Last week Dana Milbank, the noted Washington Post commentator, and Republican hater, worked himself into a fine froth over the public battles concerning the Affordable Care Act, also known commonly as Obamacare. Milbank has never met a Republican he actually respected, save for the man-crush he recently developed on John McCain, and he has now taken to referring to the GOP as “The Party without a brain.” We don’t know whether Milbank is employing a historical reference in this case. Back in 1866, John Stuart Mill, the famed libertarian philosopher, referred to the Tory (Conservative) Party in Britain as “The Stupid Party.” Milbank might be consciously channeling Mill, or he might simply be echoing the current liberal line of attack as Rachel Maddow, Paul Krugman, and Eugene Robinson have all parroted this narrative over the last few weeks.
In any event, Milbank was crowing over the clear decision victory he claims Kathleen Sebelius won in her oft-delayed showdown with the House Energy & Commerce Committee on Wednesday, October 30th. As Milbank tells it, Sebelius was disarming in her candor and her open willingness to accept the blame for the Obamacare debut disaster. Milbank, to his credit, does admit the obvious that the Obamacare rollout has been the biggest mistake since the Edsel, but no matter. He lauds Ms. Sebelius for accepting full responsibility for the comically bad beginning, and for resisting the urge to pass this hot potato back to her boss, President Obama. He praised the Secretary for her poise and composure and celebrated her contumacious attitude when she insisted that she would not resign, would not fire any incompetent subordinates, she would not supply the investigative committee any Obamacare enrollment numbers, and would not comment on Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s declaration that Obamacare had failed. According to Dana Milbank, the good Secretary clearly won the opening round.
However, a closer look at this dust-up shows that Dana Milbank, despite his insistence that he knows intelligence from stupidity, betrays a marked ignorance of the facts, procedures and the congressional prerogatives relevant to this type of a hearing. First of all, Milbank fails to note that Kathleen Sebelius had ignored three congressional requests to testify, and she submitted to this request only with the possibility of a contempt citation looming in the background. In regards to Ms. Sebelius accepting responsibility for the failed rollout, Milbank does not note that President Obama, himself, accepted responsibility for this white elephant in a speech he made in Boston on the same afternoon. The public was treated to the spectacle of two very important people, each claiming to be the architect of a public relations disaster. Does this sound like a Three Stooges short subject to the readers? Finally, it is standard operating procedure, both in government and the private sector, to shake up the staff after a major bungle of this sort. Milbank’s praise for Sebelius and her stubborn refusal to countenance personnel changes should be understood in light of the liberal media exasperation when, as they insisted, George W. Bush, isolated and insulated from criticism, stubbornly refused to admit any mistakes a decade ago. The media no longer yearns for a President who will admit a mistake.
Milbank’s characterization of the GOP as the stupid party is nothing short of astonishing when we consider Obamacare in its entirety. The Republican Party did not create this monstrosity. They did not lie openly to the American people, saying that, “…if you like your current plan, you can keep it.” The GOP did not attempt to suspend the laws of basic economics by creating 31,000,000 new customers for a commodity, health care, and argue that somehow this increase in demand, without a corresponding increase in the supply of the commodity available would somehow lead to lower costs for health care. Anyone could see that this was going to lead to sharp price increases in the cost of the commodity. Yet, Mr. Milbank says calls the Republicans the stupid party, and argues that the architects of Obamacare are the deep thinkers.
Milbank has also glossed over the constitutional issue, just as Chief Justice Roberts dodged the issue, by saying that this two trillion dollar mess can be seen as constitutionally permissible by the congress using its power to levy taxes, even though the President, the chief engineer of this act, has insisted that the program is in no way a tax plan. Milbank has also never addressed the President’s open abuse of power in simply ordering that mandates in the program be delayed by a year, and compromising other sections of the bill by issuing waivers to favored constituencies such as Congress and certain labor unions. Milbank could comment on these unconstitutional actions by the executive branch, but prefers to hurl ridicule and abuse at his favorite target, the so-called stupid party.
Finally, Milbank’s fawning praise of an imperious and quarrelsome cabinet secretary is clearly over-the-top. Kathleen Sebelius appeared to testify only under the shadow of a contempt citation. She has repeatedly stated that she doesn’t work for Congress, and she denies their right to inquire as to whether the laws are being faithfully executed. She showed her disinterest in the proceedings last week when Rep. Gregg Harper, a Republican member from Mississippi, pressed her on Presidential responsibility for the debacle. Her retort sparkled fine champagne: “Yeah…whatever.” This remark, while certainly not worthy of a Churchill or Disraeli won’t put Ms. Sebelius on Dana Milbank’s list of dim American politicians. That list is reserved for Republicans, the members of the stupid party, according to Milbank and the Washington Post.
The reader might be tempted to dismiss this as they typical mindless foolishness that occurs whenever the mainstream media goes into the tank for a candidate, or an elected official. Still, it should stand as an illustration of the contemporary American political discourse. Can anyone imagine the Washington Post publishing a column branding the Democrats as “the stupid party” or anything remotely similar? It would never happen, but the media will not hesitate to use any slander, defamation, or libel when the target is the Republican right wing. The GOP and many media-friendly Republican officeholders would do well to remember this in the future.