Nothing new under the sun

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN…. Recently, President Obama has made a more conscious effort to note that while right-wing detractors are bashing the idea of health care reform now, their forebears were doing the same thing when previous progressive presidents tackled major challenges.

As the president reminded Congress last week, “In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.”

But there’s more than a just a general parallel here — in many instances, conservatives have used the same language to stand in the way of domestic policy progress. Media Matters had a great report on this in March, and I was encouraged to see Bloomberg News have a similar piece today.

The debate is about health care. The threat is of a march toward “socialism.” The words come from a famous voice.

Not Sarah Palin in 2009. It was Ronald Reagan in 1961.

“From here, it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism,” Reagan, then an actor, warned in a 1961 record sponsored by the American Medical Association after President John F. Kennedy created a commission that laid the foundation for Medicare. […]

In 1945, the AMA helped portray Truman’s proposal for national health insurance as a creep toward communism. Three years later, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce produced a pamphlet, “You and Socialized Medicine.” […]

The experiences of Truman, Kennedy and Clinton offer lessons for Obama, said Richard Rapaport, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley who has researched the AMA’s initiative in the 1960s, dubbed “Operation Coffeecup.”

Once the public associates the word “socialism” with a plan, it’s hard to change the impression, he said. In 1945, when Truman addressed Congress about a national insurance plan, 75 percent of Americans supported the proposal. By 1949, after it was targeted by opponents, only 21 percent did.

When JFK first raised the prospect of Medicare, Reagan warned that it had to be stopped or that generation would “spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” When FDR proposed Social Security, a Republican congressman said, “If this bill becomes law, the lash of the dictator will be felt.”

Glenn Beck and his minions are annoying, but they’re not exactly breaking new ground.