Americans have witnessed, in the last days, an ugly and extraordinary display of how the practice of democracy can so often overwhelm its theory: They saw, first, how those who claim an exalted moral stature for health-care reform made a naked attempt to dodge a basic constitutional requirement for the passing of a bill. The subversion of the Constitution was abandoned when it became clear that the Supreme Court would not put up with a law that had been “deemed” to have passed.
What Americans saw next was the legislative souk at its most squalid: cajoling, bribing, threatening, wheedling, all designed to bring on board those Democratic congressmen and -women whose votes were needed to attain (or surpass) the number 216, and whose “principles” were getting in the way of a “yes” vote. Hewing to principle is difficult, because it makes party whips angry, spoils dinner parties, and ends careers and friendships. So Kucinich, Stupak & Co. succumbed. To borrow a phrase from Tony Judt, the historian, writing in the latest New York Review of Books: “We… have abandoned politics to those for whom actual power is far more interesting than its metaphorical implications.”