Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Last month at a town hall meeting in his state, United States Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont made the important point that” health care is the civil rights issue of the moment.” He was so right! Just as in the 50s and early 60s, conservatives everywhere are working overtime to ensure that the rights they enjoy will continue to be denied to millions of their fellow citizens.

It is shameful but true that in 1950 most Americans were satisfied with the status quo vis-a- vis civil rights. A majority of whites in the south believed that African Americans should be kept in their places because, to their minds, they were ignorant, lazy and bent on ravishing white southern womanhood. Those in the north who opposed integration and full rights for blacks were a bit more refined. William F. Buckley’s influential right wing magazine, National Review (NR) referred to whites as “the advanced race,” and defended the efforts of states like Mississippi in their efforts to disenfranchise blacks, noting that “…the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.”

Well it certainly is interesting to see history repeating itself. It appears that not much has changed since those times. Just like the segregationists of days past, many on the right side of the aisle are currently railing against any kind of substantive reform in the realm of health care because they are more than satisfied with the status quo. Then as now, their reasoning is thus, “it is too messy and unsettling to do the right thing so let’s just keep things just as they are and insist that everything is fine.”

In 1950, most Americans could use whatever hotel, restaurant, swimming pool or playground that suited them. Most Americans in 1950 could marry whomever they wanted, and if they were smart enough, go to the state university or law school that their tax dollars supported. But the sad fact is that in the 1950s there were millions of hard working (and tax paying) Americans who could not. Even worse, most of those in the white majority did not have the guts, inclination or integrity to do anything about the situation.

It is worth noting that not everyone who was against integration at the time was a racist. A great many of those in the white majority would have likely agreed with the idea that we are all equal in the eyes of God. However, while their inaction on the issue of civil rights for ALL Americans was not necessarily based on hatred of blacks, it was based perhaps on something even more detestable, the idea that “I’m just fine, so leave me alone and the hell with everyone else.” Most whites at the time were not comfortable being around African Americans. Rather then put up with some personal discomfort they chose to ignore the obvious, namely that millions of their fellow citizens were being denied the same rights they enjoyed.

Just as on the issue of civil rights, in the months to come you will hear a wide range of conservative politicians give you a host of reasons why health care reform is not needed at this time. When you hear this, remember that somewhere in this great nation there are hard working Americans who are unable to get the care they need and deserve. Many have diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. . If they lived in England or Canada this would not be the case. However, in the richest country in the world, they must suffer because, similar to the issue of civil rights, far too many of our nation’s citizens are too selfish and greedy to do the right thing.

Back in 1950, the average American could have given you a million good reasons why giving civil rights to black Americans would create more problems than it would solve. Today these same kinds of people will tell you that the best thing to do in the area of health care is “nothing.” What they fail to realize is that their thinking and reasoning was morally bankrupt in the 1950’s and is even more so today.” In the past, the right has voted against Social Security, Medicare, the GI Bill and health care for children. It seems that anytime our nation tries to do anything for the whole of our society the right stands ready to give a bevy of reasons why nothing should change. The simple fact is that we need to take care of all of our nation’s citizens. Giving adequate care to some while others go without is quite simply shameful and truly un-American. Unlike 1950, we should have the guts to do the right thing, rather than the “right” thing.

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