Bielat grabs third rail

It should be interesting to see how this plays out. Last night, in a Fourth District congressional debate on “Greater Boston” (WGBH-TV, Channel 2), host Emily Rooney asked Republican candidate Sean Bielat about Social Security. Bielat happily dove in, responding that not only does he want to see the program partially privatized, but that he could support raising the retirement age as high as 72.

See for yourself — if you don’t want to watch the entire debate, scroll ahead to 20:30.

Bush speechwriter: A “disaster” for Republicans

David Frum

Later this week I’ll be writing more about the historic health-care bill passed by the House on Sunday night. For now, though, a few semi-connected observations.

1. If you read nothing else on the politics of health-care reform, you must read this blog post by David Frum, a Republican strategist and former speechwriter for George W. Bush. Frum doesn’t like the bill; he thinks it’s too expensive and will harm businesses. But he is withering in his criticism of the Republican leadership for its take-no-prisoners approach to legislation that is, he asserts, moderate at its core and based on Republican ideas.

“Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s,” he begins. “It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster.” He continues:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo — just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

Every line is quotable, so by all means read the whole thing. But he is especially strong on the strategic error Republicans made in following the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, noting that not only do they want Democrats to fail, but, fundamentally, they want Republicans to fail, too. Why? It’s good for business.

2. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today connects the dots between opposition to health-care reform and race. It’s not hard: All he has to do is quote former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who recently said passage would be as harmful to Democrats as civil-rights legislation was in the 1960s. [See correction below.]

Gingrich’s clear message was that white opposition to racial justice was good for the Republican Party, and happy days are here again. And Krugman offers a few other choice examples as well.

The racial subtext to health-care reform has been right below the surface all along. Let’s not forget that South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson, who bellowed “You lie!” at President Obama last September, has a long and foul history of involvement in Confederate causes. This weekend, the tea-party protesters included someone holding up a racially charged poster of Obama as a voodoo doctor (I’ve lost track of where I found it, but if you’ve got a link, send it along), and of some flinging the N-word at Congressman John Lewis, a legendary civil-rights leader. (Homophobic slurs were directed at Congressman Barney Frank as well.)

You can’t even bring this stuff up without being criticized for characterizing a group based on the actions of a few, and I do understand that argument. But if anyone on the scene tried to stop or shout down these knuckle-draggers, their efforts have gone unrecorded.

3. As the media play their favorite parlor game of picking winners and losers, they ought to consider that the biggest loser of all might prove to be Congressman Steve Lynch of South Boston.

Lynch, as we know, announced his opposition to the Senate bill last week. No surprise there — a lot of House Democrats didn’t like it, which is why they came up with the complex strategy of approving the Senate bill, then approving a set of amendments to send back to the Senate.

But Lynch backed himself into a corner with strong language that made it almost impossible for him to shift. By Sunday, the emotional momentum had clearly turned, and Lynch had nowhere to go. He wound up being one of just two House members to vote against the Senate bill and for the amendments — a move that may have put him on the “right” side both times, but that was transparently craven. (So why did the “yes” tally rise by just one, from 219 to 220? Believe it or not, someone voted “yes” on the Senate bill and “no” on the amendments. Go figure.)

The talk today is whether a progressive Democrat might challenge Lynch in the primary. That’s happened before without much effect. This time, though, Lynch could face an opponent who can raise money from the netroots, and without his erstwhile friends in organized labor to drag him over the finish line.

Sounded like a good idea at the time, eh, Congressman?

Correction: Krugman relied on a Washington Post story, and the Post has now published a correction. Gingrich says he was referring to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society social programs and the Vietnam War, not to civil-rights legislation.

Photo of David Frum via Wikimedia Commons.