Friday, April 09, 2010

Stupak retiring

There's a lesson here. It will be misinterpreted by myopic editorials as "the Tea Party is unstoppable!," but I think most people would agree that Stupak came under so much fire because he chose to grandstand and obstruct the president's signature legislation, his own party's electoral hopes, and the dire needs of millions of Americans ... and then back off.

What's funny about his decisions during the healthcare debate is that the bill that passed the Senate never did provide any financial support for abortions. In fact, the pro-Roe crowd was generally angry because it placed extra burdens beyond the Hyde amendment on women seeking abortions. There was a joke circling the internet after Stupak's meeting with the president and his reversal that Stupak couldn't bring himself to believe that the bill didn't fund abortions because it was female senators, women's groups, and nuns telling him so. Finally they all went to the president and told him Stupak won't believe it unless it comes from a man.

In a way, I suspect an element of truth here. My guess is that this had nothing to do with abortion policy. Stupak put his finger to the wind and guessed that this was going to be a major anti-Democratic wave election year, and he needed to get out in front of it. Grandstanding against HCR on behalf of the anti-Roe crowd gets him in the good graces of tea partiers, McCain voters, the US Chamber of Commerce (who will be doing the lion's share of PAC spending this year) and the Christian Right all at once.

Only things didn't work out like he'd hoped. He was probably told by the Speaker that he wouldn't be allowed to join the handful of red state Dems allowed to vote the other way to protect their own asses, so he recruited a bunch of other "pro-life" Democrats to his cause, hoping he could just torpedo the bill and Obama's loss would be his gain. He took a lot of the blame when HCR looked dead, and Democratic groups (and, ahem, voters) were furious.

And then he learned a hard lesson about leading an army of cowards. When it looked like the president was going to lose, they flocked to Stupak. When the conventional wisdom shifted, however, and people started talking about how, during the 1994 elections, centrist Democrats were slaughtered en masse by the GOP whether or not they supported HCR, and that passage of HCR was absolutely essential to the Democrats keeping Congress, knees all around him started shaking.

Then votes in Congress started flipping the Speaker's way, and the Stupakers became the last group left holding up HCR. They caught the angry eye of the Speaker, the White House, and the Democratic electorate at large. Rahm came knocking on their door with the message that the White House "is going to remember who stood in the way of this legislation." Democratic groups and unions start evaluating their support. Support for Stupak et al. among their own Democratic constituents started sinking.

I imagine at some point Stupak and his buddies gathered with their campaign advisors, looked at polls they had commissioned hoping that their gains among tea partiers, Christian conservatives, and Republicans were offsetting Democratic losses, and learned the ugly truth about triangulating your own party in the post-Clinton age: after so many bridges burned and so many allies spurned, Republicans said they supported Stupak et al. in larger numbers ... but still plan to vote for their Republican opponents in November.

Everyone wanted off this sinking ship, they were finished with Stupak's folly (including Stupak himself), but they needed some way to save face, and that's how the president's Executive Order came to be. It won't save them, as Stupak eventually figured out. Stupak made several serious miscalculations:

  1. he badly misjudged how important his own party considered HCR

  2. he relied on a cadre of cowardly, centrist congressmen to defend against the White House, congressional leadership, every Democratic/liberal interest group in America, and the vast majority of Democratic voters

  3. he made a play for Republican and independent votes at the expense of Democratic ones (i.e., gave his own supporters a HUGE reason to stay home), and then tried to renege, effectively antagonizing all three groups

That last one is what gets the "centrists" every time. Research shows that most "independent" voters have amorphous, frequently changing political views, but nobody likes a waffler.


evision said...
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evision said...
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