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SNIDELY SHE TURNS! Is Nelson sincere in his public writhing? Collins acts like she knows: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2009

Snidely she turns: At the start of this morning’s column, Gail Collins goes after Snidely Whiplash, famous cartoon super-villain. Rather, she uses Whiplash to go after Lieberman, before going after Ben Nelson:

COLLINS (12/19/09): When we last left the health care reform bill, it was tied up on the railroad track, writhing helplessly with the train bearing down. The role of Snidely Whiplash was played by Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Time for a new episode. Having stripped away all the parts that offended his sensibilities, Lieberman has slunk off and the fate of the legislation is now in the hands of Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

People, when did it become necessary for average, conscientious-but-not-fanatic citizens to know the names of so many senators?

Lady Collins is always complaining about some problem like this. During Campaign 2008, she constantly wondered why we had to watch so many candidate forums. Today, she’s troubled by the need to learn many names.

People who reason as snidely as Collins might be advised to leave Whiplash alone. That said, the lady’s column gives us a look at several parts of the current, utterly gruesome health care debate and conundrum.

Snidely, Collins complains about the ongoing conduct of Lieberman and Nelson. She rolls her eyes at the notion that Nelson should be playing his current lead role—or apparent lead role—in the fate of health reform:

COLLINS: Nelson is the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and a guy who seems to really enjoy having the fate of the health care bill in his hands. We have mentioned before that George W. Bush used to call him “The Benator.” Have we mentioned that he used to be president of an insurance company?

He is being treated like a visiting superpower. When the prime minister of India came to the United States, he got that one crasher-wracked party and an hour of face time with Barack Obama. Ben Nelson has met Obama at least three times in the last nine days. The president, he said serenely, “made a strong case for passing health care reform, but it remains to be seen if it was compelling.”

Good work making your case, most powerful person on the planet. But we will see if it meets the standards of Senator Ben Nelson.

Is Nelson “the most conservative Democrat in the Senate?” We’re not sure, but might we make a key point? Someone has to be that person, unless we think that 58 Democratic senators will all be just alike. But Collins seems to long for some such thing in this snidely rendered passage. In Collins Land, it almost seems like the little people—the fifty states’ senators, for example—should bow to the wishes and judgments of “the most powerful person on the planet.”

This would produce the world Collins seeks—a world in which the average citizen must know just one famous name.

No, that isn’t our actual system. But a pundit can dream, if snidely.

Have Lieberman and Nelson behaved in good faith? Collins implies her doubts about Nelson, and she’s openly snide when she describes Lieberman “stripping away all the parts [of the bill] that offended his sensibilities.” Senators are supposed to do such things, of course, even when it means that we over-worked rubes will have to learn at least several names. But so what? Soon, Collins is rolling her eyes at the way this bill has been watered down/stripped down/abused:

COLLINS (continuing directly): So the health care bill, which was already watered down for Max Baucus and then stripped down for Joe Lieberman, is now being sent to the sauna for Ben Nelson. The big question on the liberal side is whether what remains will still be worth supporting. On Friday, MoveOn started a petition urging progressive senators “to block the current Senate bill until it is improved.” The blogosphere resounds with calls to go back and start over.

Our question for today is: Does this make sense? Has the health care bill been so abused by the various pols who’ve held its fate in their hands that it’s time to put it out of its misery?

Collins goes on to imply that this bill should be passed, even in its watered down/abused form. We’d be inclined to agree with that judgment. But we were most struck by the eye-rolling portrait she draws of our political process.

Again: Senators are supposed to seek changes in bills in accord with their “sensibilities.” When a pundit doesn’t care for the senators in question, or for the changes they made or sought, she may describes this as a process of “watering/stripping down” a bill; she may even snidely say that they have thus “abused” the bill. In this way, she substitutes snide for substance. What is wrong with the changes Nelson may seek? People! Don’t ask! Lady Collins is too grand a personage to explain, elucidate, argue.

We were struck by Collins’ approach because we’ve seen it a lot this past week. For ourselves, we can’t quite say if Lieberman or Nelson are sincere in their ongoing conduct. But senators are supposed to consult their “sensibilities” when a major bill is proposed. That’s how our system works.

Might we offer a second, blindingly obvious point about the conduct of Nelson?

Nelson is “a guy who seems to really enjoy having the fate of the health care bill in his hands,” Lady Collins grandly divines. Might we explain why that (possibly) is?

Nelson, you see, is from Nebraska. And Nebraska is a very red state. A Democratic senator from Nebraska will often be “the most conservative Democrat in the Senate,” or he’ll at least come close. Collins, who long ago married Snide, mentions Nelson’s insurance connections, but fails to his tie to this state. In this way, grand dames like Collins help keep us vassals shoeless, unintelligent. Useless.

Does Nelson “really enjoy” being center stage? Maybe. Or maybe he’s engaged in a familiar process, in which Democrats from red states—and Republicans from blue states—go center stage in dramatic ways before voting with their parties, against the overall views of their states. In this familiar process, someone like Nelson stages a public “night of the soul” before he casts his party-line vote. This increases the chance that his home state’s voters, who lean the other way, will support his re-election.

Is Nelson so engaged? We have no idea. For the record, a similar process may obtain in the case of Olympia Snowe, a Republican from a basically blue state (Maine). Like Nelson, she has staged a public drama—before seeming to align with her own party’s position, which tilts against the views of her state.

Does this explain what Nelson is doing? Not unlike Collins, we have no idea. But the last time a lonely Democrat writhed this way, it was Bob Kerrey, in 1993. Kerrey had to anguish at a movie matinee before he cast a high-profile, pro-Democratic vote, in favor of the Clinton budget plan.

Kerrey, like Nelson, was a former governor. Of a red state. Nebraska.

Might we note an obvious point? This is how Democratic senators will routinely act—if they get elected from Nebraska. The alternative? Electing Republicans from that red state! This is pretty much how our world works.

And by the way: If you propose legislation which goes beyond the views of the voters in states like Nebraska, it can be hard to get their senators’ votes. Once again, this is our system.

For ourselves, we would support a more “progressive” bill. Second point: We don’t live in Nebraska! Almost two million other folks do—and their views count, just like ours.

As usual, Collins is lazy and snide today. She’s also enduringly worthless. Final question: Is Nelson sincere when it comes to abortion? How on earth could we possibly know? Collins acts like she thinks she knows. As always, she does so snidely.