Monday, November 30, 2009

Collins and the Dupes

During her 2008 campaign, Sen. Collins characterized universal health care as a priority. She said that the Obama health care plan was "pretty good" and that she was open to supporting it. And she argued that her experience working on insurance and health issues--and her pragmatic approach to the legislative process--would put her in a position to facilitate comprehensive reform.

About one third of Democratic voters looked at Collins' centrist, wonky rhetoric on health reform (and other issues) and saw it as a sign of seriousness.

They took her moderate branding at more or less face value: Would she be with Obama on everything? Of course not. But on the big issues, the Democratic presidential candidate and the Republican senator from Maine weren't really that far apart, were they? And even when the junior senator disagreed with the new president, she would do so constructively--in ways that strengthened legislation and improved policy.

Democrats believing these sorts of things were probably decisive in Maine's decision to send Collins back to Washington for another term.

One year later, it's as clear as could be that they were dupes.

Remember: Collins now opposes even debating and amending a health care proposal that fits the outlines of the plan she called "pretty good" thirteen months ago. (Imagine if she'd declared such an intention last October--or even held it out as an option.) She's repeatedly exaggerated the cost of reform. And the only thing resembling a constructive proposal she's put forward is tort reform--a knee-jerk GOP solution to pretty much everything; a plan that's popular with the tea party crowd but would have only a modest impact on soaring health care costs.

In most media markets, such a glaring contradiction between campaign rhetoric and action in office--such transparently bad faith--would attract attention. It would gain traction and stimulate public discussion, even if the issue involved didn't happen to be the most significant domestic policy proposal in a generation.

The flip-flopping politician would be scrutinized in local TV news broadcasts, lambasted in op-Eds, criticized in editorials and lampooned as a fraud in political cartoons.

In Maine, not so much.

Still, the boldness of Collins' reversal--and its breathtaking cynicism--is no less stunning for the lack of coverage.

Not exactly democracy at its finest.

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