Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, who everyone hated at some point or another during the fight over health-care reform, has decided not to seek reelection this fall.
Stupak angered many of his fellow Democrats when he sought to use the reform legislation to extend the existing restrictions on the use of federal money to pay for abortions.
That position made Stupak a villain among pro-choice groups in particular and to health care reformers in general, while he was hailed as a principled hero not just by anti-choice groups but by conservatives who wanted to block any reform.
When President Obama agreed to issue an executive order affirming the existing limits on federal funding for the termination of unwanted pregnancies, however, Stupak not only voted for the legislation but made an ardent defense of it when Republicans cynically attempted to exploit the abortion issue in the final ham-handed attempt to derail reform.
Suddenly, Stupak was a villain among anti-choice groups and opponents of reform. And top Democrats — including Obama — hailed him as a hero who had played a critical role in closing the deal for reform.
It was all very complicated, and a little bit embarrassing for Stupak, who seemed at one point or another to be a pawn in everyone’s game.
So, now, Stupak’s leaving.
Plenty of commentators (on the right and the left) are saying: Good riddance. But I am not prepared to be quite so dismissive of a congressman whose record is far more nuanced than most of the coverage of Stupak has suggested.
In my reporting on the health-care reform fight, I followed Stupak’s machinations closely and critically. As the fight was playing out, and in subsequent appearances on cable shows and Bill Moyers Journal, I objected to Stupak and others who approached reform in a piecemeal fashion — claiming to support expanding access to health care except when it came to reproductive health services, programs for immigrants or a public option.
To my mind, Stupak’s approach to the whole process of crafting and passing health-care reform legislation was misguided.
On a host of other issues, however, the congressman has been far sounder. And I worry that his seat will fall to someone–a Republican or a Democrat–who is not nearly as right as Stupak has been on a host of consequential issues.
The notion that Stupak served as a conservative Democrat was always wrong.