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Berry's legacy

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β€œThe wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

Marion Berry's vote was the strangest of all in the Arkansas congressional delegation. What was he afraid of? He's not seeking re-election; he didn't need to worry about the insurance companies and the Tea Baggers punishing him politically if he supported health-care reform. His weak excuse about the abortion provision of the bill collapsed when the leading pro-life Democrats, people with stronger anti-abortion records than Berry, and more anti-abortion constituents, accepted the abortion clause. (And when Berry's colleague, Vic Snyder, provided documentation to the House that the language of the reform bill concerning abortion complies with the current federal law.)

Still, Berry voted against the greatest advance in health care since Medicare, though he's elected from a congressional
district that needs this advance as much as any in the country. This will be the defining vote of Marion Berry's congressional career. He chose to be remembered as deficient in compassion and courage. Weird.

Snyder, who's also not seeking re-election, has many bold votes on his record. His opposition to the invasion of Iraq, an incursion still squandering lives and treasure, comes immediately to mind. But he'll be remembered also as the only Arkansan in the House to vote for health-care reform. He'll give more good service to his district, his state and his country before his term ends in January.

The realization that we'll lose Vic Snyder and keep Mike Ross is almost too painful to bear. Like Berry, Ross represents a district whose residents desperately need better health care. Like Berry, he didn't let that sway him. He said he was voting the way his constituents wanted. That may not be true – many people who think they're against reform find otherwise when the details are explained to them. But in any case, government by public-opinion poll is a poor way to run a country. As President Obama told Congress, sometimes a legislator needs to do what's right, even if it's unpopular. That requires a legislator to think for himself. Ross can't or won't.

The fourth Arkansan in the House, Rep. John Boozman, did what he always does – gave blind obedience to the Republican Party's leadership. John Boehner casts John Boozman's vote as surely as Antonin Scalia casts Clarence Thomas'. And Boehner's not interested in what's good for Arkansas. Or America, for that matter. Today's Republicans support or oppose legislation solely on the basis of what they think will be good for the party in the next election. Patriotism runs a poor second to factionalism.

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