David Leonhardt is not happy with a judge's ruling a vital part of Obama-care - the individual insurance mandate - is unconstitutional. In his latest front-page "Economic Scene" column, "In Health Law, Old Arguments Get New Airing," the paper's neo-liberal conscience on economic matters compared conservative opposition to Obama-care not only to past opposition to Medicare, but to opposition to civil rights for black Americans.
"We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program," said one prominent critic of the new health care law. It is socialized medicine, he argued. If it stands, he said, "one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."
The health care law in question was Medicare, and the critic was Ronald Reagan. He made the leap from actor to political activist, almost 50 years ago, in part by opposing government-run health insurance for the elderly.
Today, the supposed threat to free enterprise is a law that's broader, if less radical, than Medicare: the bill Congress passed this year to create a system of privately run health insurance for everyone. On Monday, a federal judge ruled part of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will probably need to settle the matter in the end.
We've lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed.
Is Leonhardt really comparing opposition to government control over health care to opposition to civil rights for blacks?
Leonhardt again put Obama-care in the same sacrosanct position as civil rights:
Both traditions have been crucial to creating the most prosperous economy and the largest middle class the world has ever known. Laissez-faire conservatism has helped make the United States a nation of entrepreneurs, while progressivism has helped make prosperity a mass-market phenomenon.
Yet the two traditions have never quite reconciled themselves. In particular, conservatives have often viewed any expansion of government protections as a threat to capitalism.
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."
Leonhardt continued his relentless front-page cheerleading for "moderate" Obama-care.
In truth, the law is quite moderate. It is more conservative than President Bill Clinton's 1993 plan or President Richard Nixon's 1974 plan (in which the federal government would have covered anyone who wasn't insured through an employer). It's much more conservative than expanding Medicare to cover everyone. It is clearly one of the least radical ways for the United States to end its status as the only rich country with millions and millions of uninsured.