Dial an Asshat

>> Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Ari said.

I realize there's an element of hyperbole to the analogy I'm about to draw, but I just finished one of several lectures on Reconstruction that I give at the beginning of my post-Civil War survey course, so my thoughts on health care reform have a contingent, curricular shape to them today. The greatest failure of Reconstruction, of course, was the white republic's inability to perceive that the political liberty of freedpersons as well as the overall decency of their existence was undermined by the scarcity of their economic opportunities -- a scarcity that was replaced in quite short order by an enduring, multi-generational gulag of debt servitude. The economic needs of emancipated slaves were abundantly documented and entered into the public record in a great variety of ways, and yet a Congress overwhelmingly comprised of Republicans decided in relatively short order -- by 1869, really -- to scale back its efforts, operating on the mistaken belief they'd done enough. Reconstruction fizzled, and the rest of the story hardly needs reviewing.

Quite simply, the failure of Reconstruction amounts to the greatest domestic policy fuck-up in US history; a fuck-up so grand and apparently satisfying that subsequent generations of white Congressional and Presidential leadership were pleased to repeat the error, if only (for the least malicious, at least) by ignoring the problem or by dismissing remedies as too difficult or controversial to actually enact. And as it happened for so many decades, there simply weren't the votes in Congress to flesh out the 14th and 15th Amendments, or to pass anti-lynching legislation over the yowls of white supremacists. The blame for this rested largely, but not exclusively, with the Senate, where the Dyer Act or the 1957 Civil Rights Act were either asphyxiated or drained of any real force by filibusters that demeaned the entire nation. Sure, House conservatives joined in the nonsense as often as possible, but while the House might help enact terrible laws or avoid taking up decent causes, reform efforts never -- at least so far as I can tally it -- went to the House to die.

Until now, apparently. Now, there's no sense in comparing the tens of millions of uninsured Americans with the condition of emancipated slaves and the three or four generations who followed them. At the same time, however, I would suggest that the century-long inability of the US to adequately develop a comprehensive system of health insurance does rank in the same elite class of policy fuck-ups that includes our shameful, century-long avoidance of meaningful civil rights legislation. Now obviously, the Senate bill that's currently being drowned in the House bathtub is inadequate on so many counts that hardly bear repeating; it's not the analogue of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in other words. But neither is it the analogue of the 1957 bill, which accomplished virtually nothing other than establishing a precedent for more elaborate federal action a few clicks farther down the road. The Senate health care bill seems rather to be something in between, and for the life of me I can't believe it's the House that's blowing this.

So anyway, again -- what Ari said. Call your representatives. I'm even going to give Don Young's office a futile ring tomorrow, if for no other reason than to entertain myself. Your mileage, however, may vary.


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