Democrats would be better off if more of them acted like Weiners.
As the first anniversary of the health-care law approached this week, many Democratic lawmakers went to ground, leaving unanswered Republican accusations that the legislation is socialist, unconstitutional, bankrupting the country, destroying the medical system and generally bringing about the apocalypse. But not Anthony Weiner.
The New York congressman, a Brooklyn-born streetfighter, held six events Wednesday to defend the law. His message was, predictably, a collection of snappy comebacks to Republican accusations. But he also delivered a call to arms to his Democratic colleagues, who have been passive to the point of wimpy as Republicans press for repeal.
“If Democrats believe it’s going to go away, they’re wrong,” the fast-talking Weiner said. “I don’t represent the hide-under-the-desk wing of the Democratic Party. I believe we’ve got to lean into this fight.”
Nancy Pelosi, he said, has been “inartful.” President Obama, he said, hasn’t provided “air cover” for Democrats in Congress. The White House “hasn’t done a very good job” confronting critics. The administration needs to make its case “more forcefully.” And his colleagues are limp, Weiner said: “We have to stop cowering.”
Weiner, certainly, doesn’t cower. The liberal Democrat who aspires to be mayor of New York often earns his surname with his partisan rants on the House floor, his campaigns against Clarence Thomas and Glenn Beck, and his opposition to Obama’s tax-cut deal last year.
In general, neither Democrats nor Republicans lack for hotheads. But in this case, Weiner’s brand of politics has some merit. As Republicans push daily to undermine the new law, the Democrats play under Marquess of Queensberry rules, answering the opposition’s often-scurrilous allegations with earnest pleas not to “relitigate” the past. In wishing away the fight, they are losing it.
Many Democrats and Obama administration officials observed Wednesday’s anniversary with events touting the value of the health-care law. But “it’s not enough just to say, ‘Here’s this great bill,’ ” Weiner countered. “We haven’t done a particularly skillful job in the last year of rebutting some of the basic thrusts of the Republican opposition to the bill.”
The congressman offered a few examples, employing the sort of rhetoric used to wage an argument in a schoolyard. Big government takeover? “No.” Transformation of the economy? “It wasn’t.” Socialism? “Polar opposite.” Raiding Medicare? “Nonsensical.” Burdens on small business. “None.” The individual mandate? “Ain’t a big deal.” Even the administration’s liberal granting of waivers didn’t indicate flaws in the law, but flexibility; in fact, he said, he might seek one for New York City.
Along the way, Weiner dismissed the Supreme Court, which he expects will rule the law unconstitutional, as “a corporate-dominated wing of the Republican Party.” He disparaged the Congressional Budget Office as “propeller-heads,” and he accused GOP presidential candidates of “overtly lying.” Even White House officials Jack Lew and Gene Sperling made Weiner boil because they lack “a competing narrative” in the budget debate.
But more damning was Weiner’s roast of his own colleagues. “There’s a lot of people who just want the debate to go away, who got roughed up with ads and yelling at the town hall meetings,” he said. But “most Americans, whatever your party, value the idea of standing up for the things you believe in.”
That’s easy for Weiner to say, coming from a safe district. And Democratic leaders have made many of his colleagues believe that the value of the legislation would become self-evident after it passed. But that didn’t happen. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that, by 46 percent to 42 percent, Americans have an unfavorable view of the legislation, unimproved from last year. “When you’re in that kind of a 50-50 situation,” Weiner said, “most elected officials say . . . ‘Let someone else handle the debate.’ ”
That someone so far has been the pugnacious New Yorker, who originally favored a single-payer system. On Wednesday alone, he made his case in chats on Twitter (he mentioned his “Jew fro” and corresponded with somebody nicknamed “sassbutt”), Facebook, Daily Kos and Reddit (where he traded “weiner” jokes), as well as in a teleconference with reporters and a speech to the liberal Center for American Progress.
At American Progress, former administration official Neera Tanden introduced Weiner by confessing that “on this anniversary, there are those who are a little weary from the attacks.”
Weiner’s wisdom: Live with it. “There are some people who are cringing every time health care comes up,” he said. “It’s not going to get any better. We’re going to have this discussion whether you want it or not.”
It doesn’t happen often, but this is one time when Democrats should follow Weiner.