12/08/2009 04:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Same Old Tricks

Republicans were outraged, outraged that Harry Reid suggested they might be trying to obstruct progress in the health care debate- and that there was gambling in Reid's casino as well. Absurdly suggesting that Reid was "race baiting" when he compared their obstructionism on this issue to obstructionism on a variety of historic issues in the past, including civil rights, they were weeping and moaning and gnashing their teeth about how mean Reid was to them.

The only thing I was impressed by in their argument was that they were able to make it with a straight face.

I wrote a book- The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be- about the historic fight between conservatives and progressives in American politics, so I feel like I know about this argument pretty well, and I can tell you this: in every major change in American political history, every single time, conservatives have used the same obstructionists tactics and employed the same arguments- over and over and over again. Sometimes it is hard to tell the quotes apart.

On tactics, they have always employed the filibuster as their number one weapon to stop change. They most famously filibustered the civil rights bills that finally ended Jim Crow, but they tried to use it or threatened it on every other major piece of legislation as well. On voting rights for the working class, on slavery, on anti-trust laws and food safety laws, on women's voting rights and civil rights, on ending child labor and passing minimum wage and the right to organize unions- on all of things, conservatives used every form of obstruction and delay known to man. (Sorry for the sexist language, but these conservatives were almost always men.)

And the arguments have always been the same too. The complaints about the role of government being "so vast, so powerful", about "business and industry...already operating under very heavy burdens" that it would cause more unemployment, are virtually identical today to what they were in the debate over Social Security.

It is sad that the Republican party has become such a lockstep party of no to any progress whatsoever. Some of the great progressives of American history- Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Teddy Roosevelt, George Norris- were Republicans. They understood how difficult it was to make big changes, how hard it was to fight the forces of retrenchment and obstruction. They persevered and won momentous struggles for progress. These Republicans would be appalled at the Republican party of today, at the fact that it has joined wholesale the forces against progress today.

Republicans, stop your whining about comparisons to past conservatives blocking big change: your tactics and arguments are identical to those forces in the past, and you know it.