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The Margolies-Mezvinsky story

Watching congressmen kick and scrape and claw their way to reelection, you'd think something really terrible happens to them if they lose. Maybe they're deported. Or executed. Or maybe their family has to bear the winner's campaign debts. Whatever it is, they sure act like it's awful.

Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky is one of history's more famous congressional losers. Elected in 1992 to represent a heavily Republican area of Pennsylvania, she was summarily tossed out in 1994, ostensibly for providing President Bill Clinton with the final vote on his tax-hiking budget. Today, freshmen congressmen are told "We don't want to Margolies-Mezvinsky you." But in a Washington Post op-ed today, Margolies-Mezvinsky impolitely questions the consensus history of her career.

So it is with the perspective of having spent nearly two decades living with your worst political nightmare that I urge you to vote for health-care reform this week. Here are three things to keep in mind if you fear being Margolies-Mezvinskied this fall:

While it is easy to say my balanced-budget vote cost me reelection, that assumes the line of history that followed the bill's passage. Had I voted against it, the bill wouldn't have passed, the Republican opposition would have been emboldened, the Clinton presidency would have moved into a tailspin ... and all of this could have just as easily led to my undoing.

Simply put, you could be Margolies-Mezvinskied whether you vote with or against President Obama. You will be assailed no matter how you vote this week. And this job isn't supposed to be easy. So cast the vote that you won't regret in 18 years.

Indeed. Meanwhile, Margolies-Mezvinsky is doing all right. Her bio line says she's "a senior fellow at the Fels Institute of Government and is president of Women's Campaign International." That sounds pretty good. And her son, as it turns out, is engaged to marry Chelsea Clinton. Moreover, she's remembered. Margolies-Mezvinsky cast the deciding vote on a piece of policy that many think critical to the roaring economy of the '90s. She is, as Clinton himself often says, a profile in courage. She's still being interviewed and sounded out today. Compare that to the dozens or hundreds of congressmen who have lost their seats without the excuse of a courageous vote. That would truly be awful.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 18, 2010; 9:17 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: CBO: Health-care reform bill cuts deficit by $1.3 trillion over 20 years, covers 95%


These people have no concept of risk. The worst that can happen is they lose their job and end up a fellow at some think tank or another high-paid sinecure. For many people in this country a bad decision or a stroke of bad luck means losing everything--their livelihood, their family, even their life. This is why I have no sympathy for anybody who decides their vote based on political considerations and I say that for the left of the party as well as the right. This is the biggest vote you'll ever take. Do what's in your heart.

Posted by: bmull | March 18, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Hey, that's my district, ably represented by Democrat Allyson Schwartz since 2005 and certainly no longer "heavily Republican." The guy who beat Margolies in 94, Jon Fox, didn't last in Congress long, took a couple of runs at Philadelphia mayor, and now peddles his legal services on flap ads that adorn the shopping carts at my local grocery stores (don't get me wrong, Fox is a very nice guy, and I see him shopping for groceries at those stores regularly).

Posted by: bdballard | March 18, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

As a Bostonian (a Northern Virginia native), I'd put it this way:

You can either be Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, or you can be the Bill Buckner of the Democratic party's biggest aspiration over the last 60 years. You will be remembered either way. You might as well choose to be remembered for the better.

Posted by: moronjim | March 18, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

You don't get it, Ezra.

As a friend of mine explains, "It's just so obvious that the moral atrocity of 45,000 deaths each year -- in addition to hundreds of thousands of bankruptcies -- all due to lack of health insurance is nothing compared to the unimaginable pain of losing one's House seat."

Posted by: moronjim | March 18, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

This is really something. Yesterday's argument to the Blue Dogs was, "If you don't vote for it, you're going to lose." Today it's "If you vote for it, you'll lose, but hey, it's for a good cause, so whatever."

I don't see Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn or the others in safe districts offering to make similar sacrifices. They're more like the World War I generals ordering the men out of the trenches, talking up the valor of sacrifice while they drink tea. If congress flips because of this vote/buyoff/strongarm, they'll move their furniture to a different office; they don't lose their job.

These congressmen and congresswomen have uprooted their families, set aside their careers, and sacrificed a great deal of their personal privacy to do more than be forced to cast a vote in favor of a corrupt deal between Big Pharma, unions, Medicare-"fixed" doctors, Louisiana and Nebraska and then pack it in when their constituents vote them out in 7 months because of it.

Bmull, if their heart tells them to vote against this bill, you're OK with that, right?

Posted by: philly211 | March 18, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Ezra: "She's doing all right."

You might want to add a footnote that we Pennsylvanians know all about.

In 2000, Mezvinsky husband, former congressman Edward Mezvinsky, pled guilty to 31 felony counts of bank, wire and mail fraud dating back to 1980 and was described as a "one man crime wave."
Every deal he was involved in was fraudulent.

He bankrolled her political career with this fraudulent gains, including her congressional campaign and her run for Lt. Governor in 1998 (which she lost to Ridge/Schweiker). Because he was actually caught, she was forced to drop out of politics altogether, presumably keeping the millions of dollars her husband defrauded intact.

Yeah, she's doing all right. Just like Mrs. Madoff.

Posted by: philly211 | March 18, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

A quick note about the Margolies-Mezvinsky quote: The paragraph that begins with, "So it is with the perspective . . . " should be indented. It's part of the quote.

I don't mean to nitpick; I was a little confused about that passage until I read her op-ed.

Good post, though. Something for both Congressmen and voters to keep in mind.

Posted by: JoshChrisman | March 18, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

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