Winston Churchill: Inspiration for the Contemporary Tea Party Movement?
In his angst- and vanity-driven hour-long Meltdown Special Comment on Wednesday night —Health Care Reform: The Fight Against Death – Keith Olbermann chose a strange target for his opening rhetorical blast, the 20th Century's greatest man, Sir Winston Churchill.
In an odd rhetorical choice, Keith reminded us that the Nazi comparisons to socialized medicine which the more extreme Tea Party-goers have bandied about—and which most commentators on the Right and even most of the attendees have wrinkled their nose at and tried to get distance from—have a precedent with a venerable source: Churchill, himself.
OLBERMANN: He equated his opponents in the party that sought to introduce the national health to the Gestapo of the Germans that he and we had just beaten, just as those opposing reform now have been invoking Nazis as frequently and as falsely as if they were invoking zombies...
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OLBERMANN: Churchill cost himself the election because he did not realize he was overplaying an issue that people were already damn serious about.
Irony this, because a decade earlier, Churchill had made the greatest argument ever for government intervention in health care, only he did not realize it. He was debating in parliament the notion that the British government could not increase expenditures on military defense unless the voters specifically authorized it. Just as today's opponents of reform are now claiming they speak for the voters of today, even though those voters spoke for themselves eleven months ago.
Churchill's argument was this, quote, "I have heard it said that the government had no mandate. Such a doctrine is wholly inadmissible. The responsibility for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate."
There is so much wrong with this, it's hard to know where to start.
First, Churchill did not compare his opponents to the Gestapo, nor was it a direct reference to socialized medicine. Labour leader Clement Atlee's program was a much broader socialist agenda that included the nationalization of major industry, and Churchill said that ultimately a government "would have to fall back on some form of a Gestapo" to enforce broad socialist dictates.
A true enough statement, historically—but, as they say, "Too soon!"
Second, it's just wrong to say socialized medicine was the primary reason the Conservatives lost the election. According to Wikipedia, "In one opinion poll, 41% of respondents considered housing to be the most important issue that faced the country, 15% stated the Labour policy of full employment, 7% mentioned social security, 6% nationalization, and just 5% international security."
Oops! See anything missing from that list?
Saying the election was lost over Churchill's comment is like saying Jimmy Carter was defeated by the "killer rabbit," or George H. W. Bush lost over the supermarket scanner. It was, however, a symptom of an underlying problem.
In 1945, the Conservatives were thought to be running on the past, and their past wasn't all that great—outside of Winston Churchill. There had not been a general election called since 1935. Because Churchill became Prime Minister when Chamberlain stepped aside, he had not come to power as the immediate result of a general election. That he was saddled with a passel of tired, old members of Parliament who had been supportive of Chamberlain's policies during the Great Depression and, most importantly, of appeasing Hitler, was the biggest problem.
During WWII, Churchill presided over a Unity Government in which prominent Labour Party politicians were in charge of domestic social issues, including many relief programs which would be the basis for the welfare state.
Churchill himself had an approval rating of 83%, but at the time he made his infamous broadcast, Labor had an 18% poll advantage over the Conservatives. His desperate personal appeal went rhetorically a bit far and backfired, but it was not the determining factor.
With fresh candidates, the Conservatives returned to power in the next election in 1951—a lesson for today's Republicans– and Churchill was Prime Minister until his health forced his retirement from that position, though he remained a back bencher in the Parliament.
The Churchill quote Keith misappropriated, is, ironically a very conservative statement about the purpose of government. Keith admitted it was about military defense policy, because even Keith's most brainwashed fan would know it would be ludicrous to suggest Winston Churchill would make such a statement about a social welfare program. But Olbermann left off the important end of the quote. The full quote should be—
""I have heard it said that the government had no mandate. Such a doctrine is wholly inadmissible. The responsibility for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence."
To sum up, even though it was not his intent, Keith Olbermann reminded us Wednesday night that Winston Churchill said that even the most well-meaning socialist government is by its nature oppressive, and that a civilized government's primary reason for existence is to protect its citizens from invading barbarians.
No wonder Keith doesn't like him much.
But Keith wasn't done with Merry Olde England in his rambling disjointed rant. Stay tuned for "Oliver Twisted: Meltdown with Keith Olbermann, Part 10."