House Repeals Health Care (Symbolically)

The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives voted to repeal President Obama’s health care reforms, which have just begun to come into effect.  It was a big victory for the Republicans and the Tea Party, but it’s unlikely to move any further through the legislative process.  The Democratic Senate leadership is extremely unlikely to let the bill come to a vote, and President Obama would surely veto it if it somehow did.

The Republican leadership in the House is well aware of this, which made wrangling the votes for a repeal, as a symbolic statement, much easier to do.  It also gives the Republicans an issue for the 2012 elections and delivers something to the Tea Partiers who were so strong in opposition to Obama’s health care policies.

Does it matter?  Sort of, maybe.

Nearly thirty years ago, in 1982 the nuclear freeze movement pushed the Democratic Party to large gains in the House of Representatives, responding to what activists described as President Reagan’s egregious departures from previous mainstream policies on national security.  Reagan had increased military spending dramatically–much of it on big ticket nuclear weapons systems, spoke casually about nuclear wars, and denigrated the arms control process.

[I wrote a dissertation and a book on this.  Alas, you can read much much more.]

The freeze was far more popular than the Tea Party, and much easier to link to concrete policy demands.  A call to end the technological arms race–bilaterally–it consistently polled upwards of 70 percent support among the general public, was the stick activists use to attack President Reagan on defense policy and much else.

The larger Democratic majority in the House passed the nuclear freeze in May, and the proposal never came close to the floor in the Senate.  [Knowing that this would happen, House Democrats who were dubious about the freeze as policy could vote for it and then vote for contradictory policies.]

President Reagan responded, however, first rhetorically; he learned the sentence, “nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought,” and delivered it effectively and frequently.  He then sought to reopen arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union.  By the time he ran for reelection in 1984–against nuclear freeze supporter, Walter Mondale, Reagan had become an advocate of arms control and disarmament.  Reagan said that these apparent shifts were actually completely consistent with his long past as a critic of arms control and supporter of nuclear modernization, but this is a hard case to make.  He found a way to change his mind–or to express long-held views that he’d somehow been able to keep well-hidden.

None of it was pretty or neat, but by the middle of the 1980s, both US military spending and the number of nuclear weapons had begun to decline, and in 1989 the world changed forever with the fall of state communism and the Soviet Union.  In effect, the freeze exercised some serious influence, but in ways that were indirect and hard to trace.

Now the question is how much and how seriously President Obama responds to the political pressures of the Tea Party.  There will surely be rounds of amendments to the Health Care bill passed last year.  If Obama follows the Reagan model, he will back away from his reform effort, piece by piece, denying that he is doing so.  This won’t be what the Tea Party wants, but it will be significant.  But Reagan faced far greater pressures from the freeze–and from allied antinuclear movements around the world–than Obama has yet faced from the Tea Party.

There are other possibilities. If Obama is committed, skillful, and lucky, he will use the calls for repeal as excuse to improve the program already passed.  This also won’t be what the Tea Party wants.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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3 Responses to House Repeals Health Care (Symbolically)

  1. the freeze looked to be a “loser” in reagan`s 2nd term, but what many pundits seem to forget is that “the freeze” wasn`t supposed to be about the freeze organization per se, but creating an infrastructure of anti-nuclear oprganizations and individuals throughout the country, who acting alone or with others, would affect change in the culture itself, which in the words of randall forsberg would “percolate up” and alter the body politic, which is what it did…even into the halls of the kremlin itself where dr. Lown of the IPPNW and Forsberg herself advised Gorbachev into acting unilaterally forcing Reagan`s hand. now, IF there was no INF treaty when the Wall came down, and IF the hardliners took over then and there, there probably would have been a nuclear war of some kind…even edward shezrenazde believes that is the case. richard rhodes book on the A-bomb is still the gold standard on the subjest, and in fact there is still a huge residue of literally thousands of anti-nuclear thnk tanks and groups and advocates which weren`t even there in 1980 when the freeze began it`s work. the freeze above all was a citizen movement to challenge and eventually abolish a culture which produces and tolerates nuclear weapons which it uses as a part of it`s national defense. “the freeze” altered the political landscape by becoming a watershed movement in the long twi-light journey towards the day when our culture will finally abolish weapons which are more horrific than any madness the nazi`s implemented during WW2.

  2. john cronn says:

    as a former supporter of the new jersey nuclear freeze initiative, i can think of nothing which gave me more satifaction then watching Mr. Reagan embrace Mr. Gorbachev in Moscow in 1988. how different from the first days of his first term when many on Reagan`s team openly talked of fighting and winning a nuclear war. i`ve read portions of david myers book and have come to believe that someday the era of the 1980`s will be heroically remembered as a result from the work of the many thousands of ‘freeze-niks’ around the country.

    • walter says:

      remembering how the 1980`s began, leaves me feeling “chilly” even today. when i think of those times and how by 1984-85 you could feel things beginning to change, i also have to agree. something took hold in the minds of men, both in Moscow as well as in Wash DC, which was unique in all human history…antagonists eskewed war and chose to pursue peace. and what made that all possible, as far as i`m concerned, was the success of the Nuclear Freeze movement.

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