CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The sordid shutdown mess in Washington arose because Republicans in Congress are hell-bent to demolish the 2010 Affordable Care Act and prevent 30 million lower-income Americans from obtaining medical insurance.
This sad episode fits a century-old pattern we have described many times: Conservatives oppose almost every humane social advance that helps average folks. National columnist Richard Reeves outlined part of it Tuesday, as follows:
In the 1930s, when Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt struggled to create Social Security pensions for the aging, Republicans in Congress fought him tooth-and-nail. Rep. John Taber denounced it as a plan "to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers." Rep. Daniel Reed said it would put Americans "under the lash of the dictator." Sen. Daniel Hastings said Social Security would "end the progress of a great country." Rep. William Ditter said it would make Americans "puppets of a socialistic state."
Luckily, liberals defeated 1930s conservative clamor, and Social Security became a bulwark of U.S. democracy.
Similar, when Democratic President Lyndon Johnson struggled to create Medicare for the elderly in the 1960s, Republicans resisted viciously. George H.W. Bush called it "socialized medicine." Bob Dole boasted that he was "fighting the fight, voting against Medicare ... because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965." Ronald Reagan warned that creeping federal programs would "invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country." Barry Goldwater sneered that government might as well give seniors "food baskets ... vacation resorts... cigarettes for those who smoke and beer for those who drink."
Later, in 1995, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich bragged that he was trying to ensure that Medicare would "wither on the vine."
During the past century, conservatives also tried to block voting by women, and birth control for couples, and equality for blacks, and later equality for gays, and various other human rights steps. Fortunately, liberals prevailed, time after time after time.
The current Washington nightmare over the Affordable Care Act is just another battle in this never-ending struggle. In the end, we're sure that Democrats will win, and 30 million more "working poor" Americans will gain health coverage. Eventually, we hope, America will join other advanced democracies that guarantee medical care as a human right for everyone.
But it's predictable that Republicans will try to block that human right, as they have all others.