Remember Marjorie Margolies-Mevinsky? She was the freshman Democratic Congresswoman from Pennsylvania who cast the deciding vote for Bill Clinton’s budget in 1993. (She was put in that position, I’d add, by cowardly senior Democratic Representatives from safe districts who voted no.) Margolies’ district was solidly Republican, and she paid for her vote, 15 moths later, with her congressional career.
Her name has come up a few times in the past few months, because voting for health care reform threatens Democratic Congresscritters with even more difficult re-election campaigns than they’d already face in a toxic, anti-incumbent environment. Today, Margolies (she’s divorced now) she penned a Washington Post op-ed aimed at the small group of persuadable Democrats left in this battle. Her message?
I am your worst-case scenario. And I’d do it all again….
In the run-up to the vote on the Clinton budget, rhetoric reached a fever pitch. The legislation would, alternately, destroy the free market; thrust our economy into the next Great Depression; spell the end of the United States as the leader of the free world. Based on the clips, one might think passage of the Clinton budget made Armageddon look like a walk in the park.
Tactically speaking, not much has changed. Reconciliation is a “threat to our democracy.” Health-care reform = socialism.
But none of the dire predictions about the Clinton budget came to pass. Today, economists longingly look back to the economic growth of the 1990s, the economic policies of the Clinton administration and, indeed, to the budget that launched it.
— Your constituents are always right. Usually.
Is it possible that, while 55 percent of my reliably Republican district opposed the Clinton budget, a vote in favor of that budget was, in fact, in the best interest of my district? Can a member of the House of Representatives ever vote with a minority of her district and still be voting in the district’s best interest? Is it possible that a majority of your constituents could be — dare I say it? — wrong?
Of course — and that’s why you’re there. Otherwise, we’d vote everything by referendum….
The moral of my brief political story is not that casting a tough and decisive vote necessarily predicts a bad electoral outcome for you, nor that the majority of your constituents is always wrong or always right.
It’s that there are times in all our careers when we must ask ourselves why we’re here. I decided that my desire for public service at that moment was greater than my desire to guarantee continued service. Yes, there are few jobs as rewarding (mostly) as being a member of Congress, and I was let down after I lost. But I believed then and now that being able to point to something tangible that changed our country for the better was a more powerful motivator than the possible electoral repercussions. [Emphasis mine]
Part of the frustration lots of us feel with Washington is that it’s hard to tell what people really believe vs. what they say to stay in office. When Blue Dog Democrats posture about health care being too costly when it brings down the deficit, I wonder. And, when Republican leaders scream of socialism and government takeovers if reform passes, I’m not sure they believe what they’re saying, either. This vote is important enough that wavering Democrats should dig down deep and do what’s right. Most of them still know what that is.
(Just for fun, check out this New York Times article on the passage of the Clinton budget, and check out the John Lewis’s description of the Republican strategy. “They just said no.” And you could drop the Republican quotes into 2010 and no one would think them out of place.)
P.S. If the name “Mevinsky” sounds familiar, it is the last name of Chelsea Clinton’s fiance, and yes – Margolies is his mother.