When the Senate Finance Committee passed its almost meaningless version of health care reform yesterday, the White House jumped into action. It was another chance to put their own spin on events and reshape the national conversation more to their liking. It was also another opportunity for the president to step in front of cameras and audition for the role of leader:
After many months of thoughtful deliberation, the fifth and final committee responsible for health care reform has passed a proposal that has both Democratic and Republican support. This effort was made possible by the tireless efforts of Chairman Max Baucus and the other members of the Senate Finance Committee. It's a product of vigorous debate and difficult negotiations. After the consideration of hundreds of amendments, it includes ideas from both Democrats and Republicans which is why it enjoys the support of people from both parties. And I want to particularly thank Senator Olympia Snowe for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose that she has demonstrated throughout this process.
Did the Senate Finance Committee bill really have the support of people from both parties? In actual fact, the answer is no. Senator Olympia Snowe was the only Republican on the committee to vote with the Democrats. By grouping her singular person with other people, President Obama tried to claim her as part of the larger group of people on a technicality. Was that a slick attempt to somehow establish "bipartisan" credibility without incurring the scorn of people who know the definition of bipartisan?
Yesterday's 14-9 vote in the Senate Finance Committee did not enjoy the support of people from both parties in any way that resembles how ordinary rational Americans think and speak. The vote was not bipartisan-not even close. 100% of Democrats supported it while 90% of Republicans rejected it. In the interest of fair play, we should also look at this from the other vantage point. 10% of Republicans supported it while 0% of Democrats rejected it. Maybe one version sounds better than the other but the result remains absolutely unchanged. This bill is not bi-partisan-not by any stretch of definition or imagination.
The president's word choice of "people" tortures the logic a reasonable person needs to follow this process. To praise Olympia Snowe for her very tempered support in committee also requires rather twisted logic. Senator Snowe has stated publicly that she is against the so-called "public option". Max Baucus's bill does not contain a public option. Nancy Pelosi has stated and restated that any health care bill without a strong public option will not pass the House. Labor unions across the country are demanding a public option. At this point it's very hard to imagine a final bill without a public option. It's doubtful that Democrats could create a gimmicky new brand name for public option that would somehow trick Olympia Snowe into giving her ultimate support. Unless Democrat leaders are planning on rolling pork barrels up to Maine, it's hard to imagine that she'll support any final bill that contains a public option, rebranded or not.
We have to wonder why the president is working so hard to convince us of something that isn't true. It certainly sounds familiar...
On August 17, 1998 President Bill Clinton testified before the Grand Jury that was investigating, among other things, his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Prosecutors questioned him about his earlier statements and previous testimony. A visibly uncomfortable Bill Clinton attempted to rationalize his earlier denials regarding sexual relations with "that woman". At stake was a charge of perjury and possibly his presidency. From footnote 1,128 of Ken Starr's report, this was Bill Clinton's attempt to save his skin by trying to slither out of it:
It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is. If the--if he--if "is" means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.
To presume that a question about having an affair with an intern would be asked in the present tense requires some serious mental gymnastics. If Bill was indeed having sex with Monica in the present tense, at the time the question was being asked, any questioner would have been able to see the answer. There would have been no need to ask the question. Obviously, President Clinton was trying to escape perjury and save his presidency by using the only means available to him-a technicality.
President Obama's similar use of a technicality yesterday requires logic so tortured that it also taxes the boundaries of rational thought. His duplicitous attempt to portray Senator Snowe's isolated vote as an indication of bipartisan strength actually exposed his own weakness. His use and convenient definition of "people" highlights an unbecoming desperation. He views his presidency to be riding on radical health care reform, while the American people view the economy as far more important. His weakness is that he's out of touch with the people he was elected to lead. Like Bill Clinton before him, Barack Obama is in a corner and he's resorting to technicalities. That is weak-whatever the meaning of "is" is.