A Rare Big (Bleeping) Deal For U.S.

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - March 31, 2010
| Del.icio.us

At last week’s signing ceremony for the health care reform bill, an open mic caught Vice President Joe Biden telling President Barack Obama that “This is a big (bleeping) deal.”

It sure the (bleep) is, because historically we Americans - if we can possibly avoid them - don’t do big deals. We practice avoidance instead.

In one of our founding documents, we stated that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” then proceeded to avoid the consequences of that language for the next 300 years.

African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian immigrants and women all were allowed to share that unequal citizenship. White males ... well, we were doing the avoiding and enjoying the “equality.” In 1920, women received the vote, but not equality.

It required the stock market crash of 1929 and the more than decade-long Great Depression to create sufficient national anguish, liberal enough congressional majorities and a determined president named Franklin Delano Roosevelt to give old folks the benefits of Social Security, workers the right to bargain in the National Labor Relations Act, and savers the security of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Those laws constituted “big deals.”


And conservatives didn’t like them. Many on the right called Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, the FDIC and a host of other New Deal bills “socialism” at best, “communism” at worst.

And Franklin Roosevelt? He was “a traitor to his class.”

Following World War II, the United States owned the world’s economy, and President Harry Truman thought the nation strong enough and fair enough to insure health care for all of its citizens. Twice Truman introduced comprehensive health care legislation; twice congressional conservatives thwarted him.

He had better luck with civil rights. Oh, Congress said no, but by executive order Commander-in-Chief Truman integrated the armed forces.

But save for the Supreme Court’s 1954 school integration decision in Brown v Board of Education, there were no more “big deals” for citizens of the United States until 1964. In that year, Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater, the father of modern conservatism, took a terrible drubbing at the hands of Lyndon Johnson. In defeat, Goldwater took a raft of conservative congressmen down with him.

Johnson in the White House, liberal majorities in both houses of Congress, and civil rights activists in the streets resulted in a run of “big deals” over the next four years: the Civil Rights Bills of 1964 and 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Medicare for Americans over 65 and Medicaid for the poor. But still, the wealthiest country in the world failed to provide access to health care for all of its citizens.

Both Presidents Richard Nixon and William Clinton pushed for national health care. Conservatives, both Democrats and Republicans, stopped them.

Last week, after 14 months of some of the most uncivil debate in American memory, a national health care reform bill passed. It required the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, sufficient liberal majorities in Congress and a determined President Barack Obama to do it.

And it is, indeed, a “big deal,” the first in more than 40 years.

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