After 10 months of Nancy Pelosi at the helm of the House, Americans could be forgiven for unfurling their umbrellas should the speaker announce the sun was shining. A "historic" vote for "health care," huh? The lady says so.
Let her have her day. She worked hard enough for it -- and in the end, notwithstanding a Democratic margin of 81 votes, prevailed by only five. Thirty-nine Democrats saw through her, as well as President Obama's verbal promiscuity concerning the wonderfulness of a House bill structured so as to remove from Americans the oversight of their own health care.
The Democrats don't want plain, ordinary people -- you and me, say -- making vital decisions. They want the federal government in charge.
It won't happen this year or the next. The Senate -- the saucer that cools overheated legislation from the House -- will drastically alter the shape of the legislation or else make it go away. So, the speaker of the House won't get her way: Washington won't take over -- yet -- as physician to a nation.
The sad part is the sheer, debilitating waste of time and energies that the health care debate -- to give this mess a genteel name -- has inflicted on a nation with extraordinary economic and foreign policy challenges.
We all know the federal government, meaning the American people, can't afford another $1.3 trillion in government spending over the next decade; nor has the speaker, or anyone else, ever established how you can increase demand for health care -- an extra 30 million or so customers -- without increasing the supply needed to meet the demand. Or what might be the value of higher taxes to underwrite such a scheme. The Democrats' arrogance left them lecturing the voters, including the majority who polls show reject Pelosi-ism, on little more than the urgent need to let the government do something.
On all points of ritual, the Pelosians demanded congressional and voter compliance. Proof? Of course there's just one way to do health care reform -- the government way. We're the government, and we say so. Debate? You mean, engage in intellectual back-and-forth concerning disputed points? Hear experts confront each other? Mrs. Pelosi's experts seemed to her to outrank everyone else's. A 1,900-page bill reshaping one-sixth of the economy needs careful examination? Why, we'd just get tangled up with "those who say we need no change." As if anybody really said something so brainless as "we need no change."
In the health care mess, we have a sermon of sorts -- all about the kind of people who take themselves so seriously they can't understand objections to their proposals. Who can't see why adding $1.3 trillion to federal spending would hurt a thing; don't blink at the extra taxes needed to run such a system; portray critics as raucous nogoodniks.
In most private situations, the victims of arrogance can handle it. They can give as good as they get -- or just walk away. When the snobbery and contempt proceed from the top reaches of political power, that's different. These folks can wallop you: make you cry or bleed.
It's why distrust of government power is a constant in American political philosophy, and rightly so. When presidents or House speakers exercise power disproportionate to anyone else's, you may count on them for a spot of whip-cracking and bullying. Mrs. Pelosi and her henchpersons give valuable lessons in the constant need to restrain political power. The only worry: Are enough people watching?