By Kathleen Parker
Etymology: Eponym for Congressman Bart Stupak.
1: In a legislative process, to obstruct passage of a proposed law on the basis of a moral principle (i.e. protecting the unborn), accumulating power in the process, then at a key moment surrendering in exchange for a fig leaf, the size of which varies according to the degree of emasculation of said legislator and/or as a reflection of just how stupid people are presumed to be. (Slang: backstabber.)
Poor Bart Stupak. The man tried to be a hero for the unborn, and then, when all the power of the moment was in his frail human hands, he dropped the baby. He genuflected when he should have dug in his heels and gave it up for a meaningless executive order.
Now, in the wake of his decision to vote “yes” for a health care bill that expands public funding for abortion, he is vilified and will be forever remembered as the guy who Stupaked health care reform and the pro-life movement.
Of all the disappointed activists, Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org and creator of StandWithStupak.com, was perhaps the most demonstrative in his support of pro-life Democrats. He even created a video with a remake of the final battle scene from “Braveheart.”
A helmeted British Barack Obama says, “Our cavalry will ride them down like grass. … Full attack!” Whereupon, Stupak, eyeglasses incongruously perched on his blue-painted face, commands his pitchfork army, “Steady. … Hold, hold, hold.”
Alas, Stupak couldn’t hold.
Ultimately, he was weak and overwhelmed by raw political power. History is no stranger to such moments, but this one needs to be understood for what it was. A deception.
The executive order promising that no federal funds will be used for abortion is utterly useless, and everybody knows it. First, the president can revoke it as quickly as he signs it.
Second, an order cannot confer jurisdiction in the courts or establish any grounds for suing anybody in court, according to a former White House counsel. The order is therefore judicially unenforceable.
Finally, an executive order cannot trump or change a federal statute.
One can reasonably surmise that Obama, a former constitutional law professor, is well aware of the uselessness of his promise. Perhaps this is why he didn’t mention it during the bill-signing ceremony Tuesday.
Stupak, too, knew that the executive order was merely political cover for him and his pro-life colleagues. He knew it because several members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explained it to him, according to sources. The only way to prevent public funding for abortion was for his amendment to be added to the Senate bill.
Clearly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the president didn’t want that. What they did want was the abortion funding that the Senate bill allowed.
Thus, the health care bill passed because of a mutually understood deception – a pretense masquerading as virtue. No wonder Stupak locked his doors and turned off his phones Sunday, according to several pro-life lobbyists who camped outside his office.
The ticktock of what transpired during the final 72 hours before the vote will keep political science majors – and psychologists – happily lost in research for years. Meanwhile, whatever Americans feel about the health care bill and its relative merits, they should disabuse themselves of any idea that this was an honest play.
Ironically, the day before the vote, Obama said: “We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.”
Democrats were bound to win, all right, but truth and light had nothing to do with it.
Stupak’s clumsy fall from grace is a lesson in human frailty. In a matter of hours, he went from representing the majority of Americans who don’t want public money spent on abortion to leading the army on the other side.
Something must have gone bump in the night. Whatever it was, demonizing Stupak seems excessive and redundant given punishments to come. Already he has lost a speaking invitation to the Illinois Catholic Prayer Breakfast next month. His political future, otherwise, may have been foretold by a late-night anecdote.
After the Sunday vote, a group of Democrats, including Stupak, gathered in a pub to celebrate. In a biblical moment, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was spotted planting a big kiss on Stupak’s cheek.
To a Catholic man well versed in the Gospel, this is not a comforting gesture.
Kathleen Parker writes for the Washington Post Writers Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071.