Congressmen (and women), with due apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, are different from you and me. Privilege makes them soft where life teaches the prudent to be hard, cynical where their constituents must be trustful.
The congressional entitlement to privilege, wrought not by talent or inheritance but by legislation, explains the typical congressman's blindness to tint and deafness to tone, revealed in the angry "town hall" confrontations over health care legislation. Instead of reassuring frightened constituents, Democratic congressmen (and women) denounce the voters who sent them to Washington as Nazis, Brown Shirts and the "un-American." Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate Democrats, calls the critics "evil-mongers." Congress is dead to anything outside the bubble it has created for itself.
Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, for scandalous example, are under investigation by ethics committees for taking sweetheart mortgages from Countrywide Financial Corp., the sort of sweetheart deals mere citizens could never get. To hear the senators tell it, the deals were merely rewards for their charm and enchanting ways. The fact that Mr. Conrad is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and Mr. Dodd is chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee had nothing to do with anything.
"I thought this was like a frequent-flier program," Mr. Conrad says. "I thought nothing of it." No doubt. Mr. Dodd says he was told by an official of Countrywide that his VIP status was "nothing more than courtesy stuff."
If you're an account executive at a large banking and financial corporation, you learn quickly to extend "courtesy stuff" to senators who influence make-or-break banking legislation. If senators want frequent-flier miles, you make sure they get them, even if they travel by streetcar.
But it's not just Messrs Conrad or Dodd, who only seem uniquely clueless to the reality of the world the rest of us live in. Congress has established a system of frequent automatic pay raises so members never even have to vote for them, enjoys a platinum-plated health care program designed by congressmen just for congressmen. Would they give it up to join a health care plan they're about to impose on anyone else? Uh, ah, er, umm. (Probably not. We should change the subject.)
The rage at the town halls is particularly irksome because congressmen are not accustomed to anyone talking back to them. They live in the bubble where aides and flunkies tend every need, pop every pimple and hide every hickey, even accompanying members to the members-only dining room to cut their roast beef and dab a napkin at their mouths if need be.
When their constituents raise concerns about what's in the thousand pages of the House health care legislation the working version of Obamacare, which few members have read, but aides are even now stumbling over the words of two or more syllables the reaction is often irritation bordering on anger, anger crossing over into rage: The elderly and the soon to be elderly are foolish to be concerned about legislation mandating "voluntary" conversations about when and how the elderly should die.
President Obama jokes that these are concerns about "pulling the plug on Grandma," but it's no joke for Grandma. Grandma remembers how Mr. Obama so easily denounced his own white grandma as a racist bigot in his explanation of why and how he chose the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to tutor his family in the moral teachings of the church.
Mr. Obama's acolytes on the Op-Ed pages and the television screens, right on cue, pile on: Only wingnuts, hicks and rednecks could imagine Official U.S. Government bureaucrats guilty of arrogance and hubris. Curiously, these acolytes easily imagine the worst kind of wickedness in other departments of big government. (See Iraq, war in; Bush, George W.)
Occasionally, a lonely voice will spill the beans, or at least the black-eyed peas. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a physician in real life, says it's not "outrageous" at all to fear government "death panels" who would decide who gets well and who doesn't. He has offered three amendments to whatever emerges as Obamacare to be "an absolute prohibition" on rationing based the comparative effectiveness of treatments, as judged by the government.
"Why would you not want an absolute prohibition," he asks. "Because you ultimately plan to ration care. Their plan is to control costs by limiting options."
Just so. Sometimes trust is the refuge of fools.