On top of their game
Honesty, courage and good sense are things you like to see in your elected officials, and don't always. Last week, two Arkansas lawmakers — one federal, one state — demonstrated these admirable qualities. Both are people we've sometimes criticized fairly harshly. That they have their noble moments too buttresses one's faith in democratic government.
There's a noisy bunch, ideologues and elitists, who don't like to see democracy work. They believe that great public issues should be decided by privileged minorities — people of a preferred race, sex, and income level — not the elected representatives of the public at large. They favor restrictions on the people's right to elect their own leaders; they promote term limits to assure that popular and capable lawmakers can't stay around long enough to give self-government a good name.
It was this reactionary group that demanded that Sen. Blanche Lincoln vote to keep health-care reform from being debated in the U.S. Senate, a vote that would have killed this crucial legislation before it could be considered by a majority of the senators. The obstructionists threatened to use the vast financial and media resources of the Republican Party against Lincoln in next year's election unless she submitted.
Under pressure from the other, pro-democracy, side too, Lincoln demonstrated a high degree of grace:
“Although I don't agree with everything in this bill, I have concluded that I believe it is more important that we begin this debate to improve our nation's health-care system for all Americans rather than just simply drop the issue and walk away. That is not what people sent us here to do.” The threats against her are being carried out, the Little Rock edition of the Republican National Committee newsletter screaming for her head.
Lincoln opposes the Senate bill's provision for a government health-insurance program that would compete with avaricious private insurers. She's wrong about this, and we'll have the opportunity to say so again before the debate is over. There would have been no such opportunity if she hadn't supported majority rule. The politicians clamoring to run against her next year would have voted the other way, given the chance. That's worth remembering.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Randy Laverty of Jasper boldly went where almost no Arkansas legislator has gone before, daring to suggest publicly that possession of marijuana be decriminalized, as a way to slow the growth in the prison population, and to say flatly that use of marijuana for medicinal purposes should not be punished. His ideas are sensible and humane, and quite possibly more popular with voters than most legislators believe. As with health-care reform, it's time for the debate on drug reform to begin.