Sunday, March 21, 2010

Newt Gingrich, health reform, the Civil Rights movement and partisan rancor

I thought this was interesting framing by Newt Gingrich in this morning's Washington Post:

But former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama and the Democrats will regret their decision to push for comprehensive reform. Calling the bill "the most radical social experiment . . . in modern times," Gingrich said: "They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" with the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
As writer Dan Balz notes in the next paragraph, "no one doubts that Johnson was right to push for those civil rights measures." No one does now of course -- at least not openly, if they wish to participate in mainstream politics -- but the reason the civil rights legislation was so devastating for the Democratic Party over time was that there were plenty of people who did think it was wrong for Johnson to push for those measures.

What does this have to do with the health reform debate? 

There's a lot about Republican governance the last 40 years that I've thought annoying at best and damaging to the country at worst. And yet the worst of it has never been so bad that it would justify hopping in a time machine and convincing LBJ not to pass civil rights legislation in order to keep the South in the Democratic column. The tradeoff -- 40 years in the political wilderness in exchange for a legal regime that protected and enforced the rights of African Americans for the first time in our history -- was worth it, frankly.

And if Gingrich's prediction comes true -- I'm not at all sure it will -- I suspect it will again be worth it. Millions of Americans who can't afford health insurance will finally be covered; millions of others who have paid for coverage will actually get to use that coverage instead of seeing it revoked when they get sick. A legal regime that enables all Americans to access and use health care is, frankly, the least that can happen in the richest civilization this planet has ever seen.

Republicans might be able to tap into anger among some voters to ride back into power. But it's unlikely they'll have the stones to repeal health reform -- last seen in power, of course, they were expanding the Medicare entitlement that conservatives had vociferously opposed a generation earlier. So they can have the presidency for the next 40 years, if they want. Power is important, but so is the end to which it is used. Democrats might be sacrificing their power now, but for a worthy cause. I'm OK with that.

1 comment:

Robyn E. said...

I like that statement. Often I wonder what two big parties could ever do that would really, truly be useful, and I guess that's the answer - become martyrs for the cause, if the cause is good enough.