Dan Rather on President Obama, LBJ and HCR:

night, I saw Dan Rather on the  Rachel
Maddow show.  Some people have suggested
that today, the country is polarized the way it was in the 1960s. But Rather
reminds us that when Congress passed Medicare in 1965, President Johnson was
operating in a very different landscape.  Reading this interview, one realizes what
President Obama has been up against. He beings by observing that, if he
succeeds, President Obama will be making history:

RATHER: “It will be the signature
achievement of this first term, perhaps the only term, but a signature
achievement of President Obama`s this term. And whether one likes it or not,
disagrees with it or not, it takes up the line that started with Social
Security, ran through Medicare and Medicaid, which was passed more than 40
years ago, 45 years ago, and it will be put in that category. [Rather is not saying that Obama will be a one-term president.
But he is suggesting that even if he only has four years, he will have
accomplished more than the vast majority of two-term presidents.-mm]

if it passes, and if it is put into effect, I expect it will be in the first
paragraph of President Obama`s obituary, that he passed health care reform,
partly because so many presidents — President Johnson was successful, but

When Lyndon Johnson was able to get Medicare passed in 1965, is there any
useful comparison to make or contrast to draw between the political environment
in which he was able to make that happen in `65, and the way — and the
environment in which Obama has been able to presumably make this happen if he
does it?

Well, there are certainly a lot of contrasts. First of all, remember that
President Johnson got this landmark legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, passed
in the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy. He ascended to the
presidency. And the country was aching
to not only appear to be, but to be united.  [this is very true–mm]

have my doubts whether President Johnson could have gotten Medicare and
Medicaid pass if it had not been for the assassination of President Kennedy and
the mood the country was into after that. Then, the second thing, that there
was — certainly it was political
warfare, and the kind of no holds barred political warfare. But nothing like
the polarization in Washington and nothing like the polarization in the country
existed at that time


And –

I always think that — I look at the polarization we have now and I think oh
every generation must think that they`re the most polarized time ever.


You think we are actually. . . . [here, one realizes
how young Maddow is—mm]

I think we are. This is the most
polarized the country has been certainly since the 1960s over the Vietnam War,
and I think even more so than then, and Washington is unquestionably more

Lyndon Johnson got Medicare and
Medicaid passed,
given the special circumstances in
the wake of President Kennedy`s assassination, but he did so with some Republican support.

That`s right.

The Republican Party was almost totally
different. You had three wings of the Republican Party Lyndon Johnson was
dealing with. You had the liberal Republicans, and they would call that people
like Jake Javits, the senator from New York. You had moderate Republicans, many
of them from the upper Midwest, and then you had self-described more
conservative Republicans.  [
Yes, and the liberal Democrats were powerful in states like
N.Y. –mm]

You had the three. That made it a
totally different situation than today.
Republican Party was not completely totally united against it. It was, in the
main, united against it, but you see the difference.

now the Republicans, whether — again
whether you like it or not, they have been from
a strictly political/practical standpoint, well disciplined, well organized and
a total and complete absolute united front against health care. [
He is right:  The
Republican party has become monolithic in a way that it never was.  It’s
easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. Something very strange has
happened within our government.  mm]

Lyndon Johnson didn`t face that.

 . . .  the Senate leadership had a lot of what we
call the, quote, “old votes,”  . . . Senate
changed a lot in the early 1970s, but in this period in the 1960s when Medicare
and Medicaid were passed, that — the seniority system was much stronger.

had a lot of people who had been in the Senate and the House for a long time,
some of them 35 to 40 years. And President Johnson himself had been a
congressman and senator for a very long time.  [The old bulls provided leadership. Some [and
I’m including Republicans here) were even statesmen. Now, we have Mitch McConnell]

It was almost a completely different
landscape from which President Obama is operating today. . . .

 . . . I`m — back from a trip to
California and some other places in the country, the country is angry. This is as angry as I`ve seen the country. Republicans,
Democrats, independents, mugwamps, whatever they are.. They`re really angry.

