On Monday, December 7, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took to the Senate floor and compared opponents of his health care legislation to past defenders of slavery and segregation.
"Instead of joining us on the right side of history," Reid accused, "all the Republicans can come up with is, 'slow down, stop everything, let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said 'slow down, it's too early, things aren't bad enough.'"
What Reid doesn't want you to know or remember is that, for much of its history, it was his party that was overwhelmingly on the wrong side of civil rights.
The Republican Party was anti-slavery from its very inception. Indeed, at their first nominating convention in June, 1856, the Republicans declared themselves opposed to "the extension of Slavery." Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, would go on to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, and then in February 1865 sign a resolution sending the 13th Amendment to the states for ratification, ending slavery in the United States forever - all over the fierce objections of congressional Democrats.
Even in the 20th century Democrats were civil rights obstructionists. As Byron Hulsey of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation pointed out in a speech at the National Archives, "Southern Democrats were unalterably opposed to any significant legislation, and Democratic President Lyndon Johnson was forced to reach across the aisle," to Republicans, and especially to Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), who was instrumental in crafting and advancing 1960's civil rights legislation.
Given these historic contributions to civil rights, Reid's comments are not sitting well with Republicans. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) called the remarks "foolish" and "inappropriate." Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, himself African-American, called into question Reid's mental state, noting that the Majority Leader is under tremendous pressure which "has apparently led Senator Reid not only to make offensive and absurd statements, but also to lose his ability to reason."
It's not just Reid, but his entire caucus that appears less than sane these days: According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, on December 14 "Fifty-six percent (56%) of U.S. voters now oppose the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. That's the highest level of opposition found - reached three times before - in six months of polling." And yet Democrats insist on marching toward the health-reform cliff in an apparent lemming-like political suicide.
Why? Is the Democrats' obsession with health care driving them batty?
No, actually. Everything the Democrats are doing in regards to health care makes perfect sense if you remember 1) government-managed health care has been a fervent dream of the political left since Harry Truman, and 2) the election of an apparently popular liberal President in 2008, coupled with Democrats' simultaneous control of Congress, gave them a unique opportunity to realize this dream.
But the Democrats' window for action is shockingly narrow, and they know it - they not only need the political cover given by Obama (whose popularity has already eroded precipitously), they need to move as quickly as possible before the 2010 mid-term elections approach, the proximity to which will make the Blue Dogs increasingly skittish. That leaves 2009.
This is the reason the President and his allies are desperate to pass health care before the end of the year. They know that the political clock is ticking, that their dream is closer than it has been in decades, but is already receding from grasp.
With so much at stake, it is no wonder that many foolish, inappropriate, and uncalled-for things are being said. I just never thought I would see the day when a Democratic leader would compare Republicans to past Democrats.
As a slur.