Douthat, Ornstein and Self-Execution

Republicans — By on March 19, 2010 at 11:09 am

Recently two conservatives, Ross Douthat and Norman Ornstein, have come out against Republicans and talk radio for their strong opposition to the use of the “self-executing rule” to pass healthcare legislation.

Ornstein chastised Republicans for shamelessly accusing Democracts of using a legislative technique that they themselves have used numerous times.  He writes:

“Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

Linking to Ornstein, Ross Douthat weighed in on the matter:

“But I also think it’s appropriate that there exists, for an extremely determined but not-quite-super majority, mechanisms that allow legislators to overcome these hurdles and push a controversial piece of legislation through. ‘Hard but not absolutely impossible’ seems like the right bar to set for a bill of this nature. I wish the Democrats had chosen a different path, but in the end, we live in a republic, not a direct democracy: If our elected representatives can really muster enough votes, within the rules, to pass health care legislation even after everything that’s happened — if they believe that strongly, in other words, that this is absolutely and without question the right policy for America — then they have every right to go for it.”

Ornstein and Douthat’s points seem sensible except for one fact: the self-executing rule has never before been used in the way Democrats are proposing to use it.

That slight problem aside, Douthat and Orstein seem to misunderstand the nature of Republican opposition to the Democratic tactics.  The “self-executing rule” tactic allows Democrats to pass controversial legislation while enabling individual legislators to avoid voter accountability this coming fall; Republicans believe that individuals who vote to federalize 1/6th of the American economy ought be held accountable.

Even if it could be demonstrated that Republicans had, at some point in the party’s history, attempted to avoid accountability on a piece of legislation, I suspect it could also be demonstrated that Democrats chastised Republicans for the effort.  The point is that elected officials ought not to avoid accountability.  By no means are the Republicans feigning indignation at the attempt by their Democrat counterparts to avoid accountability.

So much for Ornstein’s objections.  Douthat simply spoke too soon and should have refrained from giving the Democrats a pass for their cleverness at the cost of sounding like he has admitted defeat at this crucial moment in the healthcare legislation battle.

For conservatives, this healthcare legislation is of the utmost importance; in the event that healthcare is federalized, this nation becomes, de facto, a center-left nation.  This healthcare legislation should not pass for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere.  To ensure that it does not pass, Republicans and their allies on talk radio have been fighting a hard battle for nearly a year.  This is a critical moment if we are to preserve any semblance of limited government.  With a vote expected Sunday, the President is ramping up the rhetoric, the parliamentary trickery, and the back-room deals.  In this critical moment Misters Ornstein and Douthat have chosen to chastise and betray their allies on the front line much to the ravenous delight of conservatisms opponents.  For that, these conservative critics ought be ashamed.

For my part, I pass on for consideration by Mr. Douthat and Mr. Ornstein remarks made by a former President who fought hard and won many battles political and otherwise:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt ‘


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