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Question: Who said government healthcare leads to socialism? Hint: It was 1961, and he was a Republican

March 26, 2010 |  8:48 am

President Lyndon Johnson signing Medicare on July 30, 1965 with First Lady Lady Bird, Vice President Humphrey and former President Harry Truman and former First Lady Bess Truman looking on

President Truman is considered the grandfather of universal healthcare, having first proposed it in 1945. "The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility," he said.

Twenty years later, when President Johnson signed the Medicare Act into law, he invited former Truman, then 81 years old, to be at his side. Then LBJ enrolled Truman as the first beneficiary of the new program that provided healthcare for the 65-and-older set, calling him "the real daddy of Medicare." 

But Medicare, much like President Obama's healthcare reform legislation, did not become law without a political fight. In fact the American Medical Assn. mobilized a massive campaign against the idea, working tirelessly to stop the reform in Congress.

And to serve as the public face of its campaign against a government-sponsored health plan, the AMA chose none other than....

...Ronald Reagan, the star of "General Electric Theater" and former president of the Screen Actors Guild whose views on politics matched its own.

Warning that enacting Medicare would lead to socialism in America, Reagan said that if Americans did not rise up and stop Medicare reform, "one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in American when men were free."

In an 11-minute recording for the AMA, Reagan invoked the name of Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party presidential candidate, saying:

Now back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program. ...

One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. ... Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.

We have an example of this. Under the Truman administration, it was proposed that we have a compulsory health insurance program for all people in the United States, and, of course, the American people unhesitatingly rejected this.

Reagan's prescription? "Write to our congressmen and senators," he said. "The key issue is this: We do not want socialized medicine ... demand the continuation of our traditional free-enterprise system."

Sound familiar?

Now, of course, Medicare is a vastly popular program for seniors and the disabled, sacrosanct even among Republicans. For example, President George W. Bush twisted arms in a Republican Congress to enact a vast expansion of the program to pay for prescription drugs.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: President Johnson signs Medicare July 30, 1965 with First Lady 'Lady Bird' Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, ex-President Truman and former First Lady Bess Truman. Credit: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

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