Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 14, 2009

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN.... Recently, President Obama has made a more conscious effort to note that while right-wing detractors are bashing the idea of health care reform now, their forebears were doing the same thing when previous progressive presidents tackled major challenges.

As the president reminded Congress last week, "In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind."

But there's more than a just a general parallel here -- in many instances, conservatives have used the same language to stand in the way of domestic policy progress. Media Matters had a great report on this in March, and I was encouraged to see Bloomberg News have a similar piece today.

The debate is about health care. The threat is of a march toward "socialism." The words come from a famous voice.

Not Sarah Palin in 2009. It was Ronald Reagan in 1961.

"From here, it's a short step to all the rest of socialism," Reagan, then an actor, warned in a 1961 record sponsored by the American Medical Association after President John F. Kennedy created a commission that laid the foundation for Medicare. [...]

In 1945, the AMA helped portray Truman's proposal for national health insurance as a creep toward communism. Three years later, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce produced a pamphlet, "You and Socialized Medicine." [...]

The experiences of Truman, Kennedy and Clinton offer lessons for Obama, said Richard Rapaport, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley who has researched the AMA's initiative in the 1960s, dubbed "Operation Coffeecup."

Once the public associates the word "socialism" with a plan, it's hard to change the impression, he said. In 1945, when Truman addressed Congress about a national insurance plan, 75 percent of Americans supported the proposal. By 1949, after it was targeted by opponents, only 21 percent did.

When JFK first raised the prospect of Medicare, Reagan warned that it had to be stopped or that generation would "spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free." When FDR proposed Social Security, a Republican congressman said, "If this bill becomes law, the lash of the dictator will be felt."

Glenn Beck and his minions are annoying, but they're not exactly breaking new ground.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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It's great that Bloomberg News is running this story, but I can't help but wish they (and other mainstream media) had picked up on this months ago. It's not like the historical parallels haven't been there all along. But I guess that, since they can't seem to even remember what was happening in the last years of the Bush administration, asking them to know about stuff that happened decades ago is too much.


Posted by: biggerbox on September 14, 2009 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

the new ground aint conceptual -- it's the spectacle, dumber and massively more popular.

Posted by: neill on September 14, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't Reagan also say something about how providing medical care to the people was a standard tactic for Communists attempting to gain control of a country?

Can anyone name me even one single example of a country that has embraced Communism or socialism because of national health care? One? I can name a great many countries that became Communist because the previous regimes did NOT provide for the basic needs of the people. Actually, most revolutions have probably been fought for that reason. But few have happened BECAUSE governments made sure that everyone had basic medical coverage.

Posted by: T-Rex on September 14, 2009 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

I laughed out loud when Obama mentioned this during his address. It must have pissed those gool ole white boys on the Republican side the hell off. Loved it.

Posted by: Scott F. on September 14, 2009 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

the only communist regime i can remember that directly involved (mental) health care for the people was in France in the middle of the last century.

That was when they made Jerry Lewis the Commissar of the country. It hasn't really worked out all that well...

Posted by: neill on September 14, 2009 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

White resistance can be a very ugly thing - just look at Boston in 1974! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on September 14, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

There's a predictable pattern of doubling-down in the pattern of revolutionary governments. I've forgotten the term for it.

It's when Kerensky is overthrown by the Bolsheviks and the Bolsheviks are overthrown by the Stalinists. But it can only happen in circumstances that are highly opaque and fluid and, most importantly, new.

The Puritain revolution in England didn't get to the doubling-down because though it was a one-party dictatorship, it was a Parliamentary dictatorship and without Cromwell it could only move forward by consensus. It did not lose its' insitutional basis.

What we have here with the fruitcakes is a revolutionary party that missed its' doubling-down moment because they had to be elected and weren't. George Bush was their Bolshevik, but their Stalin never turned up.

So --what do they do?

I'd guess they'll double-down their low-level infiltration. Sheriff's departments, police departments, district attorneys, school prinicipals, everywhere with a singular new aggressiveness.

Posted by: cld on September 14, 2009 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

The Conservative position on ANY change is "I got mine, you can go piss up a rope."

The Progressive position is -to paraphrase a well-known Socialist/Communist/Dreamer- "what you do unto the least, you do unto me".

Interesting that so many of the former profess to hold Christian Values. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 14, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

doubling down = bad money after good

hegelian/marxist dialectic = thesis/antithesis/synthesis

i'm suddenly very very tired...

