In the course of arguing that Congress should really do virtually nothing about health care, Joe Lieberman approvingly cites the Civil Rights movement as a model of incremental change. Why he believes it was a good thing that nearly a century passed before the federal government outlawed racial discrimination and provided meaningful substance to the Reconstruction Amendments, I won’t bother to speculate, but one would have to be a complete tool not to recognize that if a society is morally obligated to dismantle an exploitative and violent caste system, there’s no especially good reason to advocate that such change should take place “in steps.”

It’s another thing entirely to recognize that such changes did take place incrementally, though it’s worth pointing out that the legislation of 1964 and 1965 were dramatic and comprehensive by comparison with anything the previous ten decades had produced from the institution Lieberman allegedly serves. It’s also worth recalling exactly why the gradual transformations Lieberman celebrates were so long in coming:

  • The leadership of two major political parties colluded for decades to avoid dealing with an evident national problem; when even the mildest of remedies were suggested, they relied on parliamentary tactics to block debate and preserve minority rule.
  • “Sensible” opinion-makers argued that change, while acceptable perhaps in theory, should be delayed for the time being because current economic growth would solve all problems, or because economic catastrophe required that other issues receive more immediate attention, or because there was a war to be won.
  • Advocates of change were cited by their opponents as evidence that a pernicious, foreign ideology was eagerly seeking the republic’s destruction.
  • Dray loads of irate throwbacks, styling themselves patriots, organized themselves and vowed to preserve the status by all available means.
  • If Holy Joe wants to align himself with that history, he should at least recognize that he is, as the cliche goes, on the wrong side of it.