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
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.
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.
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
You had the three. That made it a
totally different situation than today. The
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.’}