Posted by: neill on September 14, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Right on DAY Like Kris Kristoferson says in his song Jesue Was a Capricorn "reckon we'd just nail Him up if He came down again" All these self proclaimed christians will have some explaining to do when comes time to meet Him.

Posted by: nodaK on September 14, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

But it all HAS led to a socialist dictatorship! That's what Obama is!!

Posted by: Conservatroll on September 14, 2009 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Instead, good ol' Ronnie Raygun decided to spend his "sunset years" taking our freedoms away.

Posted by: converse on September 14, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Spot on T-Rex. Still, call me old fashioned, but I wish it were possible to argue in such a way that didn't implicitly concede that socialism would be a dreadful thing. Lots of things have gone under the head of 'socialism', some dreadful, namely actually existing socialism, some of them, closer to home, pretty damn good: the Am. tradition that includes Norman Thomas, Eugene Debs, Michael Harrington, Dorothy Day--the progressive parties in Europe, which tend to be descendants of socialist parties and even call themselves socialist.

Posted by: J on September 14, 2009 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

What I find most ridiculous is the right's notion of what is and is not a threat to "freedom."

Making sure all members of a society are treated equally = TYRANNY!!

Providing health care to all citizens - FASCISM!!

Wanting to ensure our children have a clean, healthy environment = SOCIALISM!!!

Changing the tax code to benefit the middle class = COMMUNISM!!

But spying on all Americans without a warrant? Lying about funding Central American death squads or a war in the Middle East? Giving billions in no-bid contracts to companies formerly ran by administration officials who still have financial interests in those companies? Arresting peaceful dissenters and protesters? Tax policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else? Forcing people to choose between medical care and bankruptcy, or no medical care and death? Having a nation full of senior citizens who are broke and homeless?

Well, that's the most free type of freedom any freedom-loving free person could ever hope to have ... so long as it's free, of course.

Posted by: Mark D on September 14, 2009 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Read here the remarkable history of the inventor of Socialism,

Robert Owen,


Posted by: cld on September 14, 2009 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican Congress-person's reaction to the possibility of Social Security is mordantly hilarious. Can you possibly find out who that troll was?
Doug Scott

Posted by: Douglas Scott on September 14, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Glenn Beck and his minions are annoying, but they're not exactly breaking new ground.

Precisely the point that everybody's missing. These people have always been with us. There have always been people opposed to governmental expansion, as their objections stem from their being opposed to the existence of the federal government in the first place. Though several of their factions have learned to be comfortable with the notion of big government, and have even learned to use it to their advantage.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on September 14, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK
These people have always been with us.

Yes, that's true.

But they haven't always had their own television network, talk radio, countless websites, and a media willing to treat their most fringe elements as serious commentators.

That's the difference, I think.

Posted by: Mark D on September 14, 2009 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

"...there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it."

Yeah, those 'brave men and women of Congress'...

Those same Congressmen are SUCH believers in Social Security, such BRAVE stalwarts for this program, that they long ago exempted themselves from EVER having to financially contribute to it.

What a complete crock...

Posted by: John C on September 14, 2009 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

""spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."

Ah yes, those good old days! I wish Reagan had finished his sentence: "...what it once was like in America when men were free...free to suffer, free to go bankrupt, free to lose the farm and the house because someone gets sick, free to be exploited by giant corporations, free to work all their lives and end up destitute."

Ah, yes. The Republican dream.

Posted by: PTate in MN on September 14, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

The mall in Washington, D.C. was something to behold on Saturday with the hundreds of thousands of people.

None of those people were worshiping a 'cult-like' leader....they're just individuals fighting for freedom...

Posted by: John C on September 14, 2009 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

They were both right. After all, Reagan DID spend his sunset years spinning out old movie plots like they were his personal memories and wishing he was back there. And the lash of the dictator was certainly present after Social Security was enacted. Just not here.

Hey, that's it! Hitler was so enraged by Roosevelt stealing his national socialist thunder, he went berserken und blitzkriegen.

Man, everything is some Democrat's fault.

Posted by: Mahnkenstein on September 14, 2009 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

The strange thing about these new (old) arguments is that I doubt that many of the middle aged have any knowledge of what socialism is (the USSR variety). These old words may resonate with those already on medicare, but they are also old enough to remember the beginnings of medicare in the 60s.

