Health Reform And The Midterm Elections — A Historical Perspective

NBC’s presidential historian Michael Beschloss added one more important point of historical context to the ongoing question of how much the actual policies in the Affordable Care Act have contributed to the Democrats’ poor showing in the polls and tomorrow’s expected Republican electoral wave. Beschloss recalled that despite a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate, President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized that he had a narrow window of opportunity to pass Medicare and other “Great Society” programs before the public turned against him.

He did and they did:

BESCHLOSS: Look at 1965. Lyndon Johnson came in, if you can believe it Rachel, two-thirds of the senate was Democrats, two-thirds of the House was Democrats. But even despite that, LBJ said, this doesn’t happen very often, I’ve got six months. He used those six months to get through the Great Society, Medicare, voting rights, very basic programs. He said after that they’re going to start voting against me and there will be a backlash. He was absolutely right. The Democrats had huge setbacks in Congress in 1966, but LBJ and the Great Society had probably more of an influence on Americans in terms of saying where the Democratic party is, for well or ilk, than probably any other president of the period.

Watch it:

If anything underscores the point that these kinds of social reforms are investments that could yield long-term dividends for the country it’s that today most Republicans are pledging to protect Medicare from the cuts in the health law and are campaigning against reform’s cuts to the program.

Of course, what’s unique about the health reform debate is that Republicans are still opposing the legitimacy of the law. As James Morone — a professor of political science at Brown University — has pointed out, “Normally in our political system, when we have enormous battles over legislation, most political actors consider the politics done when the legislative battle is over. What’s new here is the idea that the battle goes on into the implementation phase. This wasn’t true for Social Security, it wasn’t true for Medicare, it wasn’t true for civil rights.” “I’m not sure the Democrats have been quite this insistent after losing legislation. To have the Republican Party be this forceful about a position after the normal political process has run its course is pretty extraordinary,” he added.