The Stupak Stumble

Classic Greek tragedies were organized always around a “fatal flaw” in the leading character, and that flaw was almost always “hubris,” overweening pride, causing the protagonist to fall victim of himself.

The Bible warns about the same character flaw.  Here it is in Proverbs:  The oft-quoted and universally true Prov. 16: 18 – “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Several other Biblical Proverbs reflect the same warning, as do verses in other books of the Holy Scripture.

Though many observers have speculated – most of them after the fact – that Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) had intended all along to betray the pro-life cause for which he has been known, his behavior and demeanor do not strike us as that of a clever deceiver.  And his years as co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus do not lead us to conclude that he meant all along to deliver America’s unborn children into the clutches of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.

We do not pretend that Rep. Stupak has displayed a perfect pro-life voting record over the years.  In fact, our 2009 House Voting Record Index – published in early March, at the height of the drama through which Mr. Stupak’s party presumed to fashion a new, government-directed medical care system for the United States – shows Rep. Stupak “conflicted” on Life issues, having voted “pro-life” on just four of the seven roll calls in the 1st Session of the 111th Congress.

We believe, rather, that Rep. Stupak meant – and means – to do good but that he lost his bearings to that ancient hubris that has felled so many before him and will fell many more to the end of time.  (We do think “conflicted” describes him pretty well:  Meaning and wanting to be pro-life but pulled toward ever bigger government by the leftish labor unions which customarily elect him and which, we conclude from hints he dropped during his hold-out phase, exercised tremendous pressure on him to get his qualms out of the way and get on with socializing medicine.)

But it was his elevated status, in the end, that led to his fall.  In Mr. Stupak’s statements as he moved through that fateful weekend, we see repeated references to the importance of the bloc of pro-life Democratic House Members he had gathered around the Stupak Amendment, which would have been to ObamaCare what the Hyde Amendment is to Medicaid.  These are the men and women he has led through other less visible fights, the troops which make up his side of the House Pro-Life Caucus.  But never before have they been acknowledged, recognized, even feared as the powerful force they became, for a season, in the fight over “health care.”

Bart Stupak never claimed to oppose the massive proposal to seize control of America’s healthcare system.  He never recanted his fundamental commitment to big government in general or to “universal” or “nationalized” health care in particular.  He said all along he would back the bill if his objection to abortion coverage could be overcome.

He put his price right out front for all the world to see.  And he worked day and night to hold together his band of backers – also big-government Democrats from anti-abortion districts – who could block or deliver ObamaCare at his signal.

He even – usefully, back then – gave interviews about the pressure he was under, interviews like the one in National Review Online which revealed the disgusting bigotry of party leaders, who had told him they knew the legislation would cover abortion and they wanted it that way, lest “too many children” be born to add to the costs of government-funded health care.

But as Eve proved no match to the serpent’s appeal to her fatal-flaw pride, so Rep. Stupak had no idea – and probably still knows not – what he was up against when the White House concluded that ObamaCare could not pass without conceding to Mr. Stupak and his hearty band just enough to satisfy their sense of power and their hope to do “good.”

Throughout his career, Rep. Stupak insisted, he had always campaigned for “universal health care,” refusing personally even to subscribe to the generous benefits plan which covers Members of Congress until all Americans could, to his way of thinking, enjoy such coverage.  After so many weeks of media and colleagues and the White House and Mr. Stupak himself focusing on how important he was to passage of something he actually wanted to see enacted, it wouldn’t take so much, would it, to swing the Michigan Congressman and his essential handful of votes behind the bill.

But how to get it done and in time to prevent the slippage which would result from Members’ exposure to their constituents during the coming Easter recess?  Give Mr. Stupak his amendment?  – Out of the question; it would never be agreed to in the Senate, and the abortion lobby would go ballistic.  Mere threats and promises?  – Tried and found wanting.

No, this one would need a clever maneuver, a fig leaf, if you will, to offer Mr. Stupak and his band both cover and comfort but one which would not detract from the twin goals of taking over one-sixth of the economy and making those insufferable pro-lifers pay for abortions at the same time.

Enter the executive order shibboleth, giving the “pro-life Democrats” the cover they needed to go home to their districts (thinking they would have their anti-abortion image intact, indeed thinking they would be greeted as heroes for delivering on both “health care” and on having stood up for the unborn), but doing absolutely nothing to undermine the radical President’s promise to the abortion industry.  As it turned out, it was easy.  Tragically easy.

We have no desire to call Mr. Stupak names or to question his original motives and actual intent.  No, we believe that only a confusion flowing from an inflated sense of his own importance – mixed with relief from the non-stop pressure he had so long been suffering – could explain the unfathomable and needless remarks he offered in House debate denouncing the Republicans’ last-ditch effort to send the measure back to committee for the express purpose of attaching his own Stupak/Hyde Amendment.  “It is the Democrats who have stood up for the principle of no public funding for abortions,” he told a united Republican conference who had absolutely stood up for that very principle – in fact, several hours longer than he had stood.

Though not wishing any longer to commend Bark Stupak for the months of his stand-off, we feel sorry for him in the denouement of this tragedy, for already Planned Parenthood is calling passage of ObamaCare a “huge victory” and bragging about having “[kept] the Stupak abortion ban out of the final legislation,” adding that “Pres. Obama did not include the Stupak language in his executive order.”

Some day – perhaps not far off, when the regulations come down and the subsidies start to abet the abortionists in their bloody deed – Bart Stupak will come face to face with the truth about what has been done to him and about what he has done.  Unless we are very wrong about the man, that will be punishment indeed, even more than the ostracism he is now experiencing from those who had once admired him, even more than the patently phony embrace he is now experiencing from those who have always disdained and belittled him.

[Editor’s Note: Rep. Stupak announced on April 9, 2010, that he would not seek re-election in his Upper Peninsula, Michigan, House district. He was first elected in 1992. We at Life Advocacy thank Rep. Stupak for the better days of his career and congratulate him on his decision to retire. We can understand how the emotional — even spiritual — exhaustion of what he has lately done can overwhelm a public official, and we hope he will seek and find redemption and peace. Our analysis of his fall stands.]