Speaking before the Senate on December 6 Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid compared the struggle for health care reform to the abolition of slavery. The Republican naysayers, he stated, reminded him of the people “who dug in their heels and said slow down” when the United States “belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery.”
Was it not a Republican president who abolished slavery? Was it not the Republican Party that was willing to wage civil war on the issue? Were it not Republicans who passed the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1866? Were it not Republicans who established the Freedmen’s Bureau? And was it not a majority of Republicans who voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 over considerable opposition from Southern Democrats? It is not surprising therefore that up until President Johnson launched his “Great Society” many African Americans voted Republican.
Since the 1960s the two parties have switched roles somewhat. Once progressive, today’s Republican Party is a conservative movement, in recent years heavily influenced by the Christian Right while the Democrats, once staunchly conservative and even separatist are now politically leftist.
When it came to acknowledging “the wrongs of slavery” however it were Democrats “who dug in their heels and said slow down” up until the 1960s. Republicans by then had fought against slavery and segregation for more than a hundred years.
Reid doesn’t do himself nor his party a particular service by drawing the country’s painful history with racism into the modern day health care debate. His misreading of that history is offensive and bound to further discredit the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care in the United States.