- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This is the week of decision, the ultimate showdown over Barack Obama’s government takeover of health care and a big piece of the American economy. It’s only the latest of a series of ultimate showdowns, but eventually one of them will live up to the hype. This could be the one?

Nancy Pelosi, the dominatrix of the Democrats, boasts that she has the votes to prevail, but if she does, it’s a puzzle why she and the president keep putting off the vote. If she has the votes, why did the president postpone leaving for Guam, Indonesia and Australia to stay here to deal with a few congressional arms that won’t stay twisted? It could be he needs more time to work on his apology to our Islamic friends in Indonesia, but if he’s having trouble with his teleprompter, surely he could find the tape of his earlier remarks in Cairo and recycle those.

The Democratic dilemma is far more serious than that. The president and the dominatrix don’t have the votes. Even the most slavishly loyal Democratic congressmen can’t decide whether to save the president or save themselves. Being human, they feel the instinct for self-preservation. This being Washington, the president’s plea to “do the right thing” rings hollow indeed. Why shouldn’t he “do the right thing” and dump his radical scheme and start over?

The speaker retreats to fantasy arguments meant to persuade, but merely entertain skeptics with grim gallows humor: “We have to pass this bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.” Out of the mouth of babes: Mzz Pelosi’s unintentional flash of candor mirrors the desperation of Democrats who argue that once the bill is enacted, the president signs it, and everybody reads the 2,700 pages of fine print, the voters will love it. Maybe they’ll get good news this week from the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates of what Obamacare will actually cost. The Democrats hope to keep it to $1 trillion over the next decade, not that such an estimate would frighten a congressman but the public understands that a trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there and soon you’re talking about real money. (A quadrillion comes next; that’s with 15 zeroes.)

But the most eloquent warnings to the president and his liege men (and women) come from congressmen who are voting with their feet, running hard from anywhere the president is likely to be. Politico, the Capitol Hill daily, polled nearly a dozen frightened Democrats eager to spare the president another embarrassment like his fundraising rally last week in St. Louis, where leading Democratic candidates for House and Senate scorned him as if he had tracked in something not nice on the sole of a shoe.

Some threatened Democrats are trying hard to be nice about it. “This will be my second election with a Democratic incumbent president,” Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, running for his 10th term, tells the newspaper. “And what I’ve found is that [presidential] schedules are usually booked full, so I don’t expect him.” Says Rep. Baron P. Hill of Indiana: “If [Mr. Obama] wants to come to my district, he’s welcome to come. I don’t plan on asking him [to come]. I know he’s a busy guy.” Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, whose district voted for Mr. Obama by a landslide margin only yesterday, is grateful for the demands on the president’s schedule. “He’s got a lot more important things to worry about than campaigning for me.” Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee answered the question with a revealing question of his own: “Why would I want a president to come campaign for me?”

Rep. David Wu, whose district in suburban Portland, Ore., was once Obama country, is eager to get anyone but the president, and listed several Cabinet officers he would invite to campaign for him, as well as Jill Biden, the wife of the veep. “And of course we would welcome the president and the vice president also.” (The veep could presumably get in as a “spouse of.”)

Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the speaker’s vote-counter, hems and haws and talks about how Democrats have finally reached “a comfort level” with the legislation, that he’s “sure” the legislation will be enacted, but, umm, uh, the speaker doesn’t, ah, have the votes. Democratic pollsters, discussing the party’s dilemma, are fishing for what to tell their clients without resorting to the cliche about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But cliches become cliches when they sound the ring of truth.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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