Major legislative breakthroughs are always controversial

MAJOR LEGISLATIVE BREAKTHROUGHS ARE ALWAYS CONTROVERSIAL…. Americans now consider programs like Medicare bedrocks of our society, but it was not always thus.

Dem leadership staff is highlighting a series of numbers from 1962 on President John F. Kennedy’s proposal. In July of that year, a Gallup poll found 28% in favor, 24% viewing it unfavorably, and a sizable 33% with no opinion on it — showing an evenly divided public.

A month later, after JFK’s proposal went down, an Opinion Research Corporation poll found 44 percent said it should have been passed, while 37% supported its defeat — also showing an evenly divided public.

Also in that poll, a majority, 54%, said it was a serious problem that “government medical insurance for the aged would be a big step toward socialized medicine.”

The point, as Greg Sargent emphasized, is that “passing dramatic, history-making reform in the face of intense organized opposition has never been politically easy.”

Risk-averse lawmakers never want to hear this, but it takes some courage.

If it’s any consolation to wavering Dems, progressive policymakers are always vindicated by history.

In 1935, Republican opponents of Social Security insisted that Roosevelt’s “socialistic” plan would, among other things, force all Americans to wear dog tags. Not quite a half-century ago, conservative critics of Medicare seriously argued, in public, that the law would empower bureaucrats to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where all Americans were allowed to live. Around the same time, many opponents of the Civil Rights Act believed the fabric of America was being torn apart by the legislation.

Right-wing arguments of today are absurd, but they are branches on a large and ridiculous tree.

The question now is whether Democrats will do as their predecessors did — overcome the lies and scare tactics, stick to their principles, and pass their agenda anyway.

Major change is always scary and controversial initially, until it becomes law and Americans realize the fears were unfounded. There’s every reason to believe the same will be true with the current reform proposal.

Just 216 House lawmakers simply have to pass … the … damn … bill.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.