The Washington Post

Dana Milbank discusses health-care vote, latest columns

Mar 22, 2010

The Post's Dana Milbank discusses the health-care vote, his recent columns and all the latest political news.

Today's Column: Republican lawmakers stir up the 'tea party' crowd

VIDEO: Obama reacts to House vote

Good afternoon, communists, socialists, fascists, baby killers, liars and the rest of you.  I am pleased to report that our long national nightmare -- the legislative birth of health care reform -- is over.  Let's talk.

I awoke this morning expecting to see huge lakes of fire burning uncontrollably, dead bodies hanging from the few trees left on the landscape, and massive piles of smoldering rubble where the last vestiges of modern civilization once stood, but I saw none of this.

Then it occurred to me that the demise of American society may have started last night on Capitol Hill, radially working its way across the country, and just hasn't reached Chattanooga yet.

Could you give us an update as to the extent of the devastation in our nation's capitol, and perhaps speculate on when the carnage should reach some of the more distant locales? Or could it be that the Republicans actually got it wrong with regard to the effects that passage of health care reform would have on modern American society?

That possibility strains credulity, seeing as how, in my 52 years on the planet, the Republicans have been spot on with just about everything else, like civil rights, and voting rights, and ketchup as a vegetable in the school lunch program.

You are safe, America, for another 60 days.  That's when the first effects of the health-care legislation will start taking effect. 

However, I can report that the hatred seen in the health-care debate has already begun to spread. I arrived at the AIPAC conference this morning and found an Israeli flag defaced with a swastika and signs announcing "God Hates Jews" and "You Will Eat Your Babies."


How were you able to ID all those GOP lawmakers in front of the Capitol yesterday for your column - did you memorize the faces of all the members of Congress?

I wasn't allowed on the balcony but I was standing in the Speakers lobby watching them and talking with some as they went in and out.  Also worked with the photogs to identify some. 

There were many, many more than I identified, but I didn't list them all for fear that the column would resemble a recitation of the roll call.   Among those who sat quietly on the balcony and didn't show much interest in riling the crowd was Ron Paul.


Anytime I get confused about politics, I can just refer to the latest Milbank column, like the one in today's paper.

He makes it quite clear: Conservatives always bad, evil, hate-filled, odious, corrupt, unwashed and unfortunately not yet deported or incarcerated.

Liberals: Good, godly, pure-hearted, innocent, the most wondrous and wonderful people ever to walk the earth.

Thanks for making it easy to understand, Dana.

Ah, you must have missed all those columns about the Louisiana Purchase and the Cornhusker Kickback.  In fact I don't want to boast but I coined the term "Gator-aid" for Bill Nelson's Medicare payola in Florida.   I try to call out whoever is behaving badly;  yesterday, without question, it was the conservatives.

So, I walked among the tea party crowd yesterday and tried to engage some folks to really try to understand their point of view.

One man with three young daughters around him said only he should be responsible for their health. He told me that it was not my responsibility or that of the government's.

I said that if he did not have health insurance and his beautiful daughters got sick, then I had no problem being part of a society that helped pay for their care.

He called that socialism. I guess I just see the world differently than that father, and no amount of debate would probably change either of our minds.

I spent a good bit of time out there yesterday, too.  I was at first concerned that they might try to storm the Capitol (and there weren't nearly enough cops to prevent that) but when I got out there they had just made an announcement seeking the parents of a lost child.  I decided that these guys probably weren't much of a security risk.   Some of them -- the ones who spit and call names -- are grotesque, but many others are decent folks, like the father you describe, who just have a very particular world view.

Hi Dana -- I'm glad to see something of note finally accomplished in Washington, but it seems like in some quarters Obama has gone overnight from a presidency on the verge of total collapse to LBJ/FDR-like stature. Please help us find a more appropriate assessment sans hyperbole.

If health care reform failed last night, we'd all be reading Obama's obituary today.  Now we're hearing the opposite extreme.   My view has been that Obama, and the Democrats, are much better off heading into November's midterms with an actual accomplishment under their belt, but this is all in the category of mitigating their certain losses.   But the old theory that success begets success applies here, and there are improved prospects for climate legislation, etc., today.

