Skip to main content

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse , our Senator from Rhode Island.... spoke out yesterday on the Senate floor and the Elephants are raging!

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse finally said what needs to be said about the current crop of Republicans.

Whitehouse Decries GOP Tactics in Health Care Debate


Washington today rests under a blanket of snow, reminding us here of the Christmas spirit across the country; the spirit that brings families happily together for the holidays.  Unfortunately, a different spirit has descended on the Senate.  The spirit that has descended on the Senate is one described by Chief Justice John Marshall in the Burr trial: "those malignant and vindictive passions which . . . rage in the bosoms of contending parties struggling for power."

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Hofstadter captured some examples in his famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."  The malignant and vindictive passions often arise, he points out, when an aggrieved minority believes that "America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion."  Does that sound familiar in this health care debate?  Forty years ago he wrote that.  Hofstadter continued:  those aggrieved fear what he described as "the now familiar sustained conspiracy" (familiar then, forty years ago; now grown the noisome guest that will not leave), whose supposed purpose Hofstadter described, is "to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism ...."  Again, familiar words here today.

More than fifty years ago, he wrote of the dangers of an aggrieved right wing minority, with the power to create what he called "a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our wellbeing and safety would become impossible."  The malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate are busily creating just such a political climate.  Far from appealing to "the better angels of our nature," too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, falsehood, obstruction and fear.

History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead: tumbrels rolling through taunting crowds; broken glass sparkling in darkened streets; "strange fruit" dangling in Southern trees; even this great institution of government cowering before a Tailgunner waving secret lists.  These malignant moments rightly earned what Lord Acton called "the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong."  But history also reminds us that in the heat of those vindictive passions, some people believed they were justified.  Such is the human capacity for intoxication by those malignant and vindictive political passions Chief Justice Marshall described.  I ask my colleagues to consider what judgment history will inflict on this current spirit that has descended on the Senate.

Let’s look at what current observers are saying, as a possible early indicator of the judgment history will inflict.  Recently, the editor of the Manchester Journal Inquirer editorial page wrote of the current GOP, which he called this "once great and now mostly shameful party," that it "has gone crazy," is "more and more dominated by the lunatic fringe," and has "poisoned itself with hate."  He concluded, they "no longer want to govern.  They want to emote."  

A well-regarded Philadelphia columnist recently wrote of the "conservative paranoia" and "lunacy" on the Republican right.  The respected Maureen Dowd in her column eulogizing her friend, William Safire, lamented the "vile and vitriol of today’s howling pack of conservative pundits."

A Washington Post writer with a quarter century of experience observing government, married to a Bush Administration official, noted about the House health care bill, "the appalling amount of misinformation being peddled by its opponents";  she called it a "flood of sheer factual misstatements about the health-care bill," and noted that "[t]he falsehood-peddling began at the top . . . ."   The respected head of the Mayo Clinic described recent health care antics as "scare tactics" and "mud."

Congress is not immune.  Many of us felt President Bush was less than truthful.  But we never yelled out "You lie!" at him during a Joint Session of Congress.  Through panics and depressions, through world wars and civil wars, no one ever has -- never.  Until President Obama delivered his first address.  And this September, 179 Republicans in the House voted to support their heckler comrade.  Here in the Senate, this month one of our Republican colleagues regretted, "Why didn’t I say that?"

A Nobel-prize-winning economist recently concluded thus:  "The takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter.  Something unprecedented is happening here – and it’s very bad for America."  History’s current verdict is not promising.

How are these unprecedented passions manifested in the Senate?  Several ways.

First, through a campaign of obstruction and delay affecting every single aspect of the Senate’s business.  We have crossed the mark of over 100 filibusters and acts of procedural obstruction in less than one year.  Never since the Founding of the Republic, not even in the bitter sentiments preceding the Civil War, was such a thing ever seen in this body.  It is unprecedented.

Second, through a campaign of falsehood:  about death panels, and cuts to Medicare benefits, and benefits for illegal aliens, and bureaucrats to be parachuted in between you and your doctor.  Our colleagues terrify the public with this parade of imagined horrors, they whip up concern and anxiety about "socialized medicine" and careening deficits, and then tell us:  the public is concerned about the bill.

