Monday, March 22, 2010

History Is Jerry Bruckheimer

The healthcare bill passed. You might have heard about that. It's not the complete, done deal, but a bill is to be signed by Obama.

The question now is not just how it will work out- and believe me, I'm not the guy to talk to about that; healthcare's one of my weaker issues and I freely admit it- but how will it get remembered by history? If it's an 'historic' bill passage, as many are saying (and in all likelihood correctly), it's worth asking, from this whole entire debate, who stands out, and who gets left on history's cutting room floor?

Let's work that out. What are we looking for, first off?

1. History is a brutal, unfeeling, uncaring editor. Some big chunks of the debate, some major players, are going to get left out of the final cut. You may not get remembered for what you should be remembered for, either.

2. History doesn't always focus on the important parts. Sometimes some little tidbits that spice up the story work their way in ahead of other, more important things.

3. The first bill to pass, or the one with the greatest fanfare, is the one that gets remembered. The bill just passed, not the reconciliation bill yet to be taken up in the Senate, is clearly that bill. History likes a climactic spectacle, and we got it. The reconciliation bill is, as far as history is probably concerned, mop-up work.

4. History remembers the victors. If the bill is passed, history notes who got it passed. If it fails, history notes who killed it.

That established. In decreasing order of notability, here's who's getting remembered:

*Barack Obama. Seriously. He's the guy who was President, it'll be his signature on the bill. It got called "Obamacare". He gets to have the historic signing ceremony with flashbulbs popping. If he's left out of this, I will eat my own genitalia.

*Ted Kennedy. He worked his whole career for it, then died in the middle of the debate. "Tragically, Kennedy did not live to see the fruits of his lifetime of labor." Chappaquidick is probably going to end up making room for this. (Scott Brown? Maybe the answer to a trivia question; he never figured into the actual debate.)

*Nancy Pelosi. She'll get more credit than Reid, because of a couple reasons. First and foremost, she was simply more effective of a chamber leader than Reid was. She was better at herding cats. Second, the final vote prior to passage is the vote that gets the airplay in history books. Had that final vote come in the Senate, Reid would be ahead of Pelosi. But since it came in the House, Pelosi gets the nod. (She'll also get some credit for deliberately walking through the protestors to get to the Capitol. There were others with her, but it'll read as Pelosi and Semi-Nameless Friends.)

*John Lewis/Emanuel Cleaver/Barney Frank. They'll be paired together due to what happened the day prior to the vote. Lewis will get noted for someone calling him the N-word. Cleaver got spit on the same day. Those two seem to be linked anecdotally, and probably will be by history as well in some dramatic climactic scene. It will likely also enter a racial historical narrative. Barney Frank isn't black, but he is gay, and got anti-gay slurs fired at him. Louise Slaughter, who got a brick through her office window the same day, seems to have been separated from the others. (She's also white, for what it's worth.)

*Jim Clyburn. Around this level of notability has to be a Republican. History is going to remember something nice and clean like unanimous partisan opposition, as happened here when every Republican voted no. That fate might have been escaped had, say, Joe Cao defected, but nobody did, so "unanimous opposition" gets to roll off the tongue rather nicely. One specific Republican will get picked to play the lead role of the opposition- likely as the villain- and there are several options for that lead. You might go with Joe Wilson and 'You lie!', and he might get a footnote. You might go with House Minority Leader John Boehner, helped along by, again, the final vote coming in the House. You might go with James Inhofe or Richard Shelby or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or someone else. But I think it goes to Clyburn for the quote "If we can defeat Obama on this bill, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." That's something to put in a nice little sidebar textbox. 'You lie!' needs explanation, context. Clyburn's quote does not.

*Harry Reid. He'll get downgraded as the 'other' chamber leader. When he is remembered, I'm wagering he gets misremembered. Remember, history's written by the victors. Reid will get a sepia-tone treatment simply for being on the winning team. Given all the watering-down the bill got, he'll be characterized as a "shepherd" and a "compromiser" when it was actually more like a "capitulator".

*Anyone that voted yes on their final vote on this bill (again, not the reconciliation bill) and loses election this year. Profiles in Courage, anyone?

*John Dingell. He introduced a healthcare reform bill every single Congress. He'll get a footnote. (He also got to call for the vote on the reconciliation bill. That likely won't get noted, but it was a nice gesture.)

And that's really about it. Max Baucus, who held the bill up in committee, won't get a note. Joe Lieberman, who nearly singlehandedly derailed the bill, won't get a note. The vast majority of the GOP won't be brought up individually. The Tea Party might get known as anonymous "protestors" in a picture or two, but that's it. Many of the Blue Dogs will only get a note if they voted yes and lose. History is almost total in scrubbing away why votes were cast for 'the others', leaving only the votes themselves. You were worried about this and this and this and you voted yes only after much deliberation over blah blah blah you voted yes. You were supportive of the bill but faced a lot of pressure from your district and needed to get permission from Pelosi to vote no but really you supported it yakety yakety yakety you voted no.

Never said history was nice.

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