I am somewhat frightened, and very confused, by the level of anger and really vicious sentiment expressed by people protesting the health care bill.

They're carrying signs with pictures of guns and Obama depicted as Hitler. They're spitting on Congressmen and shouting racist and anti-gay slurs (and Republicans trying to say it's a few isolated idiots are not convincing, especially given that one of their own members shouted "baby killer" at the leading anti-abortion Democrat on the House floor).

While I can understand why some on the right might oppose the bill, for instance because they believe it's better to leave these things up to market forces than law or because they disbelieve projections about the bill cutting costs, none of that would explain the volume and ferocity of the protesters.

Is there something I'm missing, or are these people protesting falsehoods like death panels, or just using this as an excuse to vent their unfocused anger, at having lost their jobs or at having a black man as president?

I suspect what we're seeing is the result of the right-wing echo chamber.  There's an equivalent left-wing echo chamber, but it hasn't been as much of a factor on this issue.   If you really believe what you're told by, say, Glenn Beck, that America is slipping into fascism/totalitarianism, then a little bit of name calling would certainly be in order; in fact, if people really believe a fascist takeover is imminent, it's surprising they haven't been more violent in opposition.

More troubling than the crowd, to me, was the behavior of the lawmakers, who really did appear to me to be trying to incite a riot.  They use words like tyranny on the House floor, and they should know better.




Now that the bill has passed, I'm not sure which epithet to shout. The racial and homophobic ones seem so passe. I was going to walk around shouting "baby killer" all day but now that one's been done, too. Any suggestions? I need something good and non sequitur.

I'd keep going with "deem and pass," or, in the recommended pronunciation, "Demon Pass."  I was very disappointed that the Democrats abandoned this maneuver, because it deprived the world of much good word play, as in, "head 'em off at the Demon Pass!"



Dear Sir: In today's Washington Sketch, you write, "Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who for the second day in a row had homophobic epithets hurled at him by demonstrators..."

What is your source for such a claim, Rep. Frank himself? Staffers? Did you hear these epithets yourself? If not, how do you know it happened? Would revealing this violate some secret society oath? Also, do you think Washington Post reporters should perhaps familiarize themselves with the etymology of "homophobia" and educate their readers that it is a gross illiteracy?

Yesterday's epithet was shouted during a news conference with Democratic leaders in the Cannon House Office Building.  If you don't want reporters to hear your slur, that's probably a bad place to shout it.  As for the "homophobia," that's an editor euphemism.  I tried to print the actual epithet, as well as the one directed at the black members, but both were removed. 

Reading the text of the speech you referred to by Landon, he was right! Social Security is now on an unsustainable path (again) and the trust funds for it have been raided and contain nothing but IOUs. It is a tax, and does not provide a living pension for retirees. The Social Security numbers has become a national individual ID number as well, something that was promised not to happen, among others. Same will go with ObamaCare.

Well, you've got a good point there.  I was writing about that 1936 as a political proposition, and arguing that attempts to repeal this reform would do no better.   I think the claims made about the budget trickery regarding this reform are perfectly legitimate, and I think it's outrageous that they took out the "doc fix" just to make the reform appear a few hundred billion cheaper than it really is.  Too bad the opposition didn't limit themselves to these sensible points and instead spent their time hollering about tyranny and waving signs and flags from the House balcony.


Will we ever find out who shouted "baby-killer" at Bart Stupak?

Matter-o-fact, I just checked in with my colleague Paul Kane, our man on the baby-killer beat.  Here's what he says:  "The noose is drawing closer around the Texas GOP delegation as the denials pile up. I think we'll have a culprit by day's end."  


I don't understand why whoever shouted "baby killer" refuses to step forward. I hear theories it was a member of the Texas delegation.

I should think one would want to admit to it, take his ten minutes of fame like a man, and take the punishment of hundreds of thousands of campaign contributions from right wing contributors.

Yes, the Joe Wilson model would seem to argue in favor of the culprit confessing.   But it sounds as if we'll have our man pretty soon, one way or the other.


