Op-eds by members of Congress, present or former, are rarely worth reading. Today's Washington Post provides one that is. It's about health care reform and its author is Marjorie Margolies.
Margolies became famous, and infamous, in 1993 for casting the deciding vote in favor of President Clinton's first budget. It was a tough vote; polls showed voters in her district opposed the budget. She agreed to support it only after a personal appeal from the president. She later lost re-election, as predicted.
Earlier this month, Time's Karen Tumulty had the inspiration to catch up with Margolies and ask her if she regretted the vote. Margolies said she didn't. In today's Post, Margolies explains her thinking in more detail. And she does so in the form of a letter to wavering House Democrats, one that is at turns funny and compelling:
Dear wavering House Democrats,
I feel your pain. Eighteen years ago, I was elected on the coattails of a popular young Democratic president who promised a post-partisan Washington. A year later, with partisan gridlock capturing the Capitol, there was a razor-thin vote on the House floor over legislation that Democrats said would remake the country and Republicans promised would bankrupt it.
I was pressed on all sides: by constituents opposed, my president needing a victory and Republicans promising my demise. I was in the country's most Republican district represented by a Democrat. I had repeatedly said, "I will not be a 'read my lips' candidate," when asked if I would promise not to raise taxes.
I voted my conscience, and it cost me.
I still remember how, after I voted, Bob Walker jumped up and down on the House floor, yelling "Bye-bye, Marjorie!" I thought, first, that he was probably right. Then, that I would expect better behavior from my kids, much less a member of Congress. And then, that he was a remarkable jumper.
I am your worst-case scenario. And I'd do it all again.
In recent days I have become something I never imagined: a verb. I hear that when freshmen enter Congress they are told, "We don't want to Margolies-Mezvinsky you." I had no idea that when I voted for the Clinton budget, I was writing the first line of my obituary.
So it is with the perspective of having spent nearly two decades living with your worst political nightmare that I urge you to vote for health-care reform this week. ...
The rest is really worth reading. Particularly if you are one of those wavering House Democrats.
Update: I like Ezra Klein's analysis:
Margolies-Mezvinsky is doing all right. Her bio line says she's "a senior fellow at the Fels Institute of Government and is president of Women's Campaign International." That sounds pretty good. And her son, as it turns out, is engaged to marry Chelsea Clinton. Moreover, she's remembered. Margolies-Mezvinsky cast the deciding vote on a piece of policy that many think critical to the roaring economy of the '90s. She is, as Clinton himself often says, a profile in courage. She's still being interviewed and sounded out today. Compare that to the dozens or hundreds of congressmen who have lost their seats without the excuse of a courageous vote. That would truly be awful.
To be sure, not every member of Congress who loses a seat will marry off a child to a former First Family. But the broader point here is correct. History doesn't remember lawmakers for getting re-elected. It remembers them for accomplishing something.