Third, we see it in bad behavior.  We see it in the long hours of reading by the clerks our Republican colleagues have forced.  We see it in Christmases and holidays ruined by the Republicans for our loyal and professional Senate employees.  (It’s fine for me, I signed up for this job, but why ruin it for all the employees condemned by the Republicans to be here?)  We see it -- tragically -- in gentle and distinguished members, true noblemen of the Senate, who have built reputations of honor and trustworthiness over decades being forced to break their word, and doublecross their dearest friends and colleagues.  We see it in public attacks in the press by Senators against the parliamentary staff.  The parliamentary staff are nonpartisan professional employees of the Senate who cannot answer back.  Attacking them is worse than kicking a man when he’s down; it is kicking a man who is forbidden to hit back; it is dishonorable.

The lowest of the low was the Republican vote against funding and supporting our troops in the field in a time of war.  As a device to stall health care, they tried to stop the appropriation of funds for our soldiers.  There is no excuse for that.  From that there is no return.  Every single Republican member was willing to vote against cloture on funding our troops, and they admitted it was a tactic to obstruct health care reform.  The Secretary of Defense warned us all that a "no" vote would immediately create a "serious disruption in the worldwide activities of the Department of Defense."  And yet every one of them was willing to vote "no."  Almost all of them did vote "no."  Some stayed away, but that’s the same as "no" when you need sixty "yes" votes; voting "no" and hiding from the vote are the same result.  And for those of us here on the floor to see it, it was clear:  the three who voted "yes" did not cast their "yes" votes until our 60 Democratic votes to fund the troops were tallied and the result was a foregone conclusion.

And why?  Why all this discord and discourtesy; all this unprecedented, destructive action?  All to break the momentum of this new young President.  They are desperate to break this President.  They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama:  the "birthers," the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militias and Aryan support groups.  It is unbearable to them that Barack Obama is our President. That is one powerful reason.

It is not the only one.  The insurance industry, one of the most powerful lobbies in politics, is another reason.  The bad behavior you see on the Senate floor is the last thrashing throes of the health insurance industry as it watches its business model begin to die.  You who are listening know this business model:  the business model that won’t insure you, if they think you’ll get sick or if you have a preexisting condition; the business model that, if you’re insured and you do get sick, job one is to find loopholes to throw you off your insurance coverage and abandon you to face your illness alone; the business model, when they can’t find that loophole, that they’ll try to interfere with or deny you the care your doctor ordered; and the business model that, when all else fails, and they can’t avoid you or abandon you or deny you, they just stiff the doctor and the hospital and deny and delay their payments as long as they can – or perhaps tell the hospital to collect from you first, and then maybe they’ll reimburse you.  Good riddance to that business model.  We know it all too well.  It deserves a stake through its cold and greedy heart, but some of our colleagues here are fighting to the death to keep it alive.

But the biggest reason for these desperate acts by our colleagues is that we are gathering momentum, and we are gathering strength, and we are working toward our goal of passing this legislation, and when we do, the lying time is over.  The American public will see what actually comes to pass when we pass this bill as our new law.  The American people will see firsthand the difference between what is and what they were told.  Facts, as we have often said, are stubborn things.  It is one thing to propagandize and scare people about the unknown; it is much tougher to propagandize and scare people when they are seeing and feeling and touching something different.  When it turns out there are no death panels; when there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor; when the ways your health care changes seem like a good deal for you, and a pretty smart idea; ....  When the American public sees the discrepancy between what really is and what they were told by the Republicans -- there will be a reckoning.

There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth.  Our colleagues are behaving in this way –unprecedented, malignant and vindictive – because they are desperate to avoid that day of judgment, frantic and desperate now, and willing to do strange and unprecedented things, willing to do anything, even to throw our troops at war in the way of that day of reckoning.  If they can cause this bill to fail, the truth will never stand up as a living reproach to the lies that have been told, and on through history our colleagues could claim they defeated a terrible monstrosity.  But when the bill passes and this program actually comes to life, and it is friendly;  when it shelters 33 million people, regular American people, in the new security of health insurance; when it growls down the most disgraceful abuses of the insurance industry; when it offers better care, electronic health records, new community health centers, new opportunities to negotiate fair and square in a public market; and when it brings down the deficit and steers Medicare toward safe harbor – Americans will know beyond any capacity of spin or propaganda to dissuade them, that they were lied to.  And they will remember.  There will come a day of judgment.  And our Republican friends know that.  And that is why they are terrified.  


Originally posted to Bushbull on Tue Dec 22, 2009 at 06:48 AM PST.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site