Dana, Do you think that the "10 percent tax on indoor tanning services that use ultraviolet lamps goes into effect on July 1" was a direct shot at House Minority Leader Boehner?

I do, as I have written before.  And I don't think it's a coincidence that Speaker Pelosi was instrumental in killing the "Botax," the tax on Botox treatments, which was replaced by the tanning tax.

Has the Post ever published it? I mean other than in the online comments section.


I just did a quick Nexis search to answer your question and the Post has published that word a whopping 1,549 times since 1977.  Apparently I was the victim of shifting standards.

Dana, I filled out my census the other day. So far, no black helicopters have descended upon my house, nor have any jack-booted thugs come to take me away to a FEMA Camp. Is it possible that Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck were lying to me, or can this delay be explained by normal government ineptitude and inefficiency?

Give them time.  The black helicopters are on assignment now helping with the socialist takeover here in Washington. 

Do you ever see a return to the parties working together given the increasing polarization by all involved? Is this how it must be?

Only when they have to.   Still think they'd get much more done under divided government, when neither side has an incentive to disrupt all government activity.

You, your questioners and many others have complained about the"vitriol" ofthe anti-health care rhetoric. How does the rhetoric compare to that thrown about by antiwar demonstraters who were the media darlings when a Republican was President (but not so much when Obama's in charge)? Wasn't the term baby-killer thrown around more frequently then?

I think the baby-killer language is getting attention in this case because it was on the House floor and because it was directed at the leading anti-abortion Democrat.    As for the anti-war crowd, I don't think the word "darling" came up in my coverage of them, either:


Seriously? I can't tell when you're kidding

Sadly, it's true.  Will be in tomorrow's column.  These were evidently left-wing crazies, for what it's worth.

Bring it back! Stop not being lazy.

On the contrary, the Etch-a-Sketch is a sign of my laziness, because I invite readers to do my work for me. In fact, that reminds me that I should try it again soon.  Maybe next week. Or the week after. . .

I have something to say to all of those that are upset that they will be required to purchase health care insurance: Are you willing to sign a waiver stating that if you get sick, the emergency room in any hospital should NOT treat you, no matter what your illness is. You will be on your own.

So it'll be like the no-fly list, only in this case it's a no-treat list.   It'll be a helluva lawsuit when they find out they denied care to some heart attack victim because somebody with a similar name was on the list.  But it's okay with me because I have an uncommon name.

"I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together ." - Barack Obama

So much for solving things together. Was Obama's hope of bipartisanship doomed from the beginning?

Yup, and Bush said the same thing in 2000.  It's sort of a campaign ritual:  Candidate says it, starry-eyed supporters believe it, and nothing changes because the legislative process no longer tolerates it.

is that every time a member of the Congress opens his/her mouth, it seems like they are actually talking to their constituents back at home, not really addressing the real issue at home. It's like they're always campaigning--a perpetual two-year campaign cycle, over and over again. Hence you have the hyperbole and charged words like "tyranny" uttered on the House floor, that would play well to the audience "back home."

I blame technology:  cable news and airplanes.  If there weren't c-span in the chamber, the members wouldn't feel the need to posture for the folks at home.  And if air travel weren't so easy, members would have to spend their weekends in Washington like they used to, and perhaps move their families here.  Then they'd have to get to know each other as human beings rather than political opponents.   Instead, a man from Texas now shouts "baby-killer" at his colleague from Michigan on the floor of the People's House.

Back to work on my AIPAC/Hillary Clinton column, which I hope you'll check out tonight or tomorrow.  Speak to you again next week.  Until then, say no to tyranny!

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Dana Milbank
Dana Milbank writes the Washington Sketch column about political theater in the capital. He joined The Post as a political reporter in 2000, after two years as a senior editor of The New Republic and eight years with the Wall Street Journal. He is also author of two political books, Homo Politicus (Doubleday, 2008) and Smashmouth (Basic Books, 2001). He lives in Washington with his wife and daughter. • Dana Milbank Bio & Archive
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