03.22.10

As Big as Social Security

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin explains why President Obama’s health-care reform legislation is in the same category as Social Security and the civil-rights bill.

The domestic bills that we consider historic have had one thing in common: They have extended social or economic justice to the American people. Each of the 20th-century bills we remember did precisely that: Social Security, the civil-rights bill ending segregation, voting rights, fair housing, Medicare.

More historians on Obama’s legacy nowBy extending health care to almost all Americans as a right and not a privilege, this bill is indeed historic. The measure of its historic nature can also be taken by the number of presidents who have tried and failed to get health care passed, from its listing in the Progressive Party platform in 1912 under the heading of social and industrial justice, to FDR's failed attempt to include it in Social Security, from Truman's fight for it, to LBJ's signing of Medicare in the presence of Truman, from Nixon to Clinton.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II and the author, most recently, of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.