Jonathan Last | Remember Bart Stupak?

I should say that I take no pleasure in noting that the pro-life Democratic caucus is crawling toward extinction. No matter how inadequate or compromised conservatives might think pro-life Democrats are, the truth is that if you really care about eradicating the scourge of abortion they’re absolutely necessary. Because without them, the argument about abortion switches modes from moral persuasion to pure partisanship. And because the latter is so devoid of reason, it’s much harder to win converts.

All of which is to say that I have a great deal of natural sympathy and affinity for Bart Stupak.

Yet at the same time, I think we can fairly lay a great deal of responsibility for the polarization and acrimony of the last four years at his feet.

Our political order is based around what voters believe to be a kind of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for our elected officials. At the top of the pyramid are high-minded hopes about wisdom and judgment. But at the base of the pyramid–the foundation for our relationship with our officials–is that we trust them to be self-interested. That is to say, we trust them not to deliberately do something so abhorrent to us that they know for a certainty it will cost them their jobs.

I would argue that the passage of Obamacare damaged the political order because it broke this basic compact. And I don’t particularly blame President Obama or Nancy Pelosi. Sure, they drove the process. But that’s what their constituencies wanted from them. The engine governor for such radical change has always been guys like Stupak, who wouldn’t go along with it because they knew they couldn’t get away with it.

 

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