Jay Ambrose: Since when is it heroic to retreat when you perceive your country is in need? Why not fight the good fight to fix whatever you think is broken?
Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is a likeable, more or less reasonable Democrat who believes we're now in a time of "national peril," that Congress is proving more problem than solution and whose own solution is to get the heck out of Dodge.
Well, out of Congress, actually. He is retiring because he thinks the place is a mess. His thesis expressed in a New York Times op-ed piece is that it has ceased to function because of ideological fixations, partisanship, abuse of rules, special interests and a lack of comity between the two major parties. He believes a greater effort at consensus is crucial.
To some, all of this makes him something of a hero. The intellectual fad of the moment, coming at us chiefly from the left, is that the nation has become "ungovernable," and because Bayh is beating this drum, he is being cheered.
But since when is it heroic to retreat when you perceive your country is in need? Why not fight the good fight to fix whatever he thinks is broken? He may not be morally obligated to try to hang on in difficult circumstances, but heroic? Not a minute of it.
Nor does his thesis do more than nibble at the edges of the central issue in Washington these days, which is that incompetent leaders in Congress and the White House are attempting to jam a disastrous agenda down the throat of a reluctant nation.
This is the chief ideological issue -- a sense by the Democrats that their control of both Congress and the White House is a chance at last to give us a society imitating the crumbling semi-socialist societies of Western Europe. The arrogance has been as unbelievable as the incompetence of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama, who now has a new health care proposal that is pretty much same o' same o.'
It is still a sweeping new entitlement that could worsen joblessness through its demands on businesses, unconstitutionally strips liberties from the people and comes on top of old entitlements -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- that pose a ruinous debt threat without any assistance from the White House, thank you. It would address Medicare through benefit reductions to current recipients instead of making adjustments for future recipients and does very little to address some current problems that could in fact be relieved by inexpensive, prudent ideas.
That's where the Republicans come in. They have such ideas, among them tort reform, selling health insurance across state lines and giving refundable tax credits to individuals instead of insurance tax breaks to employers. Instead of $1 trillion the first 10 years and $2.5 trillion each 10 years after that, this approach would cost very little depending on the method of implementation, would not risk massive unintended consequences and would not push us toward a day when the government controls every aspect of health care from maternity ward to hospital death bed.
Stopping this kind of complicated, involved, thousand-page legislation that Reid and Pelosi initially aimed to rush through Congress with minimal discussion or revelation is not a lack of government. It is government at its very best. It is government protecting us from doom. It is government responsive to analyses of experts and an increasingly skeptical public, and you might hope we could have more of that.
We'll see. Obama and gang have not given up. For them, it's full speed ahead.
And here is where Bayh is also amiss. He deems it time to re-jigger a filibuster rule that Democrats loved when they were in the minority so that Republicans cannot use it as easily to block the health bill and various other major, controversial measures. And yes, you can reduce various checks and balances aimed at limiting government, and some will applaud as long as it's their side in power. But there are those of us who would argue that you have not thereby made Congress a better, more responsible institution.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.