A lot of it springs from the
recession, almost depression that we went through and a sense that we`re not
all the way through it yet
. And that
anger is going to be interesting to see how it cuts in the November elections.
Very, very interesting. 
[My guess is that many incumbents will lose their seats—Republicans as
well as Democrats: Voters will say, “Throw the bums out”– mm.’}


20 thoughts on “Dan Rather on President Obama, LBJ and HCR:

  1. It was interesting to read through the deliberations before Social Security went into effect.
    There seemed to be a lot of conflict on the constitutionality of allowing the Congress to get into the insurance business.
    There was also concern about how the reserves in the trust fund could be kept intact.
    Here are the words of Noel Sargent, representing the National Association of Manufacturers: “Serious consideration must be given to the fact that creation of such a huge market for Government bonds establishes an artificial situation, an artificial base for government credit. It thus encourages further Government borrowing and opens practically unlimited possibilities of reckless public financing, since there would be enormouis pressure from without, and perhaps from within, upon Congress to authorize accumulated reserves. With billions of dollars appartently in the Treasury how great will the pressure be for vast Government expenditures of all kinds from these funds.
    If such a distribution or spending program should once be started it would grow like a snowball and would lead to practically uncontrolled Government spending and impared Government credit.
    Well, this is exactly what happened – Government borrowing from itself.
    If I could borrow from myself, it would seem to be a win-win, whether or not I paid myself back!
    Go to: http://www.ssa.gov/history/pdf/s35sargent.pdf.
    Look on page 953.
    Don Levit

  2. It was definitely an interesting interview. The commentary regarding the Republicans being so united and adamantly opposed to the bill does point to the problems that seem to have affected democracy in the US for some time. As Obama stated, the differences in this bill point to the ability or inability of these parties to work with one another for some time to come. I don’t see much possibility for cooperation after these interactions over the health bill.

  3. We have a similarly monolithic Conservative party up here in Canada at the moment. As far as I can see, the party discipline consists of the only the leader and a small handful of MPs being allowed to speak without express permission from the leader, and a large number of them being knuckleheads and proving why they are kept quiet whenever they get off the leash.
    Party discipline is all very well, you need it to get anything done, but what we have right now is a conservative party which is a steel-tipped bullet with a silly putty body. That this structure can take and hold power is quite annoying.

  4. Government GRants–
    Yes, I think we are going back in time.
    U.S. history tends to be a series of pendulum swings –from conservative to liberal.
    The 1990s were much like the 1920s, and now I think we’re in a period that will be much like hte 1930s–
    Serious economic problems, but also progressive reforms.
    At the same time, the country was extremely polarized back then. FDR was the most hated presdient since Lincoln.
    Obama also is (and will be ) hated if he continues to stand up for change as he did (finally!) in the case of health care reform.
    FDR said: “They hate me; I welcome their hate.”
    FDR was considered a traitor to his class because he raised taxes on the rich and brought in the “New Deal.” Eleanor Roosevelt also was hated because she stood up for African Americans– leading to rumors that she was having an affair with a black man.
    In the 1960s, we saw a decade that mirrored the 1930s, though without the same economic problems. Disagreement over the war in Vietnam was bitter, though toward the end (once we instituted a draft through a lottery) the majority of Americans were opposed to the war.
    I remember the 1960s–and Rather is right, Washington–and the country itself- was not as divided as it is now.
    The hatred is frightening.

  5. Maggie, I agree with you about the hatred in the past, and now. I have struggled to understand it, and couldn’t until I discovered this work: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/
    Bob Altemeyer has been studying this for quite some time, and has made his book available as a free download. I wish it were more widely read. It’s facinating, and also a bit frightening.
    Also, John Dean, Nixon’s White House Counsel, has written about the “takeover” of the conservative movement (who’d of thunk it).

  6. And one of my favorite Lincoln comments, not too well known:
    “The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarch, more insolent than autocracy and more selfish than a bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at the rear is my greatest foe.”
    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country…..corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
    A. Lincoln

  7. Hi Maggie:
    If you do not mind, I am going to write on this one a bit and place it in a couple of places. It is a great piece and deserves more attention than what it is getting.

