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Is the GOP on the wrong side of history?

The Republican Party, eyeing the 2010 elections, has convinced itself that the health care bill, slowly, but surely progressing through Congress, will be what political experts call, their “wedge issue.”  They are already talking about targeted seats, and pickups in the House, sufficient, or so they claim, to give them back control of the lower chamber.

It is grandiose talk and not unusual posturing for a party desperate for a comeback. The Democrats have been just as good at such posturing when they’ve been on the outs.  But this time, in crowing about voter resentment and anxiety surrounding the health bill, and what they hope will be a backlash at the polls in 2010, they had better think again. The new health care bill, once it’s enacted, may prove far more popular than anyone at the moment can imagine.
It’s happened before.  In 1935, after raucous debate, divided almost entirely on party lines – Democrats for it and Republicans passionately against it – Democrats in Congress succeeded in passing the Social Security Act.  There were dire predictions from the Republicans that the new bill was just one step away from socialism and a direct challenge to our American way of life.  They claimed it was reckless, dangerous, and oh yes, they assured everyone that it would bankrupt the nation.
For awhile, the public, having heard the details of the debate, and the arguments against it, were skeptical about the new program. However, as they read more, and most importantly in their decision making, eyed their own old age, or that of their parents, they warmed to the idea. Maybe President Roosevelt, along with leaders of the House and Senate, who had pushed and cajoled the bill through Congress, had a good idea after all. Maybe, it was even long overdue.
The Republicans had another view. They were convinced that there was a massive voter backlash brewing that would give them a big boost in the elections the year to follow. But that’s not the way it turned out. In the 1936 Presidential election, President Roosevelt won by the largest majority in history and increased, dramatically, his party’s already lopsided majorities in Congress. The Republicans couldn’t have been more wrong.
But it’s amazing how little politicians, and this year it’s the GOP, learn from history.  When it comes to the health care bill the public has been subjected to a bit of misinformation and all the back and forth behind every compromise. It’s no wonder that they’re a little mystified and even confused by what they’re hearing. However, that’s not going to last. So far, the debate has belonged only to the proposal’s detractors. When this dynamic shifts, and the bill becomes law, that’s going to change.
Several features of the legislation, once they become known and understood, are going to be hard for the Republicans to argue against. Take preexisting conditions for example. Millions of Americans, with everything from diabetes and cancer, as well as more obscure conditions, many of which represent little risk, are denied coverage when they change jobs because they have these preexisting conditions. This cruel practice will come to an end with the new bill. 
Then there is the situation, common to parents with young adult children where their kids can’t get insurance because they don’t have work coverage yet or are still in school. Their parents plans drop them when they turn 18, or in some cases when they’re 21. The new bill will allow parents to keep them on the family policy until they’re 26.
Finally, through breaking down artificial protections for insurance companies, and allowing more dynamic competition in the insurance industry, as well as mandating coverage (while also providing tax breaks to small businesses to help off set the costs) some 30 million previously uninsured Americans will have health care coverage. For many Americans, this prospect alone, which haunts so many people, will no longer be the same gut wrenching fear it is today.
That’s why I am anxious, when the Republicans take to the stump in 2010, to hear them propose repealing what will probably be one of the most popular pieces of legislation in our history. The GOP may find, as they did in 1936, that once again they are on the wrong side of history.  Of course, we’ll have to wait a year or so to see if the American people agree with that conclusion.

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