Not since the Great Society has a Democratic president made such a profound impact on the life of the nation. The passage of the health care bill in the House of Representatives ended decades of gridlock on domestic affairs. Medicare, the last great success, at least on a domestic economic issue, cleared the hurdle in 1965. There have been expansions in Medicaid and additions to Social Security but nothing as sweeping as the most recent initiative. No doubt it was gained by a number of compromises, but it was achieved because of the dogged efforts of Barack Obama.
Despite almost unanimous opposition by Republicans, Obama proved that the age of sweeping domestic initiatives had not ended. And he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. When Scott Brown won the special Senate election in Massachusetts, very few guessed that a scant two months later a bill would reach the president's desk. The capitulation of 1996 on the welfare bill concerning aid to dependent children and their families demoralized progressives. This legislation, however, awkwardly scaffolded and constructed, avenged that defeat. Compromises of the Clinton years were jettisoned and the Democratic Party regained its voice.
And it did it in a way that argues well for the future. Abortion, an issue that has not been adequately addressed in the Democratic Party, was mentioned in a fashion that it has not been since 1972. For years Liberals, in good standing such as Marcy Kaptur and Bart Stupak swallowed hard suppressing their moral reservations on the issue. Obama with a sensitivity rarely seen by Democrats who after all in 1992 prevented Robert Casey of Pennsylvania from making a pro-life speech at the convention finally gave that bloc of the party some impact. Although small, it was a concession to progressives who harbored deep reservations about public funding for abortions. Abortion is not a conservative or liberal issue, it is a matter of religious faith and conscience.
Out of this recognition of some liberals' doubts about the issue, a new coalition may be fashioned. Health care can now be fashioned as a moral issue which challenges the Ayn Randism of the Tea Party movement and once again offers blue collar voters a reason to support Democrats without having to abandon deep feelings of faith and morality. The right to good health care is not only reaffirmed, but is now law.
Certainly those who desire single-payer and the public option are disappointed, but as Rep. Dennis Kucinich pointed out the present bill is a vital first step. Social Security was a pay as you go insurance plan when it started and over the years it grew to be more comprehensive program. Obama has also forthrightly made the Democratic party once again the agent of bold action rather than an organization that defended older initiatives from Republican and conservative assaults.
Moreover, Democrats once more refurbished its class credentials. Over the last 40 years, it has increasingly become the party of "rights" and the environment. Left behind were the poor and lower middle classes who for decades previously were a key element in providing victories. Without any real benefits, these voters strayed, voting Republican because of moral issues and Second Amendment rights. Now, with guaranteeing coverage regardless of pre-existing condition and allowing coverage regardless of employment status, workers can now be assured that Democrats are their friends.
Republicans also are placed in the position of once again being the party of "no." Tea Party activists who taunted victims of diseases by throwing money at them or booing them when they tried to explain their plight will be placed on the defensive. Rugged individualism is only celebrated by those who hold high cards and during the recession there are fewer of these. If the legislation also succeeds, the public will be less willing to support Republicans that did not answer the call.
Obama reacted after the Brown victory the way Franklin Roosevelt did after the Supreme Court struck down the National Recovery Act. Without pause, he pushed forward, not attempting to achieve "consensus," but to get things done. But one fact is clear, he has established himself in the pantheon of Democratic heroes of the past. Now Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson are joined by Barack Obama.