woody_zimmerman_118_2007Some people today still use the word “quisling” – meaning a traitor or a collaborator – without knowing its origin. In fact, it derives from the name of Vidkun Quisling [1], a Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazis when they invaded and occupied Norway in 1940. He assisted Germany in conquering his country, and helped run the collaborationist Norwegian government during World War II. Quisling’s name became the dishonorable label for those who sold out their own countries to Hitler and his gang. Winston Churchill famously articulated it in a speech to both houses of the United States Congress on December 26, 1941, soon after the USA had entered the war:

Hope has returned to the hearts of scores of millions of men and women, and with that hope there burns the flame of anger against the brutal, corrupt invader. And still more fiercely burn the fires of hatred and contempt for the filthy Quislings whom he has suborned.

I mention this because last week we learned a new word in the same genre. That word is “stupak:” i.e.,

stupak (verb) \stoo-pak\ – To betray one’s principles at a critical moment, especially under extreme external pressure.

Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), from whose name the new word is drawn, was the leader of a group of Democratic representatives who insisted that federal funding of abortion should not be included in the House’s Health-Care/Insurance Reform bill. The Stupak group of about 40 representatives sponsored the so-called Stupak Amendment – persisting through the House’s debate and vote on the reform measure to ensure that federal-funding for abortion would be excluded. That bill – with the Stupak Amendment included – narrowly passed the House, 220-215. Mr. Stupak voted for the bill, showing that he was not opposed to the reform measure – only to federal payment for abortions.

When the Senate passed its version of Health-Care/Insurance reform in December, Democrats escaped a filibuster only because they held a 60-vote majority. But that majority disappeared in January after Scott Brown won the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy. This changed the game entirely, since any reform-bill thereafter forwarded from the House would almost certainly be filibustered to death by Republicans’ 41members. If the Democrats were going to pass a reform bill, it would have to be the House passing the Senate’s bill – not the other way round.

Unfortunately, however, the Senate bill did not contain the prohibition on federal-funding of abortions that the Stupak Amendment specified. This made its passage through the House problematic, unless similar language could be added. But if that were done, the bill would have to go back to the Senate for another round of debate, including a probable filibuster. What to do, what to do…

In the end, the Democrats did what they do best. They bribed, cajoled, arm-twisted, and threatened Democratic representatives who had previously voted against the House bill, until the Senate’s bill had a majority. A week of furious activity by President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and other House leaders finally pushed the Senate’s bill over the top, 219-212. Bart Stupak and a handful of his anti-abortion comrades were in that final tally of 219.

On Sunday, March 21 just before the House vote Mr. Stupak announced that he would support the Senate’s bill because Mr. Obama had promised to sign an executive order upholding the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition of federal funding for abortion. Numerous analysts and pundits immediately pointed out that a presidential executive order could not supersede any law passed by Congress. In other words, if the Senate bill – now passed by the House – permitted federal funding for abortions, a mere EO could not stop it. Mr. Stupak had folded – or so it appeared to the country.

In my mind, there was never the slightest doubt that Congressman Stupak would cave at the last minute, should his vote be needed for passage of the Dems’ “holy grail.” We shall probably never know what he was offered in return for his vote – or exactly how he was threatened. Principles or no, it would take a man of exceptional character, or one with very little to lose, to stand up to the president and Speaker of the House – both leaders of your own party. Thus, on one hand, I am sympathetic to his situation.

On the other hand, it was Mr. Stupak’s personal choice to try to stand in the middle of this political and ideological storm. Indeed, it was his choice to try to be a principled, anti-abortion Democrat at all – especially difficult at a time when the most pro-abortion president in history holds office. To this observer, the whole pro-life-Democrat attempt looks like a “death wish.” Had he stood up to his party’s leaders and opposed the Senate bill, those leaders might well have injured Mr. Stupak or some of his family – perhaps financially or even physically. (Could I have a show of hands of all who think Rahm Emanuel would be restrained in his treatment of high-level Democratic opponents to the president’s agenda?) Being a pro-life Democrat, it seems to me, is like lying down with snakes. Sooner or later you’ll get bitten.

Mr. Stupak chose the safe way for the short term: he caved. In the long term, though, that decision might be costly. The damage started almost immediately. Following the congressman’s flip-flop on the Senate’s bill, Marjorie Dannenfelser – president of the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund – released this statement:

"This Wednesday night is our third annual Campaign for Life Gala, where we were planning to honor Congressman Stupak for his efforts to keep abortion-funding out of health care reform. We will no longer be doing so. By accepting this deal from the most pro-abortion President in American history, Stupak has not only failed to stand strong for unborn children, but also for his constituents and pro-life voters across the country."

This stinging rejection must be deeply painful to Mr. Stupak. I don’t doubt that he is a good and decent public servant, and I’m certain he is a good person. But whatever good he hoped to do for the people of his district, or for the country, was probably cut short on March 21st. He and the other members of the Stupak Group could have stopped this monstrosity from being passed. Four votes turned from Yes to No would have done it. How can voters who supported him possibly trust him again, after his el-foldo when the chips were down?

Last Sunday we were all “stupaked.” What a pity. I’m sorry for Mr. Stupak, and I’m sorry for the country. This will be remembered for a long time.


[1] Vidkun Quisling, a descendant of some of the oldest and most distinguished families in Telemark, was a Nazi during the 1930s. He was convicted of treason for his wartime collaboration with Nazi Germany and was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945. Norway had abolished capital punishment in 1905, but its government-in-exile reinstated it for the express purpose of dealing with high-level wartime collaborators.