If you think the healthcare debate has become a circus, you’re not alone. Just Google “healthcare” with “circus” and you’ll get some 2.5-million hits.
Washington has acquired this reputation the old-fashioned way. It’s earned it.
Even President Obama admitted recently to “60 Minutes,” “It just becomes a big circus instead of us focusing on healthcare.” But he seemed not to recognize that he’s the ringmaster. (He was actually commenting on Rep. Joe Wilson’s, R-S.C., “You lie!” outburst, but that was only a sideshow.)
The high-wire acts are found among the House blue dogs and among senators including Mary Landrieu, D-La., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who all want to avoid coming down on one side or the other.
Watching them lean back and forth can lead to serious neck injuries.
The jugglers are led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who must handle multiple committee versions and intra-party conflicts. Unlike most performers, however, they hide their talent as they conceal the actual language they’re concocting.
Beneath the big top of the Capitol dome are many other acts:The magician is Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., whose favorite trick involves the “invisible Senate bill.”Swinging back and forth on the flying trapeze is the “public option” of government-run insurance, always about to fall but somehow remaining aloft.Unlike most circuses, this one relegates the elephants to a minor role. However, a popular animal act is the trained dancing donkeys.Speaker Pelosi stars also as a knife thrower, as she accuses opponents of being immoral, villainous, and even un-American (with an assist from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.).A hypnotist has been added. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., chants, "Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."Trick riders and acrobats abound, ready to demonstrate incredible maneuvers about how taxing health insurance will make it cheaper, or how those who don’t buy coverage deserve to be jailed.The clowns? As in most circuses, they are all over the place. Unfortunately, this troupe does not all tumble out of a little car anymore. It was a clunker and had to be traded in.
Circulating throughout the tent are vendors who offer popcorn and cotton candy, the sweeteners that will be added to the bill to attract votes.
One twist in this circus is the lack of a human cannonball. Instead, they aim the cannon at the audience and demand we pay extra for the costs of the show. In similar fashion, the lion tamer snaps a whip at those who attended town-hall meetings this summer.
The performance ends with a stimulus — a grand finale parade. But no sweepers follow the exiting animals. The audience is expected to clean up after the show.
As P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Ernest Istook served 14 years as a congressman and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
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