  8. This “health insurance reform” legislation is NOTHING LIKE Medicare and Medicaid when they were passed! THEY are social insurance programs, with the programmatic mission of providing medical care for their beneficiaries, with entitlements and rights, and a single payer (except for the privatized parts). THIS is a financial insurance program, wherein citizens have the “ability” to buy a financial product (insurance) against any events in which they will have to risk their finances to pay medical bills, wherein the role the government is taking on is to “rationalize” the “private market” for that financial product (“insurance”). It doesn’t have the mission of providing medical care, and it doesn’t guarantee that people will be able to have medical care–it only provides a modicum of “access,” without guarantees such as those provided in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, in spite of the subsidies, paid with public funds, to bail out the insurance industry. This is Bob Dole’s “healthcare reform bill”, as some analysts have documented (Glenn Greenwald?) and a little bit of the Clintons’ “managed competition.” It only shows how far to the right the US has moved since the ’60’s, including the so-called “center”, if this is characterized as a “Democratic bill” that has been so stymied by the Republicans themselves.
    The Senate used to be considered the “deliberative body,” and not as rash as the “more populist” House. Their roles seem to have reversed. Now the Senate is indistinguishable from the rabble whom they won’t distance themselves from.
    In the ’60’s people didn’t go to political rallies with guns and a chip on their shoulder, except for southerners (it was also during the civil rights movement, not just the anti-war movement, and except for here in Philly where Frank Rizzo, the chief of police and then the Mayor, created his own mini-police state). There was much more activism, with anti-war groups taking over campuses, having teach-ins, and changing the sentiment not only of the public but also of politicians and Administrations. Millions of people regularly marched on D.C., not “thousands” like today (3/21) and yesterday (3/20). When families risked losing their children in the war, there was public outrage against criminal wars that were never really declared; now we let 1% of the population bear the weight of these useless wars and we let the wars, along with our outrage, recede onto the “back burner.” There were rules against corporation funding of political campaigns. We are FAR to the right of where we were in the ’60’s. Rather’s “analysis” is cheap and shallow, revisionist history. The Administration’s spin that this “health insurance reform” is the biggest thing since Medicare and Medicaid is just that–spin. Shame on us for buying into it.

  9. During the 60’s I was much too involved in trying to feed my family and just get by to be involved in protests. I do not remember the bitterness coming from either party.
    NOw it seems that the Republicans are sending the message that if you are not wealthy we wish you would just drop dead.
    Gen. Wesley Clark said it best.” I thought I was a Republican until I meet some to them”

  10. The most important aspect of the process of “reforming” the healthcare industry is that we wouldn’t need it, if “market-oriented” solutions rewarded honest and honorable behavior. History unequivocally proves that “market-oriented” is a synonym for dishonest behavior of every type.
    I wish, truly, that the unremitting advocates of the “market” philosophy would actually read and understand the history. The recent debacle in the financial industries was not “a fluke,” and it was directly caused by “market-oriented” activities and legislation that rewarded dishonesty. Further, it was only the latest in a centuries-long series of such “market-oriented” activities that nearly destroyed the nation.
    Maggie has documented this same process in her book on “Money-Driven Medicine.” Read it, people.
    Sometimes, people who just won’t learn from their mistakes are quite tiresome.

  11. Maggie said: “…Noni–You write… Thank you…”
    You’re very welcome. My theory about why Canadian Conservatives are often knuckleheads is that only they would submit to such rigid party discipline.
    How rigid, you ask? In our last election a lot of Conservative candidates didn’t campaign. Didn’t give speeches, didn’t go from door to door, didn’t attend town hall meetings or debates, they were MIA under orders. Some bloggers went so far as to report rare, brief sightings of StealthCons, when normally you have to spray and place owl decoys to keep campaigners off the lawn.

