Richard Cohen: The Health-Care Vote: One More Step on a Long, Slow Journey





[Richard Cohen writes for the Washington Post.]

...Do not underestimate the importance of Sunday's House vote. It was momentous, and it will not be repealed by the results of the November elections. Against the hopes and insistence of the GOP, America did not reverse Social Security (as late as the Eisenhower administration, that was the fervent wish of the party's right wing) or Medicaid. The worth of these programs became evident, and thus they became politically sacrosanct....

The reason this fight took so long is that the culture is about evenly divided. It's not that the political system is broken. On the contrary, it's not supposed to work without consensus. It did as designed -- marched in place and bided its time until Sunday, when it moved just a bit. Consider how long it has taken. Harry Truman wanted this bill.

Anger comes from fear. What was once a white Protestant nation is changing hue and religion. It is no accident that racial epithets were yelled at black lawmakers on Saturday in Washington and a kind of venom even gets exclaimed from the floor of the Congress: "You lie!" "Baby killer!" The protesters were protesting health-care legislation. But they feared they were losing their country.

Ever since the New Deal, the GOP has been the Party of the Past. It said no to the New Deal. It said no to Social Security. Important leaders -- Barry Goldwater, for instance -- said no to civil rights, as they now are saying no to gay rights. The party plays the role of the scold, the finger-wagger who warns of this or that dire outcome -- not all of it wrong -- and then gets bypassed by progress. The GOP then picks itself up and resumes its fight -- against the next innovation. Usually, it wins some battles; usually, it loses the war.

McConnell had his point. Europe is way ahead of us in compassion for the sick. Its systems, though, are hardly perfect, and government debt is always a concern. Still, we know which way we are going. The culture wars will continue, but the outcome, Mitch, is no longer in doubt.

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