Healthcare – victory for America’s soul?

In a New York Times News Service essay, published by The Guardian yesterday, Paul Krugman was fulsome in welcoming Sunday’s healthcare vote:

 It seems the Democrats have done it. The Senate version of health reform will become law, with an improved version coming through reconciliation. This is, of course, a political victory for Obama, and a triumph for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. But it is also a victory for America’s soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.

In the main part of his essay, he argues that Obama’s appeal before the vote was the right one.  It may not have been the clincher, but it neatly set our reasons for voting.

“Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made … And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.”

The opposition – mostly GOPers – could never put together anything like a convincing argument a against the proposals.

….here’s what Newt Gingrich – the Republican former speaker of the House and a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader – had to say: if Democrats pass health reform, “they will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.

I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, [Obhama’s] closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that Lyndon B Johnson did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)

It is a pity that Krugman’s argument was subsequently damaged by the revelation that the Washington Post  had written that Gingrich’s was talking about Johnson’s civil rights programme  rather than to Johnson’s Great Society policies. Still, it remains true that many of the arguments against the healthcare plan were in many ways no better than the one Krugman wrongly attributed to Gingrich.


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