There he was on Christmas Eve on the TV news: Arizona Senator John Kyl, pumped with anger, calling the just passed Senate health care reform bill “a massive, very bad assault on liberty.” You got to ask, whose liberty is he so concerned about? The insurance companies “liberty” to gouge us, cut benefits, exclude those who might really need coverage, and tell us in the middle of treatment that our policy won’t cover any more medical care?

You hear these right-wing characters and their tea bagger friends throwing around terms like “liberty, freedom, and special interests” and you got to wonder.

But of course it’s a class thing and these Wall Street stooges understand it very well. For them liberty means deregulation, tax breaks and bail outs for the banks and the rich. Freedom means no Employee Free Choice Act that might give workers a real voice at work and limit arbitrary corporate power. And special interests are unions, civil rights organizations, immigrant rights organizations, women’s organizations, environmental organizations, and any other mass people’s organizations that might interfere with capital’s maximum ability to exploit and dictate. Democracy just seems to bring out millions of these pesky types of taxpayers.

But what really struck me about Kyl’s ringing cry of liberty was how these right-wing Republicans today always seem to quote Ronald Reagan and not Abraham Lincoln. I mean if you’re going to boom out ringing rhetorical flourishes, why not quote in the spirit of the greatest Republican of them all? Ronald Reagan went from acting for GE to action on behalf of GE. Lincoln actually did something about liberty and freedom.

But when you think about the health care debate and then you think about my favorite Lincoln quote, you know why Lincoln just doesn’t fit the Republican agenda today. Abraham Lincoln said:

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

In today’s popular discourse Lincoln might have substituted “Main Street” for labor and “Wall Street” for capital – but you get the point. If Kyl and his ilk were saying it today they would just reverse “labor” and “capital” in the quote.

And what do these “extremists in defense of  (corporate) liberty” have to say about “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” today? It sure seems to me that any reasonable interpretation of an unalienable right to life would include the right health care.



Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.