GAIL COLLINS

Kathleen Sebelius decides not to run

Oh, well, it would have made for a great Senate race in Kansas

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Maybe Kathleen Sebelius should reconsider that Senate thing.

The woman who gave us the Obamacare rollout says she is not going to go home to Kansas and take on Sen. Pat Roberts once her resignation takes effect. Even though Mr. Roberts is a former friend who threw her under the bus because he’s afraid of a challenge from a loopy Tea Party radiologist.

Actually, she didn’t say all that. What she said, through a spokeswoman, was: “Secretary Sebelius is continuing her important work at HHS and is not considering a run for the Senate.”

Some Democrats had told The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters that they wanted to see her give the race a try. At first, the idea seemed a little otherworldly, what with the way the health care website opened with a crash and all.

Still, we live in an age of hope. Fox says it has a new variation on “The Bachelor” in which 12 American women believe they are competing for the hand of England’s Prince Harry. If you can swallow that, you can certainly have faith that any secretary of health and human services can grow up to be the U.S. senator from Kansas.

The Democrats have found it difficult to recruit a high-profile candidate to run in Kansas. The state hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since George McGill, who filled the seat after Charles Curtis resigned to become vice president under Herbert Hoover.

Curtis, by the way, was the first member of Congress descended from American Indians. He led the floor fight for women’s suffrage and brought the Equal Rights Amendment up before the Senate for the first time. Also, he was a former jockey. I think I speak for us all when I say that Charles Curtis deserves more attention.

But about Kathleen Sebelius. Running a hopeless race for the Senate would be better than, say, spending the next year working on a memoir entitled “It Wasn’t Really My Fault.” And we have to keep stressing that, despite its awful start, the Affordable Care Act is working out fine. You could argue that Ms. Sebelius is a competent public servant who just ran into a really bad patch. Like Charles Curtis and the Herbert Hoover era.

Plus, she would have been an interesting addition to this year’s saga of women running for the U.S. Senate. Which is already turning into a thrill a minute.

Just consider New Hampshire, where the incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen, is being challenged by Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator whose entire political career has involved running for the Senate against Democratic women. To qualify for this race, Mr. Brown moved into his New Hampshire vacation home. If he loses, I am thinking his next stop will be a California trailer park and Barbara Boxer.

The Kansas race wouldn’t have been in that fun-filled category. But you could understand the Democrats feeling as if there might be a little window of opportunity. The incumbent, Pat Roberts, is facing any establishment Republican’s worst nightmare: a Tea Party primary challenger, plus the lack of a home in his home state.

Earlier this year, Mr. Roberts acknowledged that the place in Dodge City that he claims as his voting address is actually a house on a country club golf course that belongs to two longtime supporters. “I have full access to the recliner,” he joked.

The really troubling part about this is that Mr. Roberts picked a pretend address at a country club. If a politician is going to make believe he lives somewhere, shouldn’t he go for a cottage in the country or a mid-priced condo near the shopping center?

Mr. Roberts was also stressed by a Tea Party challenge from Milton Wolf, a radiologist who, strangely enough, is a very distant cousin of President Barack Obama. Mr. Wolf has compared the Affordable Care Act to “Stalin’s iron-fisted gulags.”

Mr. Roberts, racing to the right in terror, demanded Ms. Sebelius’ resignation for “gross incompetence.” Obamacare haranguing is certainly standard fare under these circumstances, but you can see why Ms. Sebelius took it badly. Mr. Roberts, after all, was an old family friend who had bragged about their “special relationship” after she was nominated for secretary.

And it wasn’t even necessary. A Kansas reporter discovered that Mr. Wolf had a habit of posting X-rays of his patients on his Facebook page and making fun of their injuries. So far, the radiologist’s most compelling excuse appears to be that he was trying “to educate people about what happens.” This is the kind of threat from the right that a Republican incumbent should be able to survive without turning a sweat, let alone turning on an old pal.

“It isn’t personal,” said Mr. Roberts after he’d called for Ms. Sebelius’ resignation. Well, sort of.

So, there you are. If Kathleen Sebelius had traded the Cabinet for the campaign trail, she very probably would have been defeated. But it still might have been fun to spend the summer discussing that recliner at the country club.

Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.



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