  12. Speaking of the hatred,
    They are being brainwashed by being baited by certain buzzwords, and once you accept those buzzwords it is an unerasable brain change.
    People need to say “no, I don’t accept that language.”
    Here’s an excerpt from the Barnes and Noble review of the book “What Orwell Didn’t Know.”
    What he didn’t know — what he couldn’t really know — was how modern consumer society would mold propaganda to its own form. Contemporary methods of persuasion are subtle, insidious, sugarcoated, focus-grouped, and market-tested — and comparable in their effectiveness to anything served up by despots and demagogues of the past…. If Big Brother had had these tools, he’d still be around.”
    George Lakoff, an eminent professor of cognitive science and linguistics whose essay is possibly the most interesting in this volume, contends that there is something else Orwell didn’t know back in 1946: namely, how the human brain functions. “Probably 98 percent of your reasoning is unconscious — what your brain is doing behind the scenes. Reason is inherently emotional…. Thought is physical.” It is also structured in terms of what Lakoff calls “frames” — brain structures, such as cultural narratives, that control thought and come with emotional content. Carefully crafted political language can activate such frames in the brain, a fact which pollsters and members of think tanks know how to use. As Lakoff tells us,
    A few words in political language can activate large portions of the brain: War on Terror, tax relief, illegal immigration, entitlements (turned to conservative use by Ronald Reagan), death tax, property rights, abortion on demand, cut and run, flip-flop, school choice, intelligent design, spending programs, partial birth abortion, surge, spreading freedom, private accounts, individual responsibility, energy independence.
    When they are repeated every day, extensive areas of the brain are activated over and over, and this leads to brain change. Unerasable brain change…. And every time the words are repeated, all the frames and metaphors and worldview structures are activated again and strengthened — because recurring activation strengthens neural connections. Negation doesn’t help. “I’m against the War on Terror” just activates the War on Terror metaphor and strengthens what you’re against. Accepting the language of issue and arguing the other side just hurts your own cause.

  13. On the topic of the country moving inexorably to the right, including both major parties and also including the “center”:
    David Frum, who is as far right as you can get without falling off the edge, and a card-carrying neocon, writes on his blog: “Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.”
    Note that even Frum doesn’t claim that this was an intentional strategy by liberals to garner “bipartisan support.”

