We got a health care bill passed the other day. That's reason to celebrate - I guess. It's certainly not my version of ideal health care reform. Still, politics is the art of compromise as they say. It's not unlike the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The reason you've probably never heard of that one is because there was not a hell of a lot about it to remember. Mere scraps thrown out to appease the "American Negro" (in the parlance of that era). But its passage made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - the one we remember - somewhat easier to pass seven years later. A precedent had been established. We'll live to fight another day.
A special tip of the hat is in order for President Obama and House Speaker Pelosi for being able to pull this thing off. Two months ago I thought they never would be able to do it given the poisonous atmosphere. They did it. Somehow they did it.
Tonight, old man, you did it! You did it! You did it!
You said that you would do it and indeed you did!
I thought that you would rue it, I doubted you'd do it
But now I must admit it that succeed you did!
Lerner and Loewe--from My Fair Lady
Freedom died in America when this bill was passed - at least according to the Republicans that's what happened. The hours leading up to its passage was like a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane. I was thinking "Selma, Alabama 1965". The news media were fairly low key in their coverage. There was Congressman John Lewis, a virtual icon of Civil Rights and one of that movement's last surviving leaders, walking into the United States capitol building while scores of people hurled "racial epithets" at him. Let's call a spade a spade - no pun intended: These jackasses were chanting "NIGGER! NIGGER! NIGGER!" Another African American lawmaker, Emmanuel Cleaver, was actually spat on. It really bought me back to the weird old days. The only thing missing was Bull Connor with his police dogs and fire hoses.
But seriously, folks! If you still choose to remain blind to the overt racism that is the cornerstone of the so-called "Tea Party Movement", you're kidding yourselves. It is an organization of white supremacists - not much more; not much less. True, you might glimpse an occasional Uncle Tom on the fringes of any gathering, chomping away at a watermelon, but that's merely for decorative purposes; Lester Maddox would have felt right at home with these birds. As if that wasn't bad enough, at this moment Republican lawmakers are urging these assholes to commit violent acts with their inflammatory rhetoric. Do you think I'm exaggerating? Here's something you can take to the bank: Therewill be violence down the road. The reaction to the health care bill by the reactionaries on Capital Hill yesterday virtually guaranteed that. It's only a matter of time. Brace yourselves for the shit storm.
This is one of those good news/bad news scenarios. You've just heard the bad, now hear the good:
The Grand Old Party is screwed.
It was a lot of fun watching these idiotic Republicans "warning" the Democrats that the passage of health care reform will cost them dearly at the polls in November. It's going to cost someone dearly, alright, but it won't be the Dems. Former Bush 43 speechwriter David Frum put it perfectly yesterday when he said that it was the Republicans - not Barack Obama - who had met their "Waterloo". The historical rule of politics, that an incumbent president's party always loses ground in the midterm elections, will go out the window come November. They will be unable to win without the help of the moderates. At this moment, the moderates are abandoning this sinking ship en masse. The extremism of people like Michele Bachmann and John Boehner is starting to scare the hell out of them. Gee, I wonder why!
Then there is the sticky situation of the Tea Party. By this late point it must be obvious to even the casual observer that this is an organization comprised of morons. It was formed as a protest movement against high taxes - immediately after President Obama passed the largest middle class tax cut in American history. There's no denying it, these are not the brightest people on the planet. Their overt racism notwithstanding, they sure are funny! One self-identified Tea Partier called into C-SPAN's Washington Journal the other day asking the moderator where she could write to her congressman. When host Greta Brawner asked this idiotic woman what her congressman's name was, she replied (I assume with a straight face) "He's a Democrat. I don't know his name." Ya gotta love 'em! You just gotta!
Look toward the top of the circus tent, boys and girls! Watch that elephant attempt to walk the tightrope! It's hard not to feel just a smidgen of sympathy for the "Party of Lincoln" (Doesn't that title just tickle the hell out of you?) Embracing the Tea Party last year was akin to kissing a viper. Watching them desperately trying to distance themselves from this bunch is - "amusing," shall we say? On the one hand they don't dare give these a**holes even a token role in putting their platform together at the 2012 convention for fear of further alienating the moderates. On the other hand, they run the risk having them bolt the party, launching a series of third party uprisings. It's already happening in Nevada. Two months ago, I dismissed Harry Reid's chances in November as hopeless. All bets are off. As I write these words, the Republican party in that state is working overtime trying to keep a renegade Tea Partier off the ticket in November. If they're unsuccessful, Reid will have more-than-a fighting chance.
Are you having half as much fun as I watching the utter implosion of that party? I'm gonna miss them when they're gone - I really am!
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, as far as health care in the USA is concerned, this is not the end of our long road. Nor is it the beginning of the end. But, perhaps, it is the end of the beginning.
The commentators keep reminding us that Theodore Roosevelt was the first president who tried to bring universal health care to the American people. That's not quite true. He never really expressed the idea while he was in office. In 1912, Roosevelt had been out of office for four years when he attempted to reclaim the presidency from William Howard Taft, the man he had picked to succeed him. Once in office, Taft began to dismantle most of the progressive reforms that Teddy had put into place.
When Roosevelt sought the nomination once again, his campaign slogan was "a square deal for every man and every woman in the United States." Part of the "Square Deal" was health care for all. He arrived at the convention that summer with all the delegates he needed (and then some) to seize the mantle of standard bearer. It was not to be. His party would betray the people by giving the nomination to Taft in spite of his victory. They had had enough of Theodore Roosevelt and his progressive reforms. 1912 was the year that the progressive wing of the Republican party died. He was the last great Republican president - the very last.
A generation later, TR's distant cousin Franklin attempted to pick up the torch of universal health care. In his 1944 State of the Union address, he told the American people that his major goal for the post-war world was national health insurance. Unfortunately for you and I, FDR did not live to see the war's end. A film of that speech can be viewed in Michael Moore's film, Capitalism: A Love Story. It's is now out on DVD and is essential viewing.
The new health care bill is not perfect - far from it - but as the old Chinese saying goes, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." There will be improvements made on it down the years - there absolutely needs to be - but this is a fairly good first step. We're on our way! The Conservatives will whine, but that's what they do best. They'll whine just as they whined when Lyndon signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just as they whined when Harry Truman desegregated the army in 1947, or when Franklin D. Roosevelt brought Social Security into being in 1935. They'll whine just like they did when Woodrow Wilson tried to form the League of Nations in 1919 - or when Abraham Lincoln ended the institution of slavery in 1863! They whine a lot. Did you ever notice that?
There's gonna be a whole lotta obstruction goin' on between now and Election Day, you can be certain of that. The success of health care reform in America can only spell trouble for the GOP. They will do everything humanly possible to see to it that it fails completely. Count on them trying to get it declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of John Roberts. This is going to get really interesting.
Tom Degan is a 51-year-old video artist who in 2006 became so thoroughly disgusted at the state of America's national political dialogue, he decided to take time off to become a freaking civics teacher.