Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The individual mandate and conservative hysteria

I was going to use the following excerpt as my Quote of the Day, but then I saw this fine cartoon that fits it so well. I don't want to change the format on my quotes - again - but that's no problem. I've got lots of quotes I can use.

Still, I don't really have much to add to this great column by Jonathan Chait:
Starting in the early 1980s, up through well into 2009, the individual mandate was an eminently respectable Republican position, embraced by conservative policy wonks and leading Republicans. Since then, virtually the whole of the conservative movement has coalesced around the position that the individual mandate is not merely misguided but actually unconstitutional, a fact conservatives somehow overlooked during the previous three decades. ...

Conservatism's sudden lurch from supporting (or tolerating) the individual mandate to opposing it as a dagger in the heart of freedom is a phenomenon that merits not intellectual analysis but psychoanalysis. This is simply how conservatives respond in the face of every liberal advance. At such moments the nation is always teetering on the precipice between freedom and socialism. The danger never comes to pass, yet no lesson is ever learned. We simply progress intermittently from hysterical episode to hysterical episode.

David Leonhardt wrote about this historical phenomenon in the New York Times the other day, and as he graciously notes, I described it at length last year:
In the right-wing mind, the world we live in at any given moment can be described as the free market, the American way of life, perhaps not a perfect world but a cherished and fundamentally free one. The next advance of liberalism will always bring socialism, tyranny, a crushing burden on industry, and other horrors. The previous liberal advances that they or their predecessors greeted with such hysteria are eventually incorporated into the landscape of the free American way of life.
That is how in forty years conservatives could progress from dire warnings about the danger of Medicare to virulent defenses of Medicare against Democratic plans to trim its waste. Conservatism's virulent turn against the individual mandate is simply a case of the normal pattern working in reverse – a sound, free market policy eventually transmutes into the Death of Freedom, rather than vice versa.

You might check out those links to David Leonhardt, too. Here's how his article in the New York Times begins:
“We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program,” said one prominent critic of the new health care law. It is socialized medicine, he argued. If it stands, he said, “one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
The health care law in question was Medicare, and the critic was Ronald Reagan. He made the leap from actor to political activist, almost 50 years ago, in part by opposing government-run health insurance for the elderly. ...

We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed.

In a related blog post, here, Leonhardt provides links to many sources documenting the history of this. An excerpt:
Beyond Medicare, the New Republic has compiled a list of quotations, going back to 1894, that summarize the opposition to child-labor laws, woman’s suffrage and various other civil rights and benefits.

There was the so-called Southern Manifesto, the 1956 statement against Brown v. Board of  Education, that was signed by 101 members of Congress. The Wall Street Journal’s past editorials — on civil rights, Medicare and other matters — are available here, for about $5 each. The Service Employees International Union has compiled quotations from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all on health care, here. Time Magazine has looked specifically at the historical opposition to Social Security.

None of this is new. In fact, hysteria from the far-right is pretty much the norm when there's any advance. Aren't you terrified about child-labor laws infringing on our rights? Doesn't woman's suffrage mean the end of America as we know it? Aren't you demanding that Congress do away with Social Security and Medicare?

Heck, I don't know. You could probably go back even further. After all, we had to fight a war to end slavery and "destroy the Southern way of life." And maybe, way back when, there were loons protesting against public schools, public libraries, and public fire departments, those terrible examples of socialism in America.

No comments: