Dems surrender their claim on political virtue

Liberals wanted a Democratic Party that could beat the Republican Party at its own game.

They should have been more careful what they wished for.

When the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid smothered an amendment to the Democrats' health bill that would have allowed the re-importation of prescription drugs, it was a crystal moment.

A health bill that was supposed to be the crowning achievement of the ascendant Left has become a shoddy bargain between special interests. Drug companies and health insurers are the big winners of the bill being extruded by the Senate. The only certain loser is the middle class.

Obama, who as a candidate plumped for re-importing American-made drugs from Canada, sent his Food and Drug Administration director to kill the amendment on the grounds that it would be too dangerous.

Democrats howled in 2003 when a Republican Congress and a Republican president did the same thing for the pharmaceutical industry in the Medicare prescription drug bill.

Ted Kennedy, whose memory has been invoked by Democrats at every point on this doleful march toward a final health vote, took the hide off the Bush administration for using scare tactics about drug safety.

Kennedy, speaking in support of a Boston “tea party” movement to illegally re-import drugs from Canada in December 2003, thundered: “This issue is not about the safety of prescription drugs. The administration is worried about the safety of the profits of the prescription drug industry.”

Obama, who let the drug industry help design his health plan and has assiduously defended their interests, is getting a little blowback from Howard Dean and a few others.

But most Democrats on the Hill — whose situation Examiner colleague Byron York likens to bank robbers too far into their caper to turn back — are silent on an issue that had been a central tenet of their party's health policy just last year.

One of the animating myths of the Democratic Party is that Republicans cheat.

It's the way Democrats explain the struggles of their party over the last 40 years. Whether it was Richard Nixon's dirty tricks, the Willie Horton ad, the prosecution of Bill Clinton, or, most egregious, the recount win by George W. Bush in 2000, Democrats have comforted themselves in defeat with the idea that they were just not willing to play dirty.

The defeat of Al Gore was a pivot point for Democratic psychology and the myth about being the party of virtue.

Part of the shift came because Democrats had so fully convinced themselves that Bush had stolen the White House and that they would be entitled to use any trick or tactic in the name of righting that wrong.

The 2008 movie “Recount” about the Bush/Gore battle was a Democratic allegory on the dangers of virtue in politics. In the film, honest, naive Democrats get steamrolled by scheming, cheating Republicans.

Actor John Hurd portrayed Gore's lead counsel, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, as an old fool who didn't expect Republican consigliere James Baker to be so ruthless about trying to win the presidency.

The hero of the inverted morality play is Democratic lawyer Ron Klain, played by Kevin Spacey, whose frustrated pleas for Gore's team to get tough fall on deaf ears.

Naturally hammy Spacey really lets loose in the scene in which Gore admits that they could win the battle, but that it was more important to be honorable.

The movie dramatized what had already become an article of faith for a generation of young liberals: The war in Iraq, the devastation of Katrina, global warming, the corporate stranglehold on government, and every other evil attributed to Bush and his partner, the manifestation of all evil, Dick Cheney, could be traced to Democrats being too decent and principled.

Now, Klain is the lawyer to Vice President Biden and Democrats find themselves in a position of greater power in Washington than at any time in a generation.

And certainly no one can say that they are allowing decency and principle to get in the way of beating Republicans.

But since Democrats have sacrificed even the myth of being the virtuous party, how will voters see this new, more pragmatic party?

Polls so far indicate that they have not liked seeing Democrats play against type.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at

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