(John Fund) – Majority Leader Harry Reid tarred opponents of his health care bill yesterday as the equivalent of those who opposed equal rights for women and civil rights for blacks.
In a remarkable statement on the Senate floor, Mr. Reid lambasted Republicans for wanting to “slow down” on health care. “You think you’ve heard these same excuses before? You’re right,” he said. “In this country there were those who dug in their heels and said, ‘Slow down, it’s too early. Let’s wait. Things aren’t bad enough’ — about slavery. When women wanted to vote, [they said] ‘Slow down, there will be a better day to do that — the day isn’t quite right. . . .'”
He wrapped up his remarks as follows: “When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today.”
Senator Reid’s comments were quickly condemned. “Hyperbole. It is over the top. It reminds me of earlier people talking about Nazis,” said Juan Williams of NPR and Fox News, author of “Eyes on the Prize,” a definitive history of the civil rights movement.
Historians also faulted Mr. Reid’s curious reference to the Senate civil rights debates of the 1960s. After all, it was Southern Democrats who mounted an 83-day filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. The final vote to cut off debate saw 29 Senators in opposition, 80% of them Democrats.
Among those voting to block the civil rights bill was West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who personally filibustered the bill for 14 hours. The next year he also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mr. Byrd still sits in the Senate, and indeed preceded Mr. Reid as his party’s majority leader until he stepped down from that role in 1989.
The final reason Mr. Reid’s comments were so inapt and offensive is that the battles for women’s suffrage and civil rights he referred to were about expanding freedom. That’s not what the 2,074-page health care bill being debated in the Senate today does, with its 118 new regulatory boards and commissions.
Mr. Reid may reach his needed 60 votes to pass his bill this month, but he is pursuing it using the most tawdry and deplorable of tactics.
(Mr. Fund is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal)