by Jules Witcover
In the aftermath of the stormy fight over health-care reform, the clamor has continued and heads are beginning to roll. The latest and most notable casualty is Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, leader of the anti-abortion forces in the late debate, who will not seek reelection in November.
Stupak's efforts to amend Obamacare with a more explicit prohibition of federal money for abortions became the last line of defense against the bill. Obama was obliged to issue a reinforcing executive order to that effect, after which Stupak reluctantly voted for the legislation and brought with him enough anti-abortion stalwarts to achieve enactment.
But Stupak's eventual cave-in so infuriated other foes of abortion that he was immediately targeted in the August Democratic primary in his district by a former local county commissioner. Obama narrowly carried the district in 2008, but George W. Bush won there in both 2000 and 2004, making it a prime Republican pickup prospect this fall.
Stupak becomes the 16th Democratic congressman retiring to 18 Republicans calling it quits. The toll reflects general weariness among the departing legislators toward the increased combativeness of national politics and public discontent with Washington and
The negative atmosphere has been particularly marked by personal threats against House members on both sides of the health-care issue, requiring a beefing up of law-enforcement protection for them here and in their home districts.
In San Francisco, officials charged a man with making threatening phone calls to the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, in the wake of her strong advocacy of the bill. In Philadelphia, a man was charged with threatening in a YouTube video to kill Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, a leader of the
In the state of Washington, a man was charged with leaving threatening messages, including a specific death threat against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, a reform supporter. Stupak himself was sent a fax with a drawing of a noose and a voice mail warning he would be killed. Similar reports of public anger and hostility cropped up across the country before and since passage of the legislation and its signing by Obama.
Attacking health-care reform and its advocates has become a central focus of the tea party movement. Its members have been encouraged by former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska to "reload" to defeat members of
The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, has announced a major protest march of union members on Wall Street later this month in support of greater federal regulation of the financial industry, the next principal domestic reform undertaken by the Obama administration.
This general recourse to public protest is a sharp contrast to the largely silent acquiescence and even acceptance of government policy during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its cataclysmic aftermath. Strangely absent then was any significant public outrage of the sort that had marked the street protests against the earlier Vietnam War.
To rationalize the difference, the argument went that Iraq was not Vietnam, and the Iraq war was deceptively justified in the context of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, although the two were unrelated.
Although the level of violence in Iraq has dropped sharply, it has risen in Afghanistan, as have American casualties. Still, protest at home against the two wars has given way to the dissatisfaction with Washington over domestic issues more directly affecting most Americans.
Two anti-war Democratic members of
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