If there were two words Bart Stupak never expected to hear, those were the two. Shouted at him. In front of Congress. In front of the world.
Bart Stupak had been an Eagle Scout from the Upper Peninsula, a law school grad, a police officer, a small-town Democratic congressman with strong Christian ties and an intractable anti-abortion record who had voted to ban partial-birth abortions, to forbid human cloning and to stop embryonic stem cell research.
The person shouting this ugliness was a Texas Republican named Randy Neugebauer. His reason? Stupak had just announced he was supporting the health care bill, but only after President Barack Obama committed to an executive order barring any federal money from paying for abortions.
“Baby killer,” Neugebauer yelled.
Forget, for a moment, your personal views on health care. Forget, for a moment, your political side. Imagine a life largely dedicated to discouraging abortion in any way, shape or form, then standing before Congress and being called that.
How does it feel? A sad, sad series of voice mails
“It’s a sad day for the Congress when we resort to that,” Stupak, 58, told me this past week. “I mean, disagree with me if you will, but we don’t need personal attacks. Â
“If we can’t conduct ourselves any better on the House floor, how do you expect people in society to behave?”
Don’t worry. People in society already are behaving worse. After Stupak’s vote (one of 219 votes in favor; he was hardly alone) some of the voice mails left for him were stunning.
“You are one big piece of human (excrement),” said one. Another began, “Stupak, you lowlife baby-murdering scumbag pile of steaming crap. Â You ought to fill your pockets with lead and jump in the Potomac.” And then there was this one: “You baby-killing (expletive). I hope you Â get cancer and die.”
These death wishes, we assume, are from people who call themselves pro-lifers.
Now, remember. It’s not as if Stupak suddenly turned pro-abortion. He is – and always has been – adamant on the subject. He was cosponsor of the amendment that insisted no federal money be spent on such procedures. He was vilified plenty from the other side for that.
But his crime this past week, in the minds of his pro-life critics, was accepting Obama’s executive order to enforce something that already has been enforced for more than 30 years.
How dare Stupak trust the president?
“Did those words sting?” I asked Stupak.
“Yes,” he admitted. “I find it amazing that when President Bush issued the executive order on embryonic stem cell research – which I agreed with – all these pro-life groups such as National Right to Life applauded it. And now President Obama issues one and suddenly it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”
“What does that teach us?” I asked.
“It’s hypocrisy,” he said. Another low for American behavior
It’s also myopia. Stupak wasn’t being asked to vote on abortion. It was a health care bill that, in his view, brought medical care to 30 million people who might not otherwise have it. Medical care that would save lives.
He wanted that. He didn’t want abortion. He did what politicians have been doing since the first one walked the Earth: He sought a compromise.
Never mind such obvious facts as 1) abortion is legal in America or 2) the cost of an abortion – usually less than $1,000 – isn’t likely to deter the majority of those who seek one. What stands out here is that on the floor of Congress you now hear the same nasty swill that is shouted in the street. When did that happen?
When did the dialogue get so hateful? Maybe it’s the ever-angrier talk show hosts. Maybe it’s blogs, e-mails and voice mails that allow cowards their anonymity (and I’ll get my share for even touching this subject). Maybe it’s a country that supposedly reached a high mark in racial unity by electing its current president, but has been diving to new lows ever since.
“Maybe these so-called groups for life are not really standing up for the sanctity of life,” Stupak said. “Maybe they’re there for political purposes. Maybe they’ve lost their mission.”
All I know is this: If Bart Stupak, of all people, can stand up and be called “baby killer,” we really have heard everything.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).