Gail Collins: A Sebelius/Roberts race would have been fun

04/22/2014 12:00 AM

04/21/2014 5:53 PM

Maybe Kathleen Sebelius should reconsider that Senate thing.

The Department of Health and Human Services secretary who gave us the Obamacare rollout says she is not going to go home to Kansas and take on Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Even though 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.”

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 that Charles Curtis deserves more attention.

But about 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 understand the Democrats feeling as if there might be a little window of opportunity. 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, 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 part about this that’s really troubling is that 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?

Roberts was also stressed by a challenge from Milton Wolf, a radiologist who, strangely enough, is a very distant cousin of President Obama. Wolf has compared the Affordable Care Act to “Stalin’s iron-fisted gulags.” Roberts, racing to the right in terror, demanded Sebelius’ resignation for “gross incompetence.” Obamacare haranguing is certainly standard fare under these circumstances, but you can see why Sebelius took it badly. 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 Wolf in the past posted X-rays of patients on his Facebook page and made fun of their injuries. 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 Roberts after he’d called for Sebelius’ resignation. Well, sort of.

So there you are. If 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.

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