You don’t get many profiles in political courage these days. You get some grandstanding, of course. There are plenty of nutcases that have been put in office, particularly at the state level and in the House of Representatives, sure. But every once in a while you get somebody like Ben Nelson that’s willing to recognize a situation for what it is and act appropriately, even at the risk of burning his colleagues and open himself up to pressure from his own party on a high-profile issue like health care reform.
Nelson isn’t a pro-choice Democrat. I’m not from Nebraska, but so far as I can tell he never has been. The people who voted for him weren’t looking to enshrine the reproductive rights of women. There was a perception that the health care reform bill before the Senate would result in taxpayer money subsidizing abortions, and the Democratic party was scratching and scraping for 60 votes to get cloture. Ben Nelson was in a position to be the 60th vote, the last senator to commit to a “yes” vote. He could have taken the easy route and gone with his party on an issue that was important to the president. He could have taken the somewhat harder route and stuck to his avowed principles regarding the sanctity of human life.
He did neither. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work for his constituents. He burned his party and his ideals, holding out until he could get the best deal possible for his state. Nebraska is set to enjoy a tremendous advantage in Medicare compensation, at a savings likely to total in the billions as health care costs increase for the other 49 states in coming years (barring any actual substantive reform, which doesn’t look likely at the moment). Good for you, Ben Nelson. Good for Nebraska. Bring home the bacon for your voters. I wish my representatives had done the same.