genius to talk about thwarting the will of the people when polls show most of the people prefer to have Congress do nothing, but they go on with great verve.
<p>To John Heilemann in New York, “a tiny band of verbose old folks” stand in the way of 300 million, all of them thirsting for the kind of solutions polls show two-thirds of them seem to detest.
“What precisely is the point of the United States Senate?” he asks us, suggesting there is none. “The attempt to push [the bill] through has revealed something important … If a popular, shrewd president coupled with a Congress with a strong majority in both houses held by the president’s party can’t get its program passed no matter which party we’re talking about, something is structurally wrong.”
Actually, something is structurally wrong with the bill, which is a monstrosity that will increase costs while decreasing access and quality. The bill is so far to the left, so expensive, and so incoherent, it has justly unnerved a number of Democrats.
The president, as it turns out, is not all that shrewd, and is no longer popular — he now polls somewhere in the mid-to-high forties — largely because of this ill-conceived measure. This creates a vicious cycle: The bill pulls down the president, who, because he is down, can’t do much to save it. And the Democrats, whom he is asking to back it, don’t believe he help can them, or can do much to save their own seats.
In the interim between late 2008 and last Tuesday, the public came back to its center-right moorings, a shift forced by exactly the sort of bold, sweeping, radical measures the Dionnes and the Hertzbergs want passed. The key numbers here are not the 60-instead-of-51-votes that so obsess all these pundits, but the 61-39 count by which voters detest the health care reform bill, the 19 points by which Bob McDonnell trounced Creigh Deeds in Virginia, and the five points by which Chris Christie did the impossible in ousting New Jersey’s John Corzine, in the one of the deepest blue states of them all.
The unnerved Democrats in the Senate who drive these pundits to tears by resisting the leadership are paying heed to these numbers, whose results, and not those of the 2008 “mandate,” are the most accurate measure of where the “will of the people” is now. The pundits keep referring back to the 2008 election as if it were yesterday, which is just what it is. The public has turned on Obama, his party, and their schemes for the expensive expansion of government power.
“It’s a good thing for those pushing the health care overhaul in Congress that the American people don’t have a vote,” as pollster Peter Brown put it. The Senate now is the voice of the people, in giving it to them. And that’s what the pundits can’t stand.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”