Conservatives have lined up in near-unanimous opposition to any progressive legislation introduced during President Obama’s first year in office. Whether they’ve been railing against health care reform, a climate bill, or financial regulation, their ire has stemmed less from legislative specifics than from a generalized prophecy of doom: Obama’s proposals will move the country toward socialism, bankrupt entire industries and small businesses, and deny Americans their basic freedoms.
These arguments, however, aren’t new. Conservatives—not just Republicans, but various politicians and groups who’ve resisted major social changes—recycled them throughout the twentieth century. They used them to oppose numerous progressive measures that Americans now take for granted, from women’s suffrage to child-labor laws to Medicare. [See "The Republican Party ... [has not and] cannot come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics"]. Here we’ve collected a few choice predictions about disaster that never came. Conservatives today might prefer they be forgotten.
“It may be impracticable that our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom should go on.”
—Senator David Hill (D-NY), in 1894, bemoaning the creation of a federal income tax
“Woman suffrage would give to the wives and daughters of the poor a new opportunity to gratify their envy and mistrust of the rich. Meantime these new voters would become either the purchased or cajoled victims of plausible political manipulators, or the intimidated and helpless voting vassals of imperious employers.”“[T]he child will become a very dominant factor in the household and might refuse perhaps to do chores before six a.m. or after seven p.m. or to perform any labor.”
—Former President Grover Cleveland, in 1905, on why women shouldn’t be able to vote“I fear it may end the progress of a great country and bring its people to the level of the average European. It will furnish delicious food and add great strength to the political demagogue. It will assist in driving worthy and courageous men from public life. It will discourage and defeat the American trait of thrift. It will go a long way toward destroying American initiative and courage.”
—Senator Weldon Heyburn (R-ID), in 1908, on why child labor should remain unregulated“[I]t would make it practically impossible for any publisher in the United States to accept any food, drug, or cosmetic advertising without facing squarely into the doors of a jail.”
—Senator Daniel O. Hastings (R-DE), in 1935, listing the evils of Social Security“[The Act represents] a step in the direction of Communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.”
—Federal Trade Commission Chair Ewin L. Davis, in 1935, on the dangers of empowering the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the food, drug, and cosmetic industries ...“It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.”
—The National Association of Manufacturers, in 1938, condemning a national minimum wage and guaranteed overtime pay“It is socialism. It moves the country in a direction which is not good for anyone, whether they be young or old. It charts a course from which there will be no turning back.”
—Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC), Senator Richard Russell (D-GA), and other Southern legislators, in 1956, describing the perils of integrating public schools“[T]his bill could prevent continued production of automobiles . . . [and] is a threat to the entire American economy and to every person in America.”
—Senator Carl Curtis (R-NE), in 1965, opposing Medicare“The effects include serious long-term losses in domestic output and employment, heavy cost burdens on manufacturing industries, and a resultant gradual contraction of the entire industrial base. The irony of this bleak scenario is that these economic hardships are borne with no real assurance they would be balanced by a cleaner, healthier environment.”
—Lee Iacocca, executive vice president of Ford Motor Company, in 1970, on why the government shouldn’t regulate airborne contaminants that are hazardous to human health“The doctor begins to lose freedoms; it’s like telling a lie, and one leads to another. First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then the doctors aren’t equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him you can’t live in that town, they already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.”
—The National Association of Manufacturers, in 1987, on the perils of an emissions reduction program to combat acid rain
—Ronald Reagan, in 1961, arguing against the creation of Medicare