By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
As the mother of middle school and high school girls, I know a drama queen when I see one. This week, the drama queens are large and in charge--and I'm not talking about the seventh graders. I'm talking about the undecided Democrats in the House. This morning, Politico actually calls them the "Drama Queen Caucus," defining them as "Members of Congress who labor mostly in obscurity, lucky to get a daytime cable hit, let alone a Sunday talk show invitation, until the big vote nears. And then they engage in an oh-so-public exercise deliberating over how they will vote ..."
"They have something very valuable, which is a vote on the floor of the House when the president doesn't have enough votes," Democratic strategist Paul Begala told Politico. "And as my mom used to say to my sister, nobody is going to buy a cow if they get free milk."
I mean really. How can any member of Congress, after a YEAR of debating healthcare reform--with every possible pitch, argument, poll, statistic, and anecdote thrown back and forth by both sides--possibly be undecided at this point? There's no other explanation for it than ego ... and the "free milk" of cable TV coverage. Most moms know that with drama queens, you just have to rise above the theatrics and not stoop to their level. Just ignore them ... which is what most voters seem to be doing.
So if you turn away from all the showboating and arm-twisting going on in these final hours before the vote, and step back from it all, you have to agree it's been quite a journey. I keep thinking about how fun it must be to be a high school teacher of American government this year, watching this legislation make its way through the different committees and interest groups. The Wall Street Journal analyzes the arguments Democrats are making; that would be a great teaching aide in a class on political debate. For some fun with parliamentary procedure, here's a Politico article on the maneuvers the Senate Republicans have planned before it comes to a vote there.
Back in my high school government class, the required reading was Eric Redman's 1970 classic, The Dance of Legislation, about a young Senate staffer's observations of a bill becoming a law; he works for Warren Magnuson and, as I recall, Scoop Jackson is prominent in the story. Great book, but it doesn't hold a candle to what's been unfolding this year around the healthcare bill: the Tea Party rallies on the Capitol steps, the Blue Dogs in Congress, the special elections in Massachusetts and New York, the town hall meetings in August, the televised debate with Republicans, the deem-and-pass strategy, the list goes on. If you saw it all in a movie, you'd say it was too far-fetched.
No matter what you think about healthcare reform, watching the debate has been a great lesson in democracy--both its strengths and its weaknesses--not only for young people in America, but around the world. And it's not over yet.