They started out in perfect alignment, 12,500 men stretching more than a mile, battle flags waving, bayonets fixed and gazes focused on the enemy across the valley, tensely waiting for them on Cemetery Ridge. Less than an hour later, it was over, with more than half of them dead or wounded, their cause having reached its high-water mark and failed.
It was Pickett’s Charge of the Confederates at Gettysburg, a horrendous, bloody carnage that could have been avoided had their commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee, not been so determined to do it his way — a massed frontal assault against a nearly impregnable position.
It’s to just such a political Pickett’s Charge that President Barack Obama now summons congressional Democrats on behalf of his health care reform proposal, a last desperate gamble to overcome a sturdy, strengthening line of Republican opposition reinforced beyond measure in recent months by the knowledge they stand with a solid majority of their countrymen.
Obama and Democratic brigade commanders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi know there will be terrible casualties among their troops come November, but still they urge them on, to sacrifice their jobs, careers and political futures for 2,700 pages of new bureaucratic rules, mandates, directives and edicts that will surely destroy the finest health care system in the world.
Pelosi, in particular, seems eager to give her troops the order to charge. She continually invokes past glories, imploring House Democrats to remember that “this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. But the American people need it. Why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress.”
That last line may ring hollow for three dozen or so Democrats representing districts carried by Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, especially since there’s only the faintest of possibilities that Pelosi will be a casualty, representing a district in which 80 percent of the voters think she is exactly what they need in Congress.
And there’s another reason Pelosi’s invocation of Social Security and Medicare votes could give many House Democrats reason to think twice about voting for Obamacare. The votes for final passage on both programs were solidly bipartisan, with clear majorities of Democrats and Republicans voting in favor. For better or worse, those programs each enjoyed a broad public consensus of support. The only public consensus now is that Congress should junk Obamacare and start over on health care reform.
House Democrats should ponder Pickett’s assessment of Lee years after Gettysburg: “That man destroyed my brigade.”