Jim Matheson: Coward 

Jim Matheson may lack a spine, but he makes up for it with a health plan that you may never have.

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Utah’s missing congressman, Jim Matheson, came out of his hole on March 21 just long enough to vote against his party’s health-care plan. That’s good news, considering some Utahns thought Matheson had died while sucking on oysters at Old Ebbitt Grill with his GOP and lobbyist cronies back in 2008. The bad news is that while out in the sunshine, he cast a shadow. Upon seeing his shadow, Mr. Matheson did what comes most naturally to him—he ran back into his hole, where he will hide until Election Day, signaling that Utah Democrats living in his district can expect at least another eight months of Republican winter.

The historic national health-care plan President Obama signed into law March 23 was opposed by Jim Matheson, one of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats who as often as not vote with their Republican counterparts. They are said to be independent thinkers who vote their conscience, are fiscally conservative and think the Democratic Party leadership is too liberal. Those Blue Dogs should be given the benefit of the doubt, don’t you think?

As when Jim Matheson voted to send our troops to Iraq: There was nothing political about that at all, right? His vote was obviously independently derived from good conscience, and he was convinced going to war would bear little financial risk. Neither could his pro-war vote be construed as a liberal vote, and as long as he is not viewed as a liberal, he can win in his district until, well, forever—so why should he come out of his hole?

Because as long as he doesn’t, he will be regarded as a coward. Nobody likes a coward; neither the left nor the right, the moral nor unjust, Democrats nor Republicans nor Independents. And Jim Matheson is a coward. Not that we didn’t know that already. Somewhere in our past, this newspaper said something “mean” about him, and he hasn’t spoken to any of our reporters for years. It was probably me. I don’t mind at all saying mean things about Jim Matheson. I’ve voted for him and supported him with time and resources, so I figure I’ve paid for the privilege.

I haven’t voted for Matheson in several elections, having lost faith in him a long time ago. I also feel a goodly amount of guilt for helping him get elected in the first place, because once you get these guys into office, you can’t get them out. They’re worse than grass stains on a wedding dress. Judging from online comments, phone messages, and the guys speaking through the mist in the Sports Mall steam room, Matheson could be going down. It’s not simply because Matheson voted against the health-care plan. It’s how he did it. A growing number of Utah Democrats have had enough of his perpetual legislative legerdemain.

It would be one thing if people believed Matheson had voted his “conscience” and “independently” decided this legislation is so imperfect as to merit his “no” vote. He wouldn’t have supported Lincoln’s “imperfect” Civil War plan, either. America is either willing to value the well being of all of its citizens, or it is not. Matheson has no plan. He offers nothing as a counter. Constituents who try talking to him are directed to an e-mail address. That’s what passes for public service in this sad era of American politics.

Tell you what—right now, I’d trade Republican Jason Chaffetz straight up for Jim Matheson. I’d pay to see Matheson squirm around the bloodsuckers of the far Republican right who comprise Chaffetz’s congressional district. I’d bet his “independence” and “conscience”—two words dear to most Democrats, which have been used deceptively against them by Matheson—would disappear from his vocabulary faster than a dollar bill on the Capitol steps. 

It’s not enough that Matheson voted no on health care. His vote signals his willingness to play along with the dangerous rhetoric coming from the mouths of many Republican legislators and their supporters on the far right. That is the company he has chosen and must be judged by—the men and women who lied us into Iraq, who lied about death panels, who call their fellow Americans socialists (while accepting other forms of social services), who use the word “nigger,” who call Nancy Pelosi a “bitch” even though they’ve never met her, who think Harry Reid is a communist, who drape themselves in the flag but don’t like paying for what it represents, who want our president to fail, who hide behind the Bible while sinning wildly, who favor corporate America over the well-being of their next-door neighbors.

The great health-care debate was a political partisan show. How can it be possible, really, that not even one Republican House member voted for this bill? Not one? This was just a grand stage to set up elections this coming November—a pig in a poke, a way to get on public record, a position that can be used against a political opponent. That’s just fine with me. Matheson voted no. I’ll vote against Matheson. Again.

It’s not like Utah’s Democrats have a voice anyway—the worst-gerrymandered districts in the country ensure that. But, that only adds to the pain, because Salt Lake County alone is home to tens of thousands of Democrats who effectively have no political voice. Add in Summit and Grand counties, which also sided with Obama in the last election. Matheson could have earned his Democratic stripes by standing up for those fellow citizens statewide. He could have voted on principle, not conscience. That would have been a bold move, a leader’s move. Jim Matheson needn’t worry about being spineless—that’s covered in his federal-employee health-care plan, the likes of which you’ll never see.

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