Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where Have All the Grownups Gone?

The Republican National Committee chairman, who has been charging audiences up to $20,000 a pop for his words of wisdom, offered up a free sample yesterday, accusing Democrats of being willing to “flip the bird to the American people” in the health care debate.

Michael Steele's elegant formulation came after Tom Coburn combined his credentials as an MD and evangelist on the Senate floor Sunday by suggesting, "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight. That's what they ought to pray."

Dr. Coburn's entreaty for divine intervention was taken amiss by Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip, who saw it as putting the evil eye on the failing health of 92-year-old Robert Byrd: "When it reaches a point where we're praying, asking people to pray, that senators wouldn't be able to answer the roll call, I think it has crossed the line."

Coburn's prayer went unanswered as Sen. Byrd made it to the 1 a.m. vote, which he cast with a raised finger followed by a fist pump.

If Durbin's line was meant to mark the boundaries of civil discourse in Washington, it has all but been erased in this season of good will as one of his own colleagues, Sheldon Whitehouse, compared Republican opponents to Nazis, Southern lynch mobs and "taunting crowds" of the French Revolution.

If and when health reform finally passes, it will take decades to learn how it has affected the health of the American people, but in the process, the body politic has come down with a high fever.

At a signing ceremony, Dr. Obama will have to write a powerful prescription to counter that.

Update: The Washington Post adds a holiday note by reporting Byrd's warm greeting by old Senate friends and his zinger for Coburn in a statement: "The Bible says love thy neighbor as thyself. I would hope that we could debate the pressing issues in front of the American public on their own merits without appealing to the Almighty for obstruction, of which there seems to be no short supply in Washington,"

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