So it seems possible that these scare tactics could be overcome. Hopefully that is what Obama is doing now: remind the older set that medicare was opposed as socialism by republicans (oops, anti-reform interests). For the younger set the problem is simpler: just explain the plan and if they start to associate these details with "socialism", but like the details, who cares?

But one real problem is the really good (for them) framing of the republicans. The "you lie" meme has backed the unsuspecting democrats into something like a national id card. How did they do this? The democrats implicitly conceded that the public option would be a give-away, something supported by tax dollars. But this isn't true. The only result of the exchange and the public option will be lower prices. Republicans don't want illegals to buy a product which cost less than it would cost without the market forces which result from an exchange.

This is absurd. Everyone buying insurance from the exchange would benefit from more people participating, regardless of their immigration status.

As an example, which would be better: illegals driving without insurance or with insurance? The lack of insurance by some is what drives up rates for everyone else.

Since illegals will still be able to get emergency care, they need insurance.

Posted by: tomj on September 14, 2009 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Wilson said the bill didn't say that illegal aliens won't get healthcare, but when that lie became obvious (relatively quickly for a change) he and the Repugs changed the argument to say that there was no enforcement mechanism. Like tomj above said, there doesn't appear to be a way without a national ID card and they seem to be forcing Dems into proposing it.

What is wrong with Republicans? Do they really want pregnant women giving birth on the sidewalks in front of ERs, or people dying in ER waiting rooms of heart attacks and strokes just because they are in this country illegally? Is that who we are?

It never ceases to amaze me how those who originally brought black slaves to this country and later, Hispanic slaves, act like it's the Democrats/Progressives/Liberals who are destroying this country by treating them like human beings.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on September 14, 2009 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that I have not heard from any source recently is the fact that Medicare passed, at least in part, because for-profit insurance companies have no interest in insuring people over the age of 65. A disproportionate amount of medical costs (losses, from insurance companies point of view), accrue to this demographic. Something similar can be said of veterans. Veterans, because of their vocation, are as a group going to have a higher than average need for medical services; hence, the V.A. Both of these institutions are, in a sense, massive subsidies to the for-profit insurance indusrtry. I.e., the taxpayer is already picking up the tab for those groups who are most in need of health care. I don't think this happened by accident, nor can it be considered a pure victory for progressive ideals. Though these institutions play a genuinely positive role in society, the fact remains that they permitted for-profit insurance companies to continue functioning long past a time when they would have otherwise been recognized as bankrupt. Today, for the first time, we are considering reforms that may adversely affect the bottom line of private companies. There is every reason to expect this battle to be tougher than the last ones.

Posted by: jason on September 14, 2009 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Hundreds of thousands" eh, John C? Whatever you say.

My question to you (and them) is: where were these "hundreds of thousands" the last 8 years?

Could it be that they (and you) are bunch of hysterical partisans who are super-pissed that they got soundly thumped in the last election and President Obama is simply fulfilling his campaign promises and trying to clean up the crap sandwich that Bush and his ilk left? Nah, that couldn't be it, could it, John C? I'm sure all these principled and freedom loving Americans were totally planning protests when Bush and the GOP were passing tax cuts for the wealthy, starting uneccessary wars and enacting huge federal mandates all without paying for them. You all were set to march on DC when Bush was pushing through his bailouts and increasing the size and reach of government into our lives, right? Right, John C? What happened? Did they get rained out?

Posted by: GiggsisGod on September 15, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK
The mall in Washington, D.C. was something to behold on Saturday with the hundreds of thousands of people.

Meanwhile, back in reality, fewer people showed up at the Mall this weekend (despite weeks of ads on Faux and the talk shows and the corporate backing) than show up for the average KC Chiefs game. And the Chiefs suck.

None of those people were worshiping a 'cult-like' leader....

No, just cult-like beliefs -- ones based on lies and hypocrisy and cluelessness about even basic definitions (e.g. a person cannot be fascist and socialist at the same time; pick an insult, already).

they're just individuals fighting for freedom...

Yes ... freedom to be without health care! Freedom to give all your money to the rich through regressive taxes! Freedom to be unemployed! Freedom to give corporations more rights than actual people! Freedom to be racists! Freedom to be ignorant and willfully f-ing stupid! And, of course, the freedom to posses weapons-grade stupidity!

Thankfully, a vast majority of Americans realize just how fringe you all are, and are willing to leave you all behind as we move forward.

Posted by: Mark D on September 15, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK
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