Before jetting off for Europe to collect his Nobel Peace Prize this morning and then joining with other world leaders for the climate summit in Copenhagen, President Obama met with Senate Democrats. The president---who promised us all that key decisions on healthcare would be broadcast on C-SPAN---met behind closed doors with the senators. There were no cameras. He spoke for 45 minutes. He did not get "into the weeds" of the 2,074-page bill. Instead, Obama emphasized the importance of History.
Unless it's the History Channel, you have to be careful when they spell history with a capital "H." In this case, it would be History with a Capitol "H." The senators are being urged to get on "the right side of History." There's a lot of freight accompanying talk like that. Whether you know it or not, whether you agree with it or not, you are accepting a lot of assumptions of dead philosophers when you talk about where History is going. History is not "going" anywhere.
To believers in the living God, History is the unfolding of God's plan for mankind. We used to call it "Providence." But to 19th-century philosophical materialists like Karl Marx, History is God. And when you talk about being on the right side of History, you are agreeing with Karl Marx whether you understand it or not.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks passing his monster bill for a government takeover of healthcare is required to be on the right side of History. He compared opponents of his healthcare bill to those who opposed ending slavery and civil rights.
Now, this is odd. Those who opposed the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that ended slavery thought they were on the right side of History, too. They were Democrats. Every vote in Congress against the Emancipation Proclamation and every vote against the 13th Amendment were cast by Democrats.
Harry didn't stop there. He said there were some on the wrong side of History who opposed the great Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here, the verdict was somewhat mixed. Of the Republicans in the Senate then, 23 voted for the bill; only six voted against. Forty-four Democratic senators voted for the Civil Rights Act, while 23 voted against.
Clearly, in the case of the most important civil rights legislation of the 20th century, it was Republicans who provided the margin of victory. Republicans voted to end the filibuster of segregationist Democrats. Republicans voted for final passage.
Nor was there any absence of action of civil rights in the century between Emancipation and Dr. King's greatest achievement. In 1922, Republicans tried to pass a law against lynching. They prevailed in the House but a filibuster in the Senate killed their bill---every year until 1957. For 35 years, those who prevented action against the atrocity of lynching were Democrats.
I am not trying to indict Democrats here. All Americans should be grateful that President John F. Kennedy, a great Democrat, introduced the most important civil rights bill in a century. And Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, also a Democrat, was the inspired floor leader for this important effort. Aiding Humphrey at every critical juncture was Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen---the Republican minority leader. That's the primary reason why we have a Dirksen Senate Office Building.
What I am saying is that Harry Reid's got his history all wrong. He has given us a mean-spirited, narrow-minded, and historically inaccurate picture of our common past. Very simply, Harry does not know who was on which side in the past when he claims to know who today is "on the right side of History." If he's got so much of our history wrong, maybe he's wrong about History, too?