How to lose friends and get not much

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

Rarely has a cow­boy cas­trated him­self in pub­lic like Ben Nel­son, the se­na­tor from Ne­braska, who be­comes an ob­ject les­son in how a United States se­na­tor eas­ily trades his “con­vic­tions” and “prin­ci­ples” for per­fectly le­gal bribes from cyn­i­cal party leaders.

When the in­evitable howl­ing erupted in Ne­braska, all the se­na­tor could come up with was a vari­a­tion on the old­est ex­cuse in Wash­ing­ton: “I didn’t do it, and maybe I won’t do it again.”

The se­na­tor’s pro­file in phony determination to pre­vent fed­eral fi­nanc­ing of abor­tion earned him re­buke and scorn from abor­tion foes and ad­vo­cates alike. What an­gered every­one was how eas­ily he took the bribe, and how pub­lic the trans­ac­tion was. Af­ter all the dec­la­ra­tions of undy­ing ded­i­ca­tion to “con­vic­tion” and “prin­ci­ples,” when Barack Obama of­fered the deal he of­fered no one else, to pay for the ex­panded Medi­care costs for the state of Ne­braska and let’s for­get about abor­tion, the se­na­tor ca­pit­u­lated with en­thu­si­asm.

He tried to blame the gov­er­nor. The gov­er­nor, David Heine­man, “con­tacted me, and he said this is an­other un­funded fed­eral man­date, and it’s go­ing to stress the state bud­get, and I agreed with him,” the se­na­tor said. “I said to [Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid] that this is some­thing that has to be fixed. I didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the way it was fixed.” (He only dropped into the bordello for a shot of bonded courage, never dream­ing that any­thing naughty was go­ing on up­stairs.)

The gov­er­nor, aban­don­ing the way gov­er­nors and se­na­tors from their states pro­tect each other’s rep­u­ta­tion for truth-telling, stuck it to the se­na­tor this time with a vengeance. He had noth­ing to do with the se­na­tor’s “com­pro­mise,” he said, and the health care bill is “bad news for Ne­braska and for the United States. Ne­braskans did not seek a spe­cial deal, only a fair deal.”

The se­na­tor’s clum­si­ness was fol­lowed by the in­evitable whine of a politi­cian caught with his pants down. “This is all so or­ches­trated,” he said of the sting­ing back­lash from the home folks. “It’s so thinly dis­guised, it’s al­most laugh­able.” But he didn’t sound like a man al­most laugh­ing. Even his Ne­braska col­league in the Se­nate, Mike Jo­hanns, ig­nor­ing a ven­er­a­ble tra­di­tion that a se­na­tor doesn’t re­buke the other se­na­tor from his state, said he was “stunned and dis­ap­pointed” be­cause the “com­pro­mise” lan­guage was a “wa­tered­down ac­count­ing gim­mick that leads to Ne­braska tax­pay­ers sub­si­diz­ing abor­tions in other states.”

Ev­ery pres­i­dent mir­rors in ways large and small the pol­i­tics he learned back home, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s use of the bat­ter­ing ram in be­half of a scheme that grows more un­pop­u­lar day by day re­flects the down-and-dirty pol­i­tics of Chicago. Richard Da­ley the Orig­i­nal lives and breathes on Capi­tol Hill.

It’s an ill wind that blows no­body good, and the se­na­tor’s col­leagues can be grate­ful for the di­ver­sion of at­ten­tion from the ac­tual out­rage. Max Bau­cus, the chair­man of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, told the Se­nate that Oba­maCare is so con­vo­luted that no one (not even the dozens of lawyers who wrote it) ac­tu­ally un­der­stands it. The pres­i­dent in­sists that the change no­body be­lieves in will re­duce costs for ev­ery­body.

“Any­one who sug­gests oth­er­wise sim­ply hasn’t read the bills,” he says. Maybe that’s why he so sure he’s right; he hasn’t had time to read 2,000-plus pages of the bill, ei­ther. Vic­tor Fuchs, a highly re­garded econ­o­mist who sup­ports Oba­maCare, says a lot of the White House the­ory is sim­ply sim­plis­tic. “The oft-heard prom­ise that ‘we will find out what works and what does not’ scarcely does jus­tice to the com­plex­ity of med­i­cal prac­tice.”

Some of those who un­der­stand med­i­cal com­plex­ity best ar­gue that the dead hand of gov­ern­ment will in­evitably stay the in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy that makes Amer­i­can medicine the envy of the world. Al­most no­body here goes to Europe when gravely ill, but Euro­peans flock to Amer­ica when hope is ex­hausted at home. When the un­elected bu­reau­crats gain con­trol of ev­ery­thing from bed­pans to MRI ma­chines, the dean of the Har­vard Med­i­cal School warns “our ca­pac­ity to in­no­vate and de­velop new ther­a­pies would suf­fer most of all.”

Nev­er­mind. The pres­i­dent has the re­form that does less and costs more. Earl Long, the late gov­er­nor of Louisiana, once boasted that he could take a hun­dred-dol­lar bill and get any­thing through his leg­is­la­ture “and buy you a steak din­ner with what I’ll have left over.”

Pres­i­dent Obama goes that one bet­ter. He did it with a bribe of some­body else’s money.

Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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