There's a word in Yiddish that's been on my mind a lot lately: chutzpah.
Leo Rosten's "The Joys of Yiddish" defines chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery." The classic illustration of the concept is the story of the boy who kills both parents and then asks the court for mercy because he's an orphan.
In the recent debate over health-care reform, the members of the Republican caucus are giving that fictional defendant a run for his money.
As you may remember, different proposals for health-care reform have been enacted in the House and the Senate. Not a single Republican voted "yes" to the Senate proposal, and only one voted for the House one. One reason given for the Rs' opposition was that the proposals were too big and too expensive, even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the proposals will actually reduce the deficit in the long run.Only one journalist in the so-called "liberal" media, Charles Babington of The AP, has dared ask the question: So how come you guys are so opposed to what you describe as a big, expensive government medical-care program when you voted for the huge, costly and deficit-expanding Medicare prescription drug benefit, which created a $9.4 trillion unfunded liability over the next 75 years (according to the Medicare trustees)?
The answers from Republican senators varied, but all were classic illustrations of chutzpah:
-- We Were All Wild and Free Back Then: Orrin Hatch of Utah claims, "We were concerned about it, because it certainly added to the deficit, no question." He then goes on to say, however, that "it was standard practice not to pay for things" in 2003. Geez, I wish I'd known that. I could have scarfed myself a new car.
-- Because Shut Up, That's Why: Olympia Snowe of Maine, an alleged moderate who the White House hoped in vain might provide a crucial swing vote, would apparently rather not talk about her own vote for an expensive government-run health-care plan. "Dredging up history is not the way to move forward," she said.
-- That Was Then, This Is Now: Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio admits that those who see hypocrisy "can legitimately raise that issue." But, he says, "the economy is in worse shape and Americans are more anxious." Well, geez, George, if you run around telling people the sky is falling, as your caucus has been doing for months, I guess it's not surprising that people are anxious. Not to mention the fact that the economy crashed at the end of eight years of Republicans in the White House.
Of course, mentioning that last fact is just like waving a red flag to the chutzpah mavens of Greater Wingnuttia, like former Dick Cheney staffer Mary Matalin.
Recently on CNN, Matalin bitterly complained that President Obama "never gives a speech where he doesn't explicitly or implicitly look backwards," then went on to say: "We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation's history. And President Bush dealt with it."
I have to take a moment and just admire the sheer gall of that statement. First, there's the brazen effrontery involved in complaining about Obama mentioning that he inherited a bad economy from George Dubbya Bush, then, in the very next sentence, complaining that her bosses had inherited a bad economy from Bill Clinton. Then there's the fact that the recession Matalin claimed they "inherited" didn't begin until March of 2001.
But wait, there's more. Matalin claims that the Bush administration "inherited" a terrorist attack that occurred eight months into Dubbya's Reign of Error, eight months in which his top counterterrorism adviser was frantically trying to get a meeting on the threat, eight months during which Dubbya was handed a memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S." and responded by dismissively telling the CIA officer who delivered it, "OK, now you've covered your ass."
But, you know, it's bad form to talk about the past, except when you're trying to blame a Democrat. It's just horrible and partisan to try and place blame for a terrorist attack, unless you're trying to pin it on Bill Clinton.
Why isn't this hypocrisy? Because shut up, that's why.
Now THAT's chutzpah.