The historical disconnect

THE HISTORICAL DISCONNECT…. During the overnight debate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emphasized the partisan nature of the health care proceedings. He reminded his colleagues that Social Security and Medicare passed with considerable GOP support, which, from McConnell’s narrow perspective, necessarily means Democrats are doing something wrong now.

We’ve been through this a few times — it was a standard conservative talking point over the summer — but since it’s about to come up a whole lot more often, it’s worth reviewing how misguided the criticism is.

McConnell may have forgotten, but FDR and LBJ led during a time when moderate and liberal Republicans were still fairly common. Neither Democratic president had trouble finding sensible GOP lawmakers who were anxious to work towards progressive policy goals. President Obama, however, is stuck trying to find common ground with a right-wing reactionary party, and not surprisingly, the GOP minority prefers to slap away the outstretched hand.

Harold Meyerson had a good piece on this in July:

[B]ipartisanship ain’t what it used to be, and for one fundamental reason: Republicans ain’t what they used to be. It’s true that there was considerable Republican congressional support, back in the day, for Social Security and Medicare. But in the ’30s, there were progressive Republicans who stood to the left of the Democrats…. Today, no such Republicans exist.

Nicholas Beaudrot put it this way: “[I]t’s simply not meaningful to compare the present circumstances to those faced by Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt when it comes to bipartisanship…. Barack Obama faces partisan polarization not seen since Woodrow Wilson was President.”

What’s more, McConnell’s choice of examples is striking. Is there any doubt that McConnell and his caucus would strongly reject Social Security and Medicare if they were proposed today?

Social Security and Medicare, of course, were government-run programs paid for by straight tax increases. They were far more offensive to conservatives than the current legislation, which funds a mostly-private sector health-care expansion by trimming the budget of Medicare, America’s largest single-payer health-care system. […]

Medicare could not be passed today because there would be no Republican votes, and too few Democratic votes. Social Security would be similarly hapless…. Tonight’s vote was a moment of enormous progress for social justice, but evidence of enormous regression in our political system.

McConnell’s argument made it sound as if Democrats are to blame for Republicans becoming too conservative. It’s hardly a compelling pitch.