  14. John H., mp/powem, ACarroll, Keith,Noni, Tom, Run 75441 (Bill), ACarroll (your 1st comment)
    John H. Brilliant quote from Clark– Thanks so much
    Yes. You might enjoy my first book, Bull! about the bull market of 1982-2003 (available at a very low price in paperback, used or new, on Amazon.)
    Bull! like Money-Driven Medicinem is ultimatley about market fundamentalsim–the belief that markets are rational and fair.
    Frum is Wrong
    Mitt Romney’s Mass. plan doesn’t cut health care spending. It imposes no penalities on inefficient hospitals that overcharge (and as the Boston Post and others have revealed, brand-name Mass. hospitals over-charge.)
    Republicans don’t like to cut health care spending because that would mean cutting into the revenues and profits of our very powerful medical industrial complex– a group that makes hefty campaign contributions.
    Romney’s attempt to provide universal coverage in Mass. was a good idea –but not a Republican idea.
    As they made clear at the Summit, most Republicans do not believe that we can afford universal coverage.
    And they’re not willing to cut back on waste, over-treatment and overpaying for exorbitantly priced drugs and devices in order to make care affordable.
    Keith– Lakoff is scary.
    And he is right- these bumper-sticker slogans do work. Which, as you say, is why liberals shouldn’t repeat them–even if they are trying to say “I am against the War on Terror.”
    As you point out, “this just activates the War on Terror metaphor and strengthens what you’re against. ”
    I wrote a post back in 2008 about why Liberals do Not want to “frame” issues in simple slogans. See http://www.healthbeatblog.org/2008/05/health-care-r-1.html May, 2008
    Noni– “Stealth NeoCons”- a truly scary idea.
    Tom– Thanks very much for the Lincoln quote– and the link to Altemeyer’s book.
    Run- 75441– Thank you!
    I was there in the 1960s, and very aware of what was happening.
    First, the vast majority of Americans were NOT opposed to the war in Vietnam until the end.
    I had a cousin who cried because he was rejected when he tried to join the army– his eyesight wasn’t good enough.
    I was at Yale when students marched in working class New Haven neighborhoods late on a Sunday night to protest the war. The people who lived in those neighborhoods had to get up early to go to work the next day and most supported the war. These college students were not advancing their cause. They were totally self-absorbed.
    Many American families were very proud of sending their chldren to Vietnam–even when their children died.
    Those who opposed the war were mainly college students and people on the left (college professors, etc.)
    I shared the leftist views of the professors–and supported those who helped working-class kids get out of the draft or go to Canada.
    But I understood, even as a college student, that many of the students were simply enjoying politics as theatre– not seriously interested in the problem. And these students weren’t going to Vietnam.
    Eight years later, many of these same student would become corporate lawyers.
    The very best of the student protestors focused on helping other people– helping kids who lived in working class New Haven get out of the draft–sending them to shrinks who (for a price) would give them a letter that would get them out of the draft, helping them move and settle in Canada, etc.
    This is the work that William Sloane Coffin helped lead– and it was great work.
    It wasn’t until late in the war that the majority of Americans turned against the war. What brought hte war to an end was not national indignation but the lottery which created a draft: suddenly a Senator’s son, or a kid from Yale might be sent to Vietnam. That did it.
    Charles Rangle was right: When Bush decided to go into Iraq, Democrats should have voted for a draft. That would have nipped the war in the bud.
    Walter Cronkite also helped turn the country against Vietnam, but only toward the end of the war.
    Certainly, the left was further left in the 1960s than it is now. But the important point that Rather is making is that the Right was not nearly as far right as it is now.
    You are absolutely correct that Southern racists (and racists in other parts of the country)are an exception–they were very far right. Where I grew up– Syracuse, N.Y., I knew adults who went out to buy a bottle of whiskey to celebrate Martin Luther King’s assassination.
    And the racism is the reason why the Medicaid legislaition was not nearly as good as the health care reform bill we are passing now.
    Southern Congressmen refused to vote for Medicare and Medicaid unless doctors who took care of poor patients (often black) were paid as much as docs who took care of Medicare patients (mainly white– African Americans usually didn’t live to 65.
    Rather is an excellent reporter, and hardly a revisionist historian.
    As for Medicare– it caps lifetime benefits. This means that if you become very sick with an expensive disease (Cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS) Medicare will stop paying at a certain point, and you will have to spend most of what you have before you qualify for Medicaid.
    The legislation just passed prohibits liftime or annual caps, thus saving people from medical bankruptcy.
    Of course people have to buy insurance under this legislation.
    Under Medicare, people also buy insurance –but they pay for it througout their working lives, rather than when they are retired.
    Medicare is essentially an enforced savings program. You are forced to save for the health care that you and others will need when you are older by paying a fixed percent of your paycheck into the pool for
    40 plus years.
    This legislation also forces everyone to pay into the pool by buying insurance, sets rules as to the benefits that the insurance must include (rich benefits), sets rules as to how much of the premiums insurers must pay out for medical care, and finally begins to rederess the racism of Medicaid by paying primary care docs as much to care for Medicaid patients as they are paid for Medicare patients.
    In many ways, this bill is better and fairer than Medicare and Medicaid.
    Under Medicare there are co-pays and deductibles for preventive care. This means that many low-income retirees don’t go for preventive care. Under the new legislaiton, those co-pays and deductibles for preventive care disappear.
    People who think that the insurance companies are the major problem in our health care system don’t know much about the system.
    Insurers don’t drive health care inflation– drug companies, many hospitals and some doctors do. Insurers jsut pass those spiralling costs along in the for of high premiums.
    Finally, we should no longer be talking about single-payer. The majority of Americans have employer-based insurance and didn’t want to give it up. That’s it. Case closed.
    Now we should be focusing on the reform bill and helping people understand it.
    Such framing causes people to stop thinking. Telling the
    truth stimulates thought.
    The truth is usually complex. this is why it can’t be be summed up in a 6-word slogan. A lie, on the other hand, can be summed up in as few words as you wish.
    Conservatives tell a lot of lies. This is why they are so good at bumper stickers.

  15. People just don’t understand the seriousness of what is happening in America. When you have a direct family member in harms way, it feels worst than being on the rifle range and having some dumb kid accidentally point his loaded shotgun at you. People don’t understand that by supporting these illegal wars, they are in essence stating that they do not care about those who are being violated. If you want to get an idea of what it feels like, take a shotgun, load it, put a bullet in it, take the safety off, and point it at your head. That is what the families of those in harms way feel for months on end, until the deployment ends. Unbelievably violated.