Murtha and mortality

News of the death of Congressman John Murtha today was sad, and also a little personally poignant. Every time it was mentioned, the announcers ended with, “He was 77.” When you’re approaching birthday number 77, and listening to news reports that repeatedly conclude, “He was 77,” it’s hard not to get a small jolt.

There is a yarzheit candle, meanwhile, flickering in my kitchen window. It marks the 20th anniversary of the death of my husband’s late wife, Judith Clancy. Had she lived, she would be 77 next month. She was a gifted artist whose drawings are in some significant museums and collections. Her work has been exhibited in France and a number of American cities.

Representative Murtha, despite some questionable financial issues, also had a distinguished career. It was a long one — a few weeks ago he became the longest-serving congressman from Pennsylvania. He died of complications from gall bladder surgery, a procedure after which my husband also recently suffered some pretty horrendous complications. But my husband, who was born a few years before the rest of us, survived. In the late news being reported as I type this, an announcer is once again noting Congressman Murtha’s death. “He was 77.”

There are reasons to appreciate tomorrow’s sunrise.

Obama, Pelosi & the health bill yo-yo

Invoking the not-so-long-ago proposals of Senators Bob Dole and Howard Baker, President Obama told the Republicans Friday that his health bill is “pretty centrist,” while suggesting they might leave off referring to it as a Bolshevik plot. “People in America don’t believe it’s centrist,” Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) told PBS NewsHour‘s Judy Woodruff just after the event — “the government defining costs, benefits…”  Hensarling did not sound much like someone ready for bi-partisan cooperation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said yesterday, in a letter e-mailed to constituents, that “Congress will pass health insurance reform no matter what barriers stand in our way. We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in.” And therein may lie the problem: Obama’s move from health care to jobs as number one issue, and Pelosi’s, well, Pelosi-like determination to get some sort of a health bill through, no matter what. Some of us who agree that jobs and the economy are admittedly number one still believe the disaster that is our current health care system has got to be addressed. (One wonders what planet Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell lives on, commenting during his rebuttal to the State of the Union address that Americans don’t want to mess with “the best medical care system in the world.”)

Health reform, whatever remains of it, has become the yo-yo of the year: it’s up, it’s down, it’s tangling in multiple strings, and the axle connecting it between Democrats and Republicans looks more worn with every loop.

Here are a few of the assessments Friday night pundits were making: New York Times reporter Peter Baker on Washington Week in Review: “It’s become bad politics. There is no option but to slow down.” Also on Washington Week, Politico‘s John Harris remarked, “It’s comatose.”

The President did himself proud with the Republicans, in what was indeed a remarkable event, even if no immediate good will arises. It felt downright civil. But as to the health care yo-yo and whether it now rolls quietly under the sofa to rest a while, a parting thought came from columnist Mark Shields on NewsHour. “President Obama,” he observed, “doesn’t control Nancy Pelosi.”