Wednesday, December 15, 2010


In the context of the battle over the health care law, David Leonhardt of The New York Times looks back at rhetoric used by opponents of earlier government social programs. He starts with this:

"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....

It seems to me that while teabaggers and other wingnuts don't oppose Medicare these days as a rule, they actually do spend their time trying to tell everyone "what it once was like in America when men were free." The Beckbots, especially, believe that we need to reclaim the values of a lost Golden Age.

But when the hell was that Golden Age? And who among the wingnuts actually remembers any of it? FDR was elected 78 years ago. And, of course, Beck thinks the "cancer" of progressivism took root earlier than FDR's time, in the time of the evil Woodrow Wilson and, prior to him, the evil Teddy Roosevelt.

Which means that, according to the Beck cult, just about every American now alive has been suffering from the "cancer" of progressivism since birth. It's been nothing but tyranny for our entire lives.

Did right-wingers think they were victims of tyranny all that time? Did they feel that way during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan? Do the octogenarians and nonagenarians who were GIs in the World War II generation now think they were sent to war for a lie, because the freedom they were told they were fighting for turned out to be liberal fascism? Did they hate the Eisenhower/Leave It to Beaver/GI Bill world they came back to, for its relentless Big Brother oppression?

All I'm asking is: If "big government" is so horrifying, and if we've endured a century of it, shouldn't right-wingers have thought so throughout that century? And if they did, why didn't we hear their cries relentlessly all that time, like Soviet dissidents? Why do we hear them complain only when a new social program is being proposed -- and, by the way, usually never afterward?

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