The revisionist history writers were busy last week. The health care law was "sweeping" and "historic." Mrs. Pelosi was the "most powerful speaker in history," and President Obama had cemented his place as "one of the most consequential presidents." The press, in short, echoed Vice President Biden's view on the importance of the legislation.
This narrative is fantasy. We are asked to believe that the Democrats achieved a glorious victory when they were able to squeak to passage with only four votes to spare. If Bart Stupak and his colleagues had not sacrificed their consciences and gotten on board, then the speaker would have been impotent and the president a failure? To quote Vice President Biden again, "If we were unable to move the ball on this issue . . . we would have been done, absolutely done."
To declare such a close contest -- during which the president was reduced to begging Democratic members to save his presidency -- to be a triumph is reminiscent of Pyrrhus of Epirus. He fought and defeated Rome, but at such a cost in casualties that upon hearing of his success, he said, "One more such victory and I shall return to Epirus alone."
In fact, though the Democrats achieved a narrow victory by passing their health care behemoth, they lost the argument. Despite some 58 presidential speeches, vigorous press cheerleading, and more than a year of ceaseless lobbying, the Obama administration and the Democrats were never able to convince a majority of the American people to believe in a fairy tale. Voters were never persuaded that the government that brought us a $107 trillion unfunded liability in the Medicare and Social Security programs was going to provide subsidized coverage to 32 million uninsured; create 4 million new jobs; produce, as Mrs. Pelosi put it, "a healthier America through prevention, wellness, and innovation;" make insurance more affordable for the middle class; and "save the taxpayers $1.3 trillion."
Aware that their bankruptcy-inviting "triumph" was based on brute force rather than popular appeal, the Democrats adopted a smear-the-opposition tactic. Thus the well-prepared stunt of having several members of the Congressional Black Congress walk above ground to the Capitol on the evening of the vote, rather than through the underground tunnels. Their route took them past a noisy crowd of tea party protesters. Two members later claimed that they had run a gauntlet of ugly racial slurs. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said, "I haven't heard anything like this in 40, 45 years. Since the march to Selma, really." Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., claimed that he was spat upon, and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., claimed to have endured anti-gay epithets. Headlines were assured.
As for the claims of the CBC members, one cannot vouch for an entire crowd of thousands of protesters, but no video that captured the moment (and there are several) picked up any racial slurs, just angry boos and chants of "kill the bill." As for Cleaver's incident, it was captured on video. He passed a man who had cupped his hands and was shouting as Cleaver passed by. Some spittle seems to have sprayed. It could not have been pleasant, but it's a world away from being intentionally spat upon.
The Democrats have their narrative and such is their influence with the press that they can circulate it widely: Virtuous liberals enact far-reaching benevolent legislation in the face of violent, racist, homophobic opposition. Their fans at MSNBC and The New York Times may even buy it. But for most of us, it's the boy who cried "racist" once too often.