David Leonhardt has a new column highlighting how the historical tension between the two American traditions of laissez-faire and progressivism have led conservatives to oppose every expansion of the social safety net from Social Security to Medicare, and of course, the Affordable Care Act:
The federal income tax, a senator from New York said a century ago, might mean the end of “our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom.” Social Security was actually a plan “to Sovietize America,” a previous head of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1935. The minimum wage and mandated overtime pay were steps “in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism,” the National Association of Manufacturers charged in 1938. After Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954, 101 members of Congress signed a statement calling the ruling an instance of “naked judicial power” that would sow “chaos and confusion” and diminish American greatness. A decade later, The Wall Street Journal editorial board described civil rights marchers as “asking for trouble” and civil rights laws as being on “the outer edge of constitutionality, if not more.” This year’s health care overhaul has now joined the list.
In this sense, the 20 or so legal challenges and the conservative opposition to reform is in no way unusual. But what’s still unique about this effort, I would argue, is how Republicans are still re-litigating the health reform debate after losing the legislative struggle.
As James Morone — a professor of political science at Brown University — told Lester Feder back in June, “interest groups always continued to fight to get the best deal possible in implementation. But that’s very different from it being Democrats versus Republicans or liberals versus conservatives.” “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.”
And, Republicans are doing all of this with an incredible amount of passion. Repealing the law has become the GOP’s top priority and if you speak to Republican staffers on the hill, they’ll tell you that their bosses will never, ever, accept that reform has become law and will work very hard to repeal the measure. “Why should we accept something that’s unconstitutional,” they ask. There may be a long history of opposition to progressive ideas, but I don’t’ think it’s ever been this well pronounced or coordinated after a major legislative victory.