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Oh, Gail, give it a rest! A New York Times columnist looks down on Missouri voters

It’s nothing new that a New York Times columnist would write about Missourians with a tone of good-natured condescension. That’s how Gail Collins approaches many topics. But did she make her points about why Missourians voted the way they did on August 3, 2010?

In today’s editorial, “Show Me Your Insiders,” Collins’s first point is that Missourians are “crazy about insiders,” despite the conventional wisdom that voters hate incumbents and career politicians. Her evidence is the huge majorities of Roy Blunt and Robin Carnahan in rolling over their outsider opponents in the primary race to select candidates to replace Kit Bond. The reality is that their opponents didn’t raise enough money to mount serious campaigns.

Blunt has served as Missouri’s secretary of state and governor and has served several terms as Missouri’s 7th District representative in Congress. Carnahan’s only public office has been Missouri secretary of state, though her father was governor, her mother served her father’s term in the Senate after his death, and her brother Russ serves in Congress.

Blunt and Carnahan are insiders. Carnahan had no credible opposition. Blunt was challenged by Chuck Purgason, a veteran Missouri legislator with little money and no connections to national interests, though he was endorsed by Joe the Plumber and claimed to be a Tea Party-type.

On Proposition C, nearly three of four those voting (71% of the 23% of registered voters who turned out) expressed their rejection of the part of the federal health care law that requires the purchase of health insurance by nearly everyone, penalizing those who do not. According to Collins, Prop C is “almost certainly unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

While mandatory coverage is the logical and economic foundation of the federal health care  law, the constitutionality of this provision is itself constitutionally questionable, according to federal district judge Henry Hudson’s ruling in Virginia v. Sebelius, the  case testing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, overruling HHS Secretary Sebelius’s motion to dismiss the suit. Referring to the Hudson wrote:

Never before has the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause been extended this far.

A pronouncement from a federal district judge on a motion to dismiss should not be viewed as an indication of how the case will turn out, but seems to have more weight than the flippant remark of a columnist.

Collins also makes fun of Billy Long’s theme, that he was “fed up with insiders.” While I’m not sure that this theme, rather than Long’s high name recognition and personal familiarity in the most populous parts of the 7th District, carried the day for him. His opponents Gary Nodler and Jack Goodman, both state legislators, didn’t differ from Long on the issues, and were fairly unknown to voters in Springfield and in Christian County.

Whatever the height of Collins’s perch, her vision is not acute enough to truly understand how Missouri voters make their decisions. She surely doesn’t think that she understands Missourians, but she still doesn’t mind depicting us as simple folks for the entertainment of her supposedly more sophisticated audience.


About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer and mediator who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, nonprofits, and local government. As of 2022, I'm shrinking my legal practice so that I have more time to mediate real estate disputes. I'm happy to mediate using video platforms like Zoom and WebEx, or in person anywhere in Missouri.

6 responses »

  1. Thanks for the post. I thought I was being overly sensitive this morning when I was unsettled by that editorial, but I consider this confirmation that I wasn’t.

    • Ed, thanks for commenting.

      While most of the primary races and the vote on Prop C were landslides, 77% of Missouri’s registered voters didn’t vote at all.

      To me, that’s the most telling statistic.

  2. Billy Long is a political insider, so she really is right on target. Once Long gets to Congress, they will be making a lot more fun of him.

    • Gail Collins didn’t say that Long was an insider. She said that he beat two state senators by saying he was running against insiders.

      Long raised large amounts of money from individuals and groups outside the District and had the backing of such insiders as former Rep. Mel Hancock. He ran a much more focused campaign than any of his opponents.
      Goodman’s campaign got off to a very slow start and never picked up much momentum.
      Nodler is from the western part of the District and is not as popular in Springfield (the population center of the District) as Long.

  3. I like one thing one of the participants in the original discussion said. If mandatory health insurance is unconstitutional, then mandatory car insurance must be unconstitutional also.

    Good idea.

    • Dave,
      The analogy to mandatory auto insurance is not a good argument. Car insurance is mandated by state law, not federal law. Mandatory car insurance is liability coverage, for injuries to others, not for an individual. Under the idea of implied consent, if a citizen wants a license to drive on public roads of a state, the citizen agrees to comply with the state’s financial responsibility laws for operating a motor vehicle. The state doesn’t require you to buy collision coverage, to insure your own car, which would be a closer analogy.

      The state of Virginia is arguing that the Commerce Clause of the federal constitution doesn’t give Congress the power to make inactivity (the failure to buy health insurance) an illegal act. Remember that the states have nearly unlimited powers to legislate, while the federal government has only enumerated powers.

      In the case, the federal government argued that the federal government has the power to require filing of tax returns, making failure to file a crime. However, the judge pointed out that the Constitution gives the federal government the power to tax and the power to do what is necessary and proper to for the exercise of specified federal powers, including requiring the filing of tax returns.

      Pages 18 through 25 of the attached opinion present the competing legal arguments of the state of Virginia and Secretary Sebelius. It’s worth taking a few minutes to read.

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