Reid Compares Health Care to Abolitionism

Republican opposition to health-care reform reminded Harry Reid to legislators who “belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery.”

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.


  1. Did he say the Republican nay-sayers reminded him of the PEOPLE who dug in their heels or the REPUBLICANS who dug in their heels about slavery? Unless he said it was the Republicans who did this, then analogy can still be used.

  2. He said the “people” but since the people who are opposing health care reform are Republicans, it would be a bit pathetic for him to pretend now that he wasn’t really referring to Republicans specifically. Reading further excerpts from his speech (unfortunately I can’t seem to find the whole thing online), it’s pretty obvious that he was taking a shot at the Republican opposition.

  3. He is making a historical analogy, comparing a modern debate with one that occurred over a century ago. As such, whatever his party may have thought or fought for is somewhat irrelevant. While I understand that those opposing the bill may think it offensive (just as those supporting it) it doesn’t mean the analogy cannot be used.

  4. Quite, he was comparing the Republicans of today, who oppose the bill, to the people (Not Republicans, he didn’t say so) who opposed the abolition. The problem you alluded to Nick, seemed to be that he implied that the Republicans opposed abolition, which was false, as you say in yor article.

  5. Let’s assume that he used the analogy objectively—in which case, he would have wanted to criticize his own Democratic predecessors? I do trust politicians to a certain extent, but I don’t buy that his intention was to attack his own party.

    This remark was aimed at the Republicans, comparing them to “the people” who wouldn’t recognize the wrongs of slavery for a long time. Regardless of what you might think of Reid (I, for one, didn’t think an awful lot about him until today), regardless of how you feel about health care reform, and regardless of whether he was thinking about Democrats of Republicans when he made that comparison, it is historically hyperbolic, quite possibly offensive, and most certainly of no relevance to today’s health care debate. The two issues are very different ones.

    If Reid wants to go after the Republicans because all they say is “no, no, no,” that’s good. They aren’t offering any alternatives. They aren’t providing any substantive arguments against the Democrats’ plans. All they offer is “no, we don’t want this and we don’t want that,” along with crazy-talk of “socialized medicine” and “death panels”. But comparing their opposition to health care reform with opposition to the abolition of slavery and civil rights for African-Americans is simply not-done.

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