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December 23, 2009
If ever a Nebraska politician has been nationally spotlighted with political egg on his face—enough egg to raise a serious question as to his re-election chances—that politician is, of course, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, who seems to have lost touch with a great many Nebraska voters as well as Nebraska values.
Under any circumstances, there would have been a question as to whether Nelson, who would turn 71 four months after starting another term, shouldn’t call it a political career rather than asking Nebraskans to elect him, in 2012, to a term scheduled to end four months short of his 78th birthday.
And now the question of another term will predictably be impacted by Nelson’s indefensible performance in agreeing to cast the deadlock-breaking vote which cleared the way for Senate passage of a complex public health bill which, according to one poll, 67% of Nelson’s Nebraska constituents are opposed to.
Providing the tie-breaking vote would have been political problem enough for Nelson as, in the crunch, he sided with President Obama, who, like the health care legislation, lacks majority support across the country. But the deal which Nelson accepted—some called it a bribe—leaves a stain that can’t be removed, although he has tried to shift the responsibility to Republican Governor Dave Heineman.
In the “Heineman started it all” version, it was Heineman who brought Nelson’s attention to the fact that Nebraska would be hard pressed to pay the increased Medicaid costs that would result from passage of the health care bill. Nelson said he mentioned this problem to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid volunteered a “get Nelson’s vote” solution by adding an amendment under which Nebraska does not pay any part of the increased Medicaid costs.
Nelson accepted the deal, putting himself and his state in an ethically irresponsible position.
Heineman promptly made clear he disapproved of the deal.
Nelson at one stage said that he was willing to give up the “only state in the union” Medicaid tax concession offered by the Senate Majority Leader.
Too late, Senator Nelson, too late. The offer should have been rejected immediately.
Also fumbled by Nebraska’s senior senator, who has a reputation as a clever compromiser and deal-maker, was the issue of whether any federal funds can wind up subsidizing abortions under the new health insurance legislation.
Nelson publicly postured in indignant opposition to this possibility for some time, then agreed to a compromise which abortion opponents believe—indignantly believe—does not close the door to the possibility of federal funds being used to encourage abortions.
Nelson agreed to a compromise which, he stressed, would require that federal subsidized insurance plans involve the writing of separate checks in cases of abortion—one non-Federal-funds check for the abortion and one for the rest of any health care services.
A belief that this two-check gimmick would satisfy abortion opponents was, as Nelson discovered, politically naive, especially for an old political hand like Nelson. A headline in The World-Herald told the story:
“Abortion foes ‘stunned,’ feel ‘betrayed’ by Nelson.”
The news story pointed out that the next senate election in Nebraska is three years away and that, by then, the health care bill may not be a hot potato. True. But consideration of whether Nelson should, at age 71, seek to start a new term under any circumstances will begin immediately, fanned by the dissatisfaction with his health care bill performance.
In more than half a century of closely following and commenting on the American political and social scene, I can’t recall an example of a greater “disconnect” between what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Tom Harkin and Ben Nelson are putting together on Capital Hill and what the American people want. As respected TV commentator David Gergin indicated the other evening, a majority of Americans are uncertain about what is going on in the field of public health legislation and are unhappy to the extent that they do understand it.
* * *
A front-page story and picture told how much a 21-year-old Omaha “hairstylist” (didn’t we used to call them “hair dressers”?) is enjoying being a homeowner.
If you think this is made possible with your help, you’re right, if you are a federal taxpayer.
The home was purchased with the help of an eight-thousand-dollar Federal tax credit, a “new homeowner subsidy” supplied by the federal government.Is this a great country or what? Isn’t it comforting to know that younger Americans today can avoid the stigma of having to rent their housing while they save money to be able to afford to buy a house?
* * *
That was an unusual coming-together of clerical support for the so-called “green revolution”—a “Midlands Voices” essay on The World-Herald’s More Commentary page, carrying the names of sixteen Nebraska ministers—seven “fathers,” eight “reverends” and one “right reverend.”
The headline read: “Climate-change challenge emerges as issue of faith.”
The good clerics could have used a good editor, it occurs to me. For example, the statement said that “there is a growing consensus that our shared biblical faith calls us to address the challenges of extreme climate change.” It would have been more impressive if this had been followed with some specific Biblical references which could be clearly interpreted as calling for addressing the matter of “extreme climate change.”
Further on there was this observation: “Our faith tells us that we are to love and care for each other, especially for those that Matthew 25 refers to as “the least of these.”
Were the clerics suggesting that interest in curbing climate change is not broadly focused across all mankind but rather focused primarily on “the least” among us?
Then there are the examples in which the clerics suggested they have a certain expertise in matters which they believe involve man-caused life-threatening climate change. For example, this language: “…we watch in horror as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast during one of the warmest years on record.”
I wonder if the clerics have done sufficient research to be able to suggest that climate change, raising daily temperatures, was the cause of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita?
In ritual condemnation of coal as a fuel source, the clerics’ statement alleges that the mining of coal “has devastated mountaintops, increased mercury poisoning and in some areas led to elevated rates of asthma and cancer.” We are not told how “devastation of mountaintops” fits into an indictment of coal as a health threat.
I wonder whether the clerical critics are aware that in the case of open pit mining in, for example, Montana and Wyoming, the miners are required to restore the land to at least its former level of cover.
Consider also the assertion that the passage of a national clean energy bill “would create as many as 11,000 new jobs here in Nebraska.” No authority is offered for this estimate.
Then there is the matter of what China will continue to do no matter what efforts the United States makes to curb air pollution.
The Copenhagen discussions included the United States offer to cut emissions 3 to 4% from 1990 levels. An Associated Press story said that China “has offered a different formula”—a difference formula indeed. China proposes that, with financial subsidy from the United States and other developed nations, it would cut carbon dioxide emissions from each “production unit” to 45% of 2005 levels.
But China is building new coal-fired plants so fast that even with a per-plant cutback compared to 2005 levels, the total of China’s emissions will increase by nearly 50%.
My bottom line: Certainly promotion of steps to curb global warming can be properly presented as a moral issue. But the clerics promoting this as an example of “shared biblical faith” might do well not to suggest that they are well-informed students of the intricacies of pollution control and know, for example, that the passage of a national clean energy bill “would create as many as 11,000 new jobs here in Nebraska.”
* * *
When you have an appropriate ending for a Christmas season column, why not repeat it from time to time? (After all, The New York Sun newspaper for years republished, every year, the classic Christmas season column, “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.”)
So herewith a Christmastime column, first published in 1996:
Last Sunday Marian and I played host to our children, their spouses and their children in a pre-Christmas brunch at the Omaha Country Club.
More than 400 people were in attendance, and dozens of parents shepherded their children onto the lap of Santa Claus, there to be photographed and replaced in about 20 seconds by another child or two.
As the rest of the family went through the buffet line and gathered at our table, Marian was the last to arrive. She explained:
“I asked Santa Claus if he’d like a drink. I think he might have preferred a bourbon, but he said he’d appreciate a glass of water with a straw. I’ll be back as soon as I take him a glass of water.”
Later, as we were leaving, I asked Santa how many people had asked him if he needed a refreshing drink. “Just one, a very nice lady,” Santa replied.
I call that story to your attention as a reminder that the Christmas season is an appropriate time to dedicate ourselves to the kind of consistent thoughtfulness for others that “a very nice lady” demonstrated by bringing a refreshing drink of water to a hardworking